Over the holidays, I was a guest on the Modern Customer Podcast, a wonderful podcast hosted by Forbes’ blogger Blake Morgan. She describes the podcast as providing “surprising and counter-intuitive insights on customer experience, social customer service and content.” No pressure there, then. During our episode, Blake and I discussed the ways that increased usage of self-service has begun to dramatically transform the jobs of customer service personnel and contact center agents.

At heart, my argument goes like this: customers have begun to use, and in some cases even prefer, non-agented interactions. They use knowledgebases, FAQs, mobile customer self-service, chatbots, and peer-to-peer communities in increasing numbers. This means that:

  • Because self-service solves many of the simpler issues that customers have, the inquiries that do make it through to contact center agents are the more complex, difficult, or relationship-dependent ones. So, contact center agents now need to be prepared for solving harder problems than in the past.
  • Because most customers that actually do reach a contact center agent will have tried to self-serve and failed, they will more frustrated than they were in the past. In a world where the phone and even chat are actually escalation channels, agents start three steps back by the time they say the word, “Hello.”

Brands that have recognized this change have started to rethink the actual role of a contact center agent. For example, can they hire people at $11/hour qualified to handle exasperated customers with difficult questions? Or do they need to pay more and hire from a more skilled class of worker?

This reasoning is also behind another looming change. Many brands have started to at least pay lip service to the idea of concierge-like service. Most firms still use a triage model with level 1, level 2, and level 3 service organizations, but complex queries might be better served by a concierge model. That would mean agents that own an issue from cradle-to-grave, agents that are more empowered to ‘do the needful’ to solve a customer’s problem, and agents that can even think outside the enterprise box to help a customer. A hotel concierge working for Hilton, for example, does not just look at Hilton-branded services to get guests what they need; they look wherever they need to make the guest happy. This model is much better suited to the contact center reality driven by increased usage of self-service.

About two years ago, I authored a report (Retool For A New Workforce Reality — New Technology For A New Breed Of Agent) that urged enterprises to rethink what tools they provide to support this new breed of agent. Check it out –it is surprising how much of that research is still relevant to these issues today.