Automation is transforming customer care and call centre landscape

08 November 2016 5 min. read

The customer-care journey is changing as new customer expectations are met with automation and digitalised solutions. One effect will be a decrease in the number of customer-care workers, with more focus on quality over quantity, while low-value transactional interactions will be transformed to self-service or automated. According to a new report, for customer-care representatives this means more focus on skills, including technical proficiencies, while for companies it means more investment in new technologies and changes to their global footprints.

Good customer care can mean the difference between a long and short term relationship with customers, and may have considerable impact on the bottom line and long-term viability of a company. Getting it right remains a priority for businesses across a range of sectors, as new technologies create increasing transparency for customers about the quality of goods and services. Customer expectations around customer-care are also changing – immediacy, personalisation, and convenience are, according to a new report, the new normal for companies seeking to keep up with their peers.

The report from McKinsey & Company, titled ‘Winning the expectations game in customer care’, explores the changing landscape of customer care, not merely in terms of the expectations but also the way in which expectations are impacted by a range of automation technologies, self-service and high-skilled human interactions transforming the way in which customers are serviced.

Expected shift in talent required at call centre and automation

According to the firm, as the proliferation of additional channels through which customers can interact with businesses continues – in-person visits, telephone calls, web contacts, and mobile platforms – the customers are “demanding seamless and consistent service in all of them, not to mention human interaction and security for personal information.”

McKinsey notes, however, that new customer expectations, as well as new digital channels, are creating a host of strategic and HR issues for customer care unit managers surveyed – 94% of whom believe that they will need to hire new highly skilled agents or train current agents with new skills. Just 4% of respondents believe that new technology will reduce the need for skills, while 2% says that there will be no change.

The skills that may be required to successfully operate over the coming five years include exceptional customer-engagement skills (26%), ability to conduct services and sales (21%), problem solving (13%) and technical skills (4%) – 34% of respondents say that all of these skills are deemed important.

Changing global footprint in line with changing needs

The research also notes that the number of inbound calls is projected to fall dramatically over the coming decades, three out of five respondents say that it will decrease over the coming five years, while 40% say that they will receive few, if any, inbound calls within a decade.

The reduction of inbound calls stems from a number of factors. New digital channels allow companies to funnel low-value calls to more automated and online – do it yourself – operators. One of the firm’s previous surveys found that digitalcare channels (such as web chat, social media, and email) had a 30% share of customer-care interactions, by 2020 this is set to increase to 48% according to the respondents. Low-value interactions, particularly those of a transactional nature, are set to be increasingly fielded by online chat or bots.

Automation is another area that is likely to cut into the number of customer care representatives, with respondents suggesting that, besides reducing the need for transactional human interactions, around 25% of ‘exceptional customer-engagement agents’ will be replaced. More and more customers are also likely to be rooted directly to second line technicians rather than customer-care agents, increasing the need for skilled technical support personnel.

The changing trends around the kinds of skills and the level of service required to meet customer expectations means that more and more companies are also reconsidering their outsourcing relationships. 53% of respondents say that their footprint profile will change in the coming five years, 13% say the changes stem from socio-demographic changes, 17% result from changes to talent requirements, while 23% cite ‘other’ reasons. In terms of planning around offshoring services, 55% say that they are not planning to make changes to current arrangements, 28% say that they are planning to increase the practice while 17% say that they will decrease their reliance on foreign workers.

Investing in new technologies is a top priority for almost half of customer-care leaders

Executives are investing in new technologies to meet the market changes and new technological potentials. The report notes that while many companies remain in a state of strategic uncertainty around priorities for their respective operation over the coming five years, for the majority of respondents (57%) reducing call demand and increase self-service is a priority. 47% of respondents say investing in ‘new technologies’ is important, while 38% would like to leverage customer-care to improve revenue-generating activities.

The firm concludes, “As customer care moves from a one-size-fits-all approach to ever more customisation, the stakes for managing this rapid change are rising. Companies that balance the evolving value and complexity of transactions with the right levels of human interaction and automation stand to gain a durable competitive advantage.”