“”You Mustn’t Be Afraid To Dream A Little Bigger Darling” – Inception
Broadly speaking there are 3 models for setting up a call or contact centre for your business.
- Inhouse (do it yourself),
- Outsourced (use a 3rd party partner), or
- Hybrid (bit of both)
Customers don’t often know whom they are speaking to, and as long as the experience results in a happy customer, it doesn’t matter whether the staff member is paid by the Brand or the Outsourced company. Sometimes outsourcing is referred to as Customer Service / Support as a Service (CSaaS). They are paid by the Brand they were contracted to support and pay their own staff (agents) separately.
The rise in online shopping and its global reach, means that sometimes the multiple products you purchase can come from multiple locations and in multiple packages (think drop shipping, direct to consumer etc.). If the retailer doesn’t quite stock everything you need, you may then need to place another order with another retailer and suddenly the number of parcels and deliveries start to stack up. Much like the cardboard boxes in my hallway ready for the weekly recycling trip.
As a customer, when you need some help, should you call the Brand you placed the order with? (most likely scenario) or in the case of mixed basket products: flowers, an iPad and some biscuits, which brand do you call? Perhaps you could contact the carrier making the delivery such as DPD, Royal Mail or DHL? Maybe even try calling Apple directly right after you’ve chased the Florist? I thought shopping in 2023 was meant to be more convenient?
What if, we just had to contact one place and one place only. For ALL of our orders ever. A single point of contact that could meet our customer service needs? It could be like picking up the Batphone and getting straight through to your customer service superhero.
For the brand, they could have access to a supercharged customer service offer. The best of the best service personnel, not limited to a location or a single company’s contract. Think Uber meets Customer Service. Your Superhero would be connected to all systems, with deep knowledge bases and brand agnostic. A fully augmented Personal Concierge spreading joy and happiness for customers. No longer exclusive to a select few.
Where are we now?
Extra work for customers – when a problem occurs, customers may complain to the ‘wrong’ company. This creates extra work for customers trying to speak to a brand who passes them to a carrier and so on.
Unrecognised CS talent – customer service rockstars can be limited to the brands they work for, the location they are based in and the basic systems they have access to. It can be hard for great talent to rise to the top and be seen as the best of the best across the industry (the awards industry helps, but not accessible to all).
Siloed access to information – even within brands, it can be difficult for agents to find all of the information that they need to be able to answer questions fully. Time is wasted searching for the right answer, transferring the call to another colleague / department or having to escalate to a more senior team member.
Contact centres as a cost – focused on driving down cost to serve. Little investment and as a result little engagement, feeds the high turnover of talent in the sector. Today, the debate seems to focus on where the team member is based, and for as many studies that show an increase in productivity from home, there is an equal study showing the same for working onsite in a building. Who really knows? And does it even matter?
How do we get there
Brand agnostic customer service
The first step to creating true CSaaS and enabling this version of the future, requires us to separate the agent from the brand. This means that the customer service agent is able to work across multiple different businesses at any moment. Taking their true CS skill with them to any and every business in the world (I’m not talking about bureau services).
This means that when a customer has a query, they call upon their dedicated agent (or agents) who can then set about finding the answer for them. Their personal concierge would look for the answer, relay it back to the customer, in the right language or tone of voice (not always the brand’s tone of voice – think cultural differences). AI’s role here would be to let the agent know if a particular brand is more formal than another, it can translate what the agent has said to suit the brand experience (or not).
Common knowledge sharing platforms
Think of Neo in the Matrix learning Kung Fu. He essentially “downloads” the knowledge from the cloud enabling him to fight more effectively. While customer service training is not quite kung fu and while I’m not currently suggesting “downloading” information into people’s brains, this is the model you should be thinking of. An agent could plug into Sainsbury’s knowledge base (KB) and find the right information for one query, then jump to the Tesco KB and do the same thing for that query.
Brands would need to get comfortable with making information available – most likely in a standardised way – perhaps it could be a LLM or GPT for their products.
All knowledge would then become accessible on a common platform. Of course, there would be a need to understand the information security risks but I’m convinced that we can figure out how to protect customer data (addresses and payment), and not let that get in the way of progress. Many SaaS providers already have ways to integrate order data, carrier data, product information etc. This would be a natural evolution to the current offerings.
In this version of the world, all it would take is a simple command to get under the bonnet and find almost anything and everything an agent could need to deliver the best ever first contact resolution (FCR).
One portal for customers
The Batphone or portal would keep things simple for customers as a single point or place of contact. You won’t need to figure out who to call first, should I try Nike? DPD or someone else? I should be able to drop in my query via voice, text or my thoughts (neuralink anyone?).
The ticket or query would be assessed with AI and triaged. If it could easily be solved through customer service automation, driven by AI, then the answer would be presented back almost instantaneously.
If the triage determines that the ticket cannot be solved automatically, it then gets passed to a human in order to answer the question. A personal concierge would pick it up and can dig around to find the answer, or provide advice based on what they know.
Either way, the customer gets a response to their query, via an alert appearing on their futuristic augmented reality goggles! Taking it in their stride and daily flow.
Nomadic customer service
With this kind of on-demand brand-agnostic customer service, we can reimagine the traditional contact centre. No longer bound by a fixed location – contact centre or current remote working environment, to anywhere in the world! Our Uber for CS would do away with the traditional fixed hours and could enable queries to be picked up as they are needed.
We are closer to this way of working than you think. Check out how Limitless are disrupting the target operating model for CS, and how large outsourcers have sites around the world.
There is and will always be a place for oversight and ensuring quality is maintained. AI could comfortably rate and assess the sentiment for every query and self learn / correct any issues with this way of working. We would end up with a global workforce of CS heroes helping customers around the global clock.
I’m not sure we would get to an either or situation, for some brands, a centralised team or in house systems will still be the way to go. As long as your target operating model is aligned with your brand’s vision and mission, you can find your own way to put the customer at the heart of your business.
Customer Service has always been thought of as a function within a brand or outsourced to a CS partner. But why? Separating the need for a ‘function’ from the ‘skill’ is hard. It immediately makes you think of the process steps involved in passing over too much information, and the risks of things going wrong are too high. But with AI and proper security there is no reason why this cannot be a possibility.
We have to reshape our thinking of customer service as a function to make things easier for customers. That means: them knowing a single place to go to for help, with access to the very best CS talent wherever they may be, and augmented to answer any and all queries, even the ones they don’t yet know to ask about.
Every business leader ever will tell you that they put the customer first and at the heart of their company. So here I am asking you to do exactly that, and you might be justified in responding with: If it isn’t broken, why fix it? Or why would you need a sledgehammer to crack a nut? You could even tell me that we don’t want to risk over engineering things, that taking the obvious and easier route to something is just fine. Whilst that is fine most of the time, if we want progression or better still, evolution, I would conclude that we need to dream a little bigger darling.