Covid-19 threatening contact centres with extinction

Contact centres might be threatened with extinction. Covid-19 changed digital experiences for businesses and customers to a point that the new normal for contact centres may be no contact centres at all. A few weeks ago, I interviewed Adrian Benic, VP Products at Infobip, a telecommunications and IT company with a Worldwide footprint and headquarters in Croatia and London. Adrian told me that, despite all the talking, building digital experiences wasn’t a reality. Yet, Covid-19 changed everything and the CRM digitisation process was considerably sped up.

Covid-19 threatening contact centres with extinction

Covid-19 threatening contact centres with extinction
Contact centres under a threat of extinction Adrian Benic says, as Covid 19 reshaped an entire industry

Caption: Most businesses think they are building digital experiences for their customers but they aren’t, Adrian Benic told me. Covid-19 has changed that ball game radically. 

Despite all the prattle about digital transformation, not even mentioning the buzzword bingo regarding digital experiences, “what most businesses are really doing is building add-ons to existing experiences, add-ons that are by nature broken in terms of the journeys that their consumers are taking” Adrian told me.

Many businesses are behind in terms of building digital experiences

“What happens is that the online contact support team might work until five and after that consumers are stuck without help because everyone is getting ready to leave the office” he explained. 

Also, people that might be working the evening shift might not be available on the channel that consumers expect to find them on.

Support centres that are closed when consumers are available, deliver an awful digital experience

“It’s a sad reality” Adrian Benic went on. “When you think about it from the consumer standpoint, no one really wants to waste time on a website and talk to one’s telco support staff to upgrade one’s plan or any other chore.” 

Experiencing any form of inconvenience is already the beginning of the end of a good customer experience. 

“Such businesses aren’t really customer-centric. They pretend they are, but all they achieve is filling in their own pockets.” Adrian said. 

Harsh words, but the truth hurts, sometimes, as the saying goes. 

Changing behaviour imposes new tools

This changing behaviour has an impact on the kind of tools that people are using, and we are not just talking about plain-vanilla social media platforms. The aim is what one could call a messaging ecosystem. 

One needs to build the “new WhatsApp or Viber or WeChat for the customer relationship world” Adrian said. “When you think about it, there’s a whole ecosystem that could serve a consumer’s needs: from finding the service to talking to a business, and consuming and paying for it, everything could be found within the same ecosystem.”

Let’s talk about WeChat in China, for example, with which you can go to a grocery store, buy vegetables and fruits and pay with your mobile phone. “To those people, it’s as easy as selling apples or oranges,” Adrian said. But what about the rest of the world? “If such platforms are so successful in China, and attract so many consumers and generate a lot of business, why aren’t businesses adopting them at a much faster pace anywhere else?” He wondered.

Messages come from anywhere, one never knows in advance

The key is to ensure that the person at the receiving end doesn’t actually need to worry about where messages come from”

There are two areas to take care of. 

  • One of those areas is the need to have access to all the data in a way that enables businesses to immediately understand the situation and take action as soon as the customer has contacted customer support 
  • The other point is that the channel doesn’t really matter: “What one should only care about is the consumer and his/her needs.” Adrian said. 

So, why aren’t businesses doing this as they should?  

“What companies are really doing, when ignoring this reality is jeopardising their business”, Adrian added, because in the end, when you don’t engage directly with consumers in this day and age, they will forget about you and choose another brand. 

“I believe that instead of closing those channels, there is an opportunity to offer services through them as a self-service model to your consumers,” He added. 

“In order to be very efficient in terms of what you are offering on those channels and in what way, you do not necessarily need to incur additional costs. It’s about doing more with less or doing more with the same, and that is exactly what we are trying to achieve in the market”, Adrian added.

An example of outstanding service: the bank that guesses your needs

Adrian told me the story of his bank in Croatia, which focuses on service and customer experience. What they do is that they profile their customers in such a way that they only offer their services to mass affluents. “I think they’re amazing,” Adrian said.

The reason why is simple: “I haven’t seen them in the past two years”, he said. “Instead, they come to me. So, wherever I am, they are here to deliver superior service.” That’s the one true way of understanding consumers and their needs.

The impact of the Coronavirus crisis on customer support

Due to COVID-19, “businesses were cut off from their customer bases who could not reach them since their employees lacked the necessary infrastructure at home. They then started to look for online solutions.”

This pandemic had sped up the digitisation process

Many businesses thus started transforming quicker and moving their working capacities online. 

In essence, two things happened: 

  • Traditional businesses started opening up services and offering them online instead of having people calling in. They started moving towards online channels and serving through touchpoints such as websites or mobile. The process had started before, but COVID-19 made this change even more urgent. 
  • On the other hand, in the retail industry, wherever face to face interactions was essential to business, suddenly, work proved very difficult — mostly with non-essential stores —  and a lot of people lost their jobs. “We have witnessed that a lot of these retailers started moving their capacities online in terms of creating e-commerce platforms. They up-skilled their employees in a way that they could serve as relationship managers or allowed them to manage tasks digitally rather than being there in person waiting for customers to visit the store. So a part of this change, if not all, was driven by the current pandemic crisis. 

With this change, what technologies are the winners and losers

“I would definitely say that chatbots are big winners, as there is a huge demand for it from all over the world. There is also the self-service aspect because traditional IVRs and Voice have moved into Chat space.” Adrian said. 

“The whole point is to have this experience built end to end, in a way that it can help solve customers’ issues,” Adrian said. 

Contact centres as we knew them under threat of extinction

“Is there a threat of extinction for contact centres as we knew them? I think so!” Adrian added. “There aren’t going to be many people stuck in big rooms, side by side, telephone in hand.” He predicted. “In my eyes, the new normal for customer support will be to work from any device anywhere around the world.”

“I think it’s a win-win approach” Adrian added. “Customers will be happy because support agents will be happier too.”

Off-shoring may not be the trend in the future

“The way the new normal is implemented in post-COVID contact centres will depend on the brand,” Adrian concluded. 

“As to off-shoring, I’m not adamant there will be more of it” he said. “Businesses will mostly try and deliver more with less until they figure out what is next for their business. A lot of businesses are unsure about the future.”

An uncertain future for contact centres and everything else

As Britain has just moved into tier 4, and Italy has already gone back into lockdown, Germany is panic-stricken and French media is all about freaking everyone out that January 7 will be day one of the third wave, one cannot but agree with Adrian: an uncertain future it will be. 

In that context, the new normal — be it for contact centres and their threat of extinction or anything else — will be about flexibility and little else.

Yann Gourvennec
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