The Call Center of 2050
The call center of the future… it’s an intimidating thought. It’s likely to look a lot different than the call center of today. But what does that really mean? I’d like to explore the Call Center of 2050 in this blog.
At the turn of the century, many thought that technology spelled eventual doom for call centers. With such a huge reliance on human capital and self-service technology beginning to explode, many found it hard to believe that customers would keep picking up the phone to call, when the Internet and other improved self-service technologies were beginning to answer their questions more easily. It turned out that this prediction was not quite right. People continued to call, and still do, and adoption has turned out to be slower for many of the new technologies. Even today, call centers remain relevant, but the complexity of the call has actually gone up (more on this later).
For a short time, managers tried to limit costs by outsourcing to offshore call centers. Despite being cheaper to run, these foreign solutions often ended up providing much poorer service than their domestic counterparts. In addition, people (Americans in particular) were not fond of the service they provided, mostly due to language barriers (real or perceived). Due to the struggles of offshoring and slow adoption, we actually have seen the Bureau of Labor Statistics report that the number of Americans employed in call centers has been steadily maintained over the past decade, and that hiring for them will continue to increase looking forward. This doesn’t do much for companies looking to improve bottom line growth.
These days, adoption for truly excellent self-service technologies is beginning to take hold, and call centers have become known as contact centers – hubs for a variety of channels as opposed to simply phone calls. We live in a world that is more automated than ever before. From smartphones to omnipresent tech assistants like the Amazon Echo, technology has greatly evolved and is constantly improving to fulfill consumers’ desire for an effortless experience. So the prediction for a highly automated contact center has begun to creep back into people’s minds. And not the automation that people hate; these new technologies are extremely competent and effective.
But what this assumption doesn’t account for is how increased access to information (i.e. the Internet) has increased the complexity of the calls that eventually make to the call center. In other words, since customers are able to answer many of their own questions using forums and online self-service, they generally resort to the phone for more complex requests. So really, the value of the voice channel actually increases with the presence of other channels. Call center managers have implied just that in expressing that customers are more frustrated than ever by the time they reach live agents. These are make or break calls—customer retention at its purest.
No longer do people need a live agent or teller to inform them how much money is in their checking account because it is now easily available with online and mobile banking. They will only call with complex concerns, and will only need a human for requests involving compassion, persuasion, advice, or other highly complex business practices. These challenging calls now enable businesses to have deeper relationships with their customers. So while call centers are likely to shrink with advanced automation technology, they won’t shrink due to fewer calls and higher customer adoption of other self-service channels. The customer experience world has simply gotten bigger, and chances are that companies will continue to receive high numbers of calls but fewer of them will be handled by agents because voice automation has developed into such an effective alternative.
So what will the call center of 2050 truly look like? As discussed, it will encompass a bigger world of self-service and automation technologies, but still dominated by voice communication. The largest difference will be the role of the live agent. We’ll talk about how we see human agents contributing to the success of call centers in the next blog, “Humans in the Call Center of 2050.” Stay tuned!