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As automation takes over many aspects of customer support, agents might wear multiple hats, including doing work in non-customer-focused areas. Automation tools can help make agents more flexible in their work so that regular staff can become undercover agents.
The global pandemic brought together a perfect storm for many contact centers. Call volumes increased, new working conditions such as working from home manifested, staffing was reduced as people needed to take on additional child or family care responsibilities, and some had to quarantine or recover from illness. The result was that typical metrics that guided contact center performance were way off of normal levels — managers needed to scramble to bring employees up to speed to help with frontline work.
Those employees in more operational roles became agents and found a need to quickly get up to speed on product information and issue resolution. They also needed to transition between their roles, communicate with colleagues on how to fix problems and access systems remotely — all while juggling new personal situations.
A dramatic and positive shift might be ahead for companies who leveraged operations or other employees to help with frontline customer-facing interactions. These companies have more ways to handle inbound interactions, more resilience in the face of crises, better customer service and even better offerings as employees, who normally were shielded from frontline pain, gain a first-person insight into how their products or services are seen in the market.
To get to these benefits, though, several things need to line up.
Fortunately, new developments will make it easier for companies to achieve this reality faster. Systems that integrate learning and coaching directly into interactions can help onboard employees into customer-facing roles. Being able to set up policies for quality management of interactions based on the type of queue an agent is on, such as overflow, can help supervisors apply appropriate evaluations to these undercover agent roles. Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered forecasting of interaction volumes can also better predict how many agents should be drafted from pools of employees.
Companies that succeed with this transition will find a wealth of new resources to work with. However, they’ll soon have to figure out what to do when the tsunami of interaction volume as a result of COVID-19 recedes.
For many businesses, it could mean a new structure for support and customer interaction. Similar to how many development staff at companies are occasionally on call for outages, operational staff might be on call to handle peaks in demand. Eventually, as automation handles more types of interaction and demand wanes, it might be entirely possible that operational roles normally include customer-facing interactions.
For those in customer service roles, this automation could create a push into more operational tasks, more follow-up work and a more proactive approach to customer interactions. And this could create more transparency between employees and business owners as employees have visibility into how their work affects customers firsthand. This wider view could lead to more satisfaction and ownership over work. And, in the end, these employees with deeper knowledge serve — and create — happier customers.
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