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The Demise of the Contact Center Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

quietEvery few years, a new customer service channel arrives on the scene with claims that an emerging technology will be the main service channel and the future of customer service. We've heard the same argument for decades, yet agents remain at the heart of the vast majority of customer service interactions.

As far back as January of 2000, we heard the contact center was dying. In March of 2012, the headline still read the same. That same year in December, we were told that social media would “replace the contact center”. Fast forward to 2018 when it was again predicted that chatbots and self-service would bring about the end of the contact center. And as recently as May of 2020, we saw the take of  “Coronavirus Ushered in the Death of the Call Center.”

And yet, even today non-voice channels like email, chatbots, social media and self-service still only account for a small portion of customer service interactions. Why? Because when customers cannot resolve their issues through non-voice channels, they ultimately turn to agents – because, in the end, it takes people to solve problems for other people.

We’ll Always Need People in Customer Service

For companies that believed the hype and placed their bets on chatbots to reduce cost and volume, it turned out that deciding to lay off a large percentage of their staff wasn’t the best idea. When chatbots and self-service did not reduce volume, these companies didn’t have the staffing power to handle calls, leaving customers increasingly frustrated and angry. Humans are invaluable in the contact center. People want to talk through their issues with other people. Certain issues require a level of explanation that cannot be addressed by bots.

Customers need to feel confident and have trust in their brand experiences, and this is impossible to achieve with the impersonal nature of a chatbot, or other self-service platforms. This rings especially true when dealing with sensitive topics like determining insurance costs for COVID-19 tests, wiring money, or dealing with personal finances. Only humans can understand the complexity and emotional components of these experiences, solve problems that bots cannot, and exude trust that instills brand confidence – and loyalty -- among customers.

Humans will be Augmented in the Future of the Contact Center, Not Replaced

Technology can actually help humanize the customer experience, however.

Contact centers generate enormous amounts of data that humans are unable to gather, analyze, and translate into real-time insights. By leveraging an intelligent assistant, contact centers can turn these millions of data points into instantaneous actions. This better prepares and supports agents, helping managers create smarter staffing decisions while improving customer experiences - all leading to significant cost savings without sacrificing service levels. Technology optimizes the process of matching demand (incoming calls) to supply (agents), which is revolutionizing customer service.

For those who still believe people are best left behind in the next wave of customer service, ask yourself: Was your last experience with a chatbot wildly successful? Even more, how happy are your customers based on the service your brand provides? The capability for chatbots to fully replace humans does not exist, and it’s unlikely to happen. Instead, customer service leaders should leverage innovation and technology to enable agents to excel in their roles of providing exceptional customer experiences.

People will remain at the heart of customer service interactions; that’s because a “heart” is often what is needed, in combination with intelligence, to solve problems and deliver the best brand experience possible.

This article first appeared in Customer Think