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Where's the Agent Heading?

As is customary this time of the year, we look forward into the next year and beyond. And we might ask: where are our agents heading? Many analysts agree: this is “The Age of the Customer”. Competition is fierce; companies often need their customers more than their customers need them. Therefore, customer expectations are and will continue to be one of the main drivers for innovation in the contact center. They will shape the agent’s future. I see three main areas where ever growing and changing customer demands influence where agents will go over the next few years.

Personalization Through Customer Context: Consumer brands have raised customer service expectations higher than many companies can deliver today. Leading brands offer personalized, proactive services that delight consumers. Just one example: Starbucks offers over 87,000 different drink combinations! Customers today are starting to expect the same flexibility and personalized service from the contact center. They are no longer willing to call when they could also email, chat, send SMS or post on Facebook. What does this mean for the agent? Multi-channel handling will become even more important. The agent of the future will need an interface that facilitates handling multiple communication channels in a consistent, user friendly interface. The growing need for personalization means that access to customer data will become more important. It is customer context that enables agents to personalize interactions, regardless of channel.

Anytime, Anywhere, Any Channel: Customers want service anytime, anywhere and using any channel. They expect instant, effortless interactions in the channel of their choice. In today’s world, the mere concept of hours of operation is one that is quickly becoming a major nuisance. And that makes sense, because “Amazon is always open”! We are all increasingly less willing to accept delay. And while this holds particularly true for the consumer area, the effects of this are also starting to become more pronounced in customer expectations for the contact center. Customers expect to be able to interact when it is convenient for them. I want to be able to choose the interaction channel that works best for me, without sacrificing service quality. The phone still is the most prevalent interaction channel – but other channels are catching up quickly. So the agent of the future will handle all interaction channels that customers expect you to offer.

Mobile Devices: Mobile is taking over with anytime, anywhere, instant access technology. Mobile devices continue to proliferate, and contextual, multimedia service will become the standard over the next 5 years. Just consider the change in adoption rates for mobile devices: In 2002, it took almost a year until 1 million iPods had found their owners (Source). When the first iPhone came out in 2007, it still took about 2 ½ months until sales reached a million units (Source). And today? When the iPhone 6 came out, more than 10 million devices were sold in the first three days after the launch (Source). Mobile will not go away, and contact centers and their agents will need to be prepared to handle this, including the new media and customer expectations that come with the extensive use of mobile devices.

If I had to make a prediction, I believe that the future champions of the contact center world will be the organizations that are designed to deliver a seamless customer experience across multiple interaction channels or touch points throughout the customer journey. And their winning agents will be the ones that have the tools that help them to excel in such an environment.