Call Centres for decades have existed with the threat that the next technological advancement was going to throw them into the archive box of Customer Experience, filled with black & white pictures of rows of desks, headsets and telephones.

IVR (press 1 etc.) was one of the technology threats in my early days of running call centre based businesses. A technology that was so badly deployed by even the biggest names in communications. Then the internet was the next going to be the next vulture to prey on our Customer Service Advisors (CSAs) – with most answers only an Altavista search away. Threats continued with the advent of smart phones, then social media etc. etc.

What these new communication channels did affect was to shift the sands of why consumers needed to speak to agents. Over the years, my CSAs saw the complexity of requests increase as all the low level questions faded away. Why sit in a queue for 2 minutes to find out the location of the nearest store, when I can get an instant answer and map in Google?

An Omni-channel world

But, not only did the need to contact an advisor become more complex, so did the methods that consumers demanded. Customer Service operations could act as the law in determining which alternative channels to the phone they offered, such as webforms, email, FAQs, skype or live chat. Some even tinkered with video chat which has been constantly pushed as the next big thing around the longest corner I have ever known. The one channel that threw this control out of the window was social media.

Consumers all had access to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and didn’t care if as an organisation if you favoured that channel – they were going to blow a fuse in front of all of their comrades whether you like it or not. Even today it tickles me to visit the FB page of many car manufacturers and next to their posts of beautifully pictured cars driving through virgin desert sands, there will be a post from Mr Anom waxing off about how he has been charged £3000 by the local garage because a small pot hole down his road had resulted in trashing his steering mechanism.

So Chat Bot vs Human?

But back to the Customer Service Advisor… Are their jobs under threat from the world of robots and chat bots? My answer – Yes and No.

What is going to be critical going forwards is not the amount of channels that an organisation has, but how EFFORTLESS getting the answer is. Having a phone number tucked 5 clicks away from where my question or frustration is on the product page that I am desparate to click the ‘BUY’ button on is not Low Effort. Consumers generally rant on social media because they have been confronted with HIGH EFFORT options for customer support and know that with LESS effort they can get an audience equipped with popcorn ready to watch the battle of wits on Facebook between the frustrated customer and the esteemed organisation they are rubbishing.

Low Effort Customer Experience

The first question therefore that organisations will need to ask to determine their future customer service strategy is – “How do we make Customer Experience Low Effort?”.

How do we assist with customers in the Need Generation / Consideration / Engagement / Evaluation / Purchase / Delivery / Usage Customer Journey Stages? Throughout every stage of the Customer Journey, they are gathering knowledge and access to support from multiple sources – typically the ones with most ease of access alongside credible & relevant information. There was a day when the call centre agent could be the single source of truth – not today.

Consumers will still get their knowledge fixes from alternative sources – Google, review sites, comparison sites, social media, blogs etc. BUT, that doesn’t mean we can get away with abdicating to those sources in winning customers and reducing abandonment. Having cart abandonment emails chase you down after you kick a basket into the long grass will get some result – but normally at the sacrifice of a 25% discount by the seller. Why not try avoiding the abandonment before the item was even considered being placed in the basket?

The Future of the Customer Service Advisor

OK, I look like I am avoiding the big question about the future of the Customer Service Advisor.

My first response is that they will survive if the company they work for survives. Sounds obvious – but future company propositions must look relevant and attractive – and if there are better, less effort options that is a threat to the whole organisation.

Secondly, the numbers of CSAs will reduce – automation of customer service will become mainstream as it becomes better at reducing the effort of getting personalised answers for customers and reducing the costs of repetitive contact to call centres. Gartner predicts that 85% of customer interactions to be automated by 2020.

Thirdly, unskilled CSAs will be the most under threat – the age of the Super Advisor will become more prominent as the source of credible expertise that other touchpoints cannot offer. We still love a subject matter expert whose enthusiasm beats all other experiences – but selectively offered as needed. But with the savings that more automation of customer service tasks offer, companies that redeploy investment into product training with their Super Advisors will win. These guys & gals will also become champions of knowledge, who will be tasked to ensuring that articles and knowledge are constantly fed through to automated touchpoints, such as chat bots, ensuring that consumers can consistently get that fix of 24/7 Low Effort support.

So, the future could be bright for the Customer Service Advisor. Yes, there will be less of them, but hopefully they will be more engaged, better trained and held with higher respect both internally and externally as the guardians of knowledge for the world-class companies.

Mark Kirby

Mark Kirby, founder of Cart Assist and Director of Yonder Digital Group has over 20 years experience of building successful Customer Experience based businesses from traditional call centres through to providing leading AI driven digital-self service and chat bot technologies.