In the media

On Black Swans and the future of Contact Centers 

While a few years ago it was the ugly duckling of large companies, somewhere between the Legal and Customer Relations departments, the Contact Center industry is in 2013 one of the few niches that are not affected by the crisis.

Mădălina Vilău, founder of the Contact Center Awards believes that “Seriously speaking, look at the European Contact Center Benchmark in 2012, a study by ECCCO (European Confederation of Contact Centers Organizations) and you’ll find that Romania is the new El Dorado both for the Europeans that use (with oftentimes modest financial implications) highly skilled Romanian employees and for the Romanian workers that have positions where there is room to grow and promote, in a world where a big portion of higher education graduates remain unemployed. Moreover, for agile companies, the Contact Center industry has had an unexpected upgrade. The well-trained employees in these departments have overcome the ‘robot’ phase when they mechanically engaged with clients, they’ve dropped the heavy communist-era public servant attitude that burdens not only this industry but almost all Romanian industries. With intelligence, problem-solving, branding competences and authentic public relations skills, Contact Centers are becoming the agents of change. Now dialogue with an unhappy customer is no longer a threat, but an opportunity for the brand. The voice on the other side of the phone is no longer an execution-focused individual, but an intelligent communicator, who is conscious that they represent the values of the brand from tone of voice to mission and vision.

The speed with which technology has changed consumer behaviour has put the Contact Center industry under unprecedented pressure. People’s interest in social media has shec a light on how easily unpleasant brand experiences can escalate on the web. This has pushed the smartest and most flexible companies to change the paradigm. From passive-reactive, the person in the Contact Center has become active, and then proactive. This is a major change, perhaps just as big as when the switchboard replaced written correspondence. Procedures did not explode and key performance indicators did not disappear, but at the same time, a new age was born. The telephone was competing against the internet. Standardised call responses were replaced by intelligent attitudes brought from paper to forums, on Facebook or LinkedIn. Claus Moller’s theory stating that “any complaint is a gift” has never been taken more serious by 21st-century companies and never been better interpreted. 

We’re living in an age where flattery can no longer win over the consumer. This is because there is a niche in which authentic human vacation and win-win-win rapports can coexist successfully.  Paying attention to ‘humanizing’ the customer communication process has created vibrant projects where both sides have something to win. What does ‘humanizing’ mean? The fact that the company does not only have to receive, either directly or indirectly, ‘gifts’ from the consumer, but that it can also give gifts to the consumer, without the slightest of ironies, but with the most authenticity possible.

One of the biggest banks in Romania, as an example, has activated what specialists call the ‘random act of kindness’. The Contact Center agent is free to offer any customer calling a surprise on behalf of the company, and when we say surprise, we don’t just mean products in their portfolio, but rather the type of gifts that would kindle a friendship: a cake, a bottle of good wine, a ticket to a good movie, and these are just some examples. On the list of banks where communicators are dreaming of making a 24/7 customer dialogue platform out of Facebook, transforming the Call Center agent into a PR person, a problem solver and a conversationalist, there is at least one bank where this is a dream they’re working to make a reality.

International projects of the TWELP FORCE type have demonstrated that what is perceived as an apparent utopia has already become a box office reality. (Explore the case study here to better understand). And let’s not even mention KLM and their Surprise project.

In the volume “Best customer interaction”, where I was invited by the Viennese from CCC to answer the question “How will the future look for the Contact Center industry?”, my answer was very simple “what’s best is yet to come”. This is not only because technology will evolve so much that downtime will be a thing of the past and efficiency will increase spectacularly, it is because we’ll witness a leap in progress: the workers in the Customer Relations departments will learn to make the transition from ‘mechanic’ to ‘human’. In the ranks of communicators, those who yesterday might have been an ‘ugly duckling’ will shortly bloom into a black swan – the chosen one, unique, looking fragile but in reality, accomplished.

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