At GP Strategies, we spend a lot of time helping customers navigate the ever-changing world of helping employees drive performance outcomes for their organization. Now that we are starting to emerge from the chaos of the pandemic, we’ve been examining how the past few years have impacted how our customers operate and the solutions they need in place to drive performance outcomes. There might be no place where this impact has been more profound than in the world of customer service, where fundamental changes in technology were already impacting how service is delivered when the pandemic started. What’s happened since has made things even more complicated. So, if you find yourself struggling with the design of your customer service enablement solution, or with whether to upgrade or discard your knowledge management (KM) solution, know that you are not alone. And while the answers may be a bit different for every company, there are some trends and developments that every company should keep in mind moving forward.
Even pre-pandemic, an evolution from a call center environment to a communications platform environment was impacting companies. We don’t call them call centers anymore for a reason: every company is moving to multiple customer service channels, with chat becoming the most popular for many brands. (Not that this is surprising—the young adults I know would rather walk across a bed of hot coals than pick up the phone to call a company.) Meanwhile, the emergence of self-service solutions, the use of routing technology, and the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) increasingly means that often only the most complex problems will make it to customer service representatives (CSRs). In today’s world there are fewer and fewer “easy” requests, and representatives must be able to quickly solve a wider range of complex challenges. This has a profound impact on CSR onboarding and performance support requirements.
Meanwhile, many companies are struggling with KM solutions designed to support their legacy call center software. These KM solutions may contain tens of thousands of detailed records servicing the needs of multiple audiences. The struggle comes in when this technology is asked to provide just-in-time performance support information to help contact center agents meet the needs of the complex requests they are now being asked to address. Add to this the challenge that many of these KM solutions are bespoke systems cobbled together to support aging customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, and you can imagine the complex challenges organizations need to address.
With all that in mind, here are a few thoughts regarding the contact center training and performance support landscape.
The Evolution of the Call Center
Regardless of technology advances, your people will continue to be the heart of your customer relationships. While routing technology and AI are increasingly being used to segment and triage customer inquiries, the need for skilled customer service agents will continue to be a differentiator for companies. This means that investment in onboarding and upskilling agents should continue to be a priority, with increased investment in capabilities such as call transcription and virtual coaching being something to consider as part of the agents’ professional development pathways.
The call center role will evolve to a more complex contact center “super agent” role. In this new world, agents will need comprehensive skills and quick thinking to meet customer demands and deliver exceptional service. Given the historical turnover in call centers, this evolution will put more pressure than ever on companies to design fulfilling jobs and career paths for agents to retain experienced employees. We are already seeing organizations benefitting from their ability to design flexible, rewarding jobs.
Contact center technology will continue to evolve in the coming years. Even if AI and RPA are not part of your solution now, they will be in the not-too-distant future. As you consider how your organization moves forward with training and performance support, ensure that your solutions can evolve with your contact center technology. Design for flexibility in how employees are onboarded and in how information is provided to agents. Modularity and the ability to reorganize information will be critical to reusability of learning and performance support content as technology evolves and contact center jobs are redesigned.
Effective governance will prove critical in determining the path forward. The confluence of people and technology in the contact center results in the need to balance the priorities and concerns of different parts of the organization when considering how best to support contact center agents. This is particularly true when it comes to performance support or knowledge management technology, where in some cases there is a lack of alignment between the business, parts of the organization responsible for regulatory compliance, and information technology (IT) on how technology should function. In cases such as this, an important first step will be the creation of an effective governance council to provide direction and answer critical questions such as:
- “What is the purpose of this solution?”
- “What metrics will be used to measure success?” and
- “Which stakeholders should be part of the decision-making process?”
Finally, keep in mind that because customer service is so intimately integrated with technology, and technology is always evolving, there will be a constant need to reexamine and continuously evolve your solution. Decisions you make today cannot be set in stone. This is another reason why an effective governance council is so important to the long-term effectiveness of the contact center enablement solution. By bringing together the business, human resources and learning, compliance, quality assurance (QA), and IT, the council can help ensure priorities are identified and goals are accomplished. If your governance council is not working effectively or does not exist at all, this should be your first area to address.