Technology and the Human Touch: That’s What Distinguishes the Customer Service Representative of the Future
In the future, automation and artificial intelligence will relieve customer service representatives of many recurrent and rules-based tasks. At the same time, the number of customer interactions is growing overall. This increases the demands placed on employees in the service center, since they will be dealing with especially complex or emotional topics in the future.
In many situations, customers appreciate it when they are able to find information, clarify questions, and solve problems for themselves – for example, with help from self service portals. And in just a few years, solutions based on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) will automatically process most of, if not all, high-volume repetitive rules-based tasks.
These are only two current trends in customer communication – and development will continue. Thereby, the amount of human work in the service center for the entirety of all customer interactions will decline. In ten years, roughly 90 percent of customer service interactions will be conducted via artificial intelligence and automation. So, are these bad prospects for customer service representatives? The answer is actually no! Customer service will continue to be a growth market in the future. An altogether growing population with increasing demands and an increasing variety of contact channels means that the number of customer interactions will also rise. The ten percent of interactions that will be handled by humans in 2027 sounds rather low compared to today’s roughly 40 percent. In reality, the absolute number of customer interactions handled by people worldwide will actually increase from 160 billion in 2017 to 300 billion in 2027. There is thus great potential here.
Above all, technology, despite all its progress, cannot replace the most important qualities of human service representatives in the long run: emotionality and the ability to take responsibility. This is why qualified customer advisors are crucial for customer service – for example, when it comes to solving a problem with an angry customer in an empathetic and polite manner, or to picking up on subtle language and mood nuances in difficult conversations and replying accordingly. For this reason, personal customer service remains the first choice when it comes to solving complex problems. Because when it comes to empathy and personality, automated solutions don’t lead to the goal – quite the contrary: In these cases, the customer will still perceive a “mechanical” solution as negative in the future, with corresponding consequences for the reputation of the company. In the future, the emotional and complex topics in particular will reach customer service representatives in the service center, which will increase the demands on their skills. More and more agents will be needed who are especially capable of reacting individually and personally to the feelings and concerns of the customers. At the same time, they are expected to find quick and simple solutions to complex issues, and be able to switch immediately between different matters and channels.
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The typology of customer service representatives
The Harvard Business Review recently published a study on the typology of customer service representatives. According to the study, the most common type found in service centers is the “empathizer.” The empathizer is sympathetic, a good listener, and loves to solve problems together with the customer. When a customer calls the service center because his new mobile phone is not working, the consultant would most likely reply with the following: “You are welcome to return your device back to us. Or you can go into one of our branches to exchange it.” According to the study, however, the most in-demand type of consultant will be the “controller.” They are confident, express themselves openly when talking with customers, and they like to demonstrate their expertise and lead interactions. The controller would follow a different approach compared to the empathizer, and would instead say: “Unfortunately, we no longer have your model in stock at your local store. I would recommend that you send us your device by mail. We will then send you a replacement device as soon as possible.” The controller takes responsibility, creates simple and quick solutions, and thus a crucial added value to the company. In this way, the customer receives clear guidance. According to the study, however, only 15 percent of all customer service representatives currently satisfy the demands of this profile. So what can companies do to increase the ratio of these kinds of “controllers” in their service teams?
One possibility is to support them via automation and analytics. In the future, technology and customer advisors will work hand in hand. The new technologies help customer advisors gather all important information more quickly and easily, and to have it already in front of them when they come into contact with the customer. Another approach is the targeted training of service center employees with regard to the required capabilities and soft skills, such as proactive listening and solution orientation. However, these things can’t be taught in the classroom. That’s why coaching and mentoring by experienced customer advisors will play a vital role in training and courses for customer advisors in the future. The experienced colleagues will support the newcomers in putting into practice what they have learned and in exercising the necessary skills. They’ll provide the service center trainees with the essential self-confidence to make decisions quickly and find simple solutions. Only through targeted training and enabling can employees in the service center be prepared for the new challenges. The idea is to prepare our own customer advisors for the increasing demands of tomorrow. This way, the human touch will become a decisive competitive factor for companies in the future.