“It’s not only the digital-savvy millennials, but also older generations that are pushing for greater self-service in the customer care industry – to answer and resolve their straightforward issues such as payments, enquiries, problems, receiving information, making bookings and more – all without direct contact with another human.”

This is the word from Pommie Lutchman, CEO of Ocular Technologies, who says this desire for innovative self-help is changing the core DNA of the traditional contact centre, and it is doing so at a speed much greater than any other contact centre transformation of the past.

“To navigate the future – be it business or life – requires the continuous development and adoption of new software. The contact centre is no different,” continues Lutchman.

“It is an exciting change as it means we are also witnessing customer engagement as a fundamental driver behind futuristic automation software development, infinite artificial intelligence possibilities, sophisticated pre-emptive chatbots and so much more – all developments that convert into self-service playing a major part in businesses evolving by streamlining their processes to meet their new role in the digital age.”

According to Microsoft’s Richard Peers, by 2020, 85 percent of customer interactions will be managed without people.

This suggestion however begs the questions: will the 15 percent of customers that reach contact centre agents require complex queries to be resolved? Will customers be more agitated when they reach the contact centre agent because the customer could not solve it through the self-help platform? Will businesses have agent development programmes in place to address both query and behaviour? Will businesses ensure that there is a suitable open communication and escalation path through divisions and units to assist both customers and agents in two years time?

Or, will technology evolve even faster using algorithms, deep-learning and the like to solve the more multifaceted issues of customers?

“2020 is not a long way off. And, although 85 percent of happy customers is a distinction, 15 percent of frustrated customers is a serious fail and could result in a major blow to a brand’s reputation,” remarks Lutchman.

He says that the basic skills of practicing considerate and courteous human contact should form the baseline of any customer interaction strategy. “Automation is not taking over entirely very soon, so take the things we as a human race know right now: every human is unique and every person has a set of values and beliefs that should be respected and not discriminated against.

“Quite simply, people aren’t robots, and so a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot be deployed in a division that manages customer relationships. What is thus needed is a well-thought-out journey of your agent providing him or her with a high level of intelligence about brand, product and service, emotional intelligence and empowerment to offer clear and relevant answers and solutions.”

He stresses that now, more than ever, it has become important to invest in contact centre employees that understand the business and multi-channel customer interactions. “Don’t overlook your frontline, your agents are your company’s firm handshake; they are your customer’s emphatic ear; they are the human balance to technology and above all, they mirror your entire brand.”

Similarly, though, great effort needs to be placed on technology. “A broken line, legacy systems and a rudimentary technology is not only horrifying to savvy customers, but is also detrimental to your agents doing their jobs. It is perhaps best said in Afrikaans: ‘goedkoop is deurkoop’, meaning buy cheap and waste your money. It really does not help your reputation one bit to cut corners in order to save costs. Inferior technology leads to inflexibility and time-lapses in service, quickly leading to a shoddy reputation, detractors of your brand, and that most-hated emotion of every customer: frustration!” says Lutchman.

It goes without saying that the continual investment in contact centre automation technology should already be part of a business’ strategy. In parallel, however, should be the same level of investment in a business’ customer service and front-line employees, as it is they who can bring any customer’s journey to a valuable destination.

“Whether agent or technology – employ only best-in-class,” concludes Lutchman.

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