Traditionally, the job of the Customer Service Representative (CSR) was to take requests and orders from customers and generally handle transactions as cost-effectively as possible.
Today, most routine transactions are handled through self-service. Most customers prefer to use a company's website instead of calling on the phone, especially for simple stuff. It is more and more often the case that the CSR is handling complicated transactions, situations where the self-service didn't work, and cases where the customer needs to be doubly certain that his problem will be taken care of.
What will the job of the CSR be like in the future, when nearly all customers take care of their business online? CSRs will be left with nothing but the more complex and high-stakes problems. I think this will lead to the job becoming less the traditional CSR, and more like a Customer Advocate.
The difference is that where the CSR represents the company to the customer, the role of a Customer Advocate is to represent the customer within the company. For example:
Types of Interactions
- Customer Service Representative: Most transactions are routine, and this is the customer's first attempt to solve the problem.
- Customer Advocate: Most transactions are exceptions to the normal process, and the customer has already tried other ways to solve the problem.
When Multiple Calls Are Required
- Customer Service Representative: Different CSRs will handle the customer's multiple calls. Each CSR will have to take time to become familiar with the customer's case.
- Customer Advocate: The same Customer Advocate will keep working with the customer until the problem is solved (or it becomes clear no resolution is possible).
- Customer Service Representative: Measured on how efficiently the CSR can handle a large volume of transactions.
- Customer Advocate: Measured on how effectively the Customer Advocate finds solutions which are acceptable to both the customer and the company.
When a Customer Wants Special Treatment
- Customer Service Representative: Will generally enforce company policy, but may be empowered to make limited exceptions.
- Customer Advocate: Will explain the policy to the customer, and help argue the customer's case for an exception. Authority to enforce policy and make exceptions resides elsewhere in the organization.
- Customer Service Representative: Interfaces between the customer and the company's internal business processes (order entry, billing, etc.).
- Customer Advocate: Interfaces between the customer and the company's internal structure and decision-making processes (management, other organizational silos, etc.).
It's still going to be a long time before the call center's job is primarily handling these more complex interactions, but it is starting to happen today. I'm seeing more companies moving away from efficiency-based metrics (like calls per hour) and towards outcome-based metrics (resolution, satisfaction, and related metrics). I'm also seeing more companies questioning the assumption that most calls are coming from customers who haven't attempted self-service.
So the role of the CSR is clearly shifting, whether the job description is or not.