The role of the call center for customer service is changing. Ten or twenty years ago, the phone was the front line of customer support, and the preferred channel for most customers and most transactions.
Today the majority of customers prefer online service for most routine transactions, and only pick up the phone when online service has failed or the customer has a complex problem which really needs the human touch. This is good for both the customer and the company, since online self-service is usually cheaper and more effective than a phone call for simple tasks.
The problem is that many customer service operations are stuck in the old days: phone support which assumes most customers have simple problems, and limited online self-service.
- Most calls to a call center are simple problems which can be self-served through an IVR
- Customers who reach an agent many not have tried self-service, and are likely to have simple problems solvable by a low-level agent
- Managing cost requires encouraging more customers to self-serve in the IVR, often at the expense of customer satisfaction
- The majority of customers prefer online self-service for most routine tasks
- Customers who call on the phone are likely to either have tried online self-service, or have complex issues: they need to speak to a human, and they know they can't use self-service options
- Managing cost requires offering better online self-service, which will also improve customer satisfaction
The call center is becoming the second level of support for most customers: picking up the phone is the new equivalent of asking for a supervisor. That changes the mix of calls, the skills required for customer service representatives, and customers' attitudes when they call.
To serve these customers, there needs to be fewer barriers to reaching a live person, and the agent pool needs to have a higher skill set. The company also needs to be more aware of why customers are calling: a lot of calls about routine problems could mean that the company's online support is hard to use or broken.