For years we have been hearing about how call centers are utilizing technology to make customer service and tech support much more efficient and more effective. I don't think anyone has witnessed those supposed improvements from recent years yet. So, I hope that Marr is right on this one.
Marr highlights advances in natural language processing (NLP), speech analysis, predictive analytics, and emerging technologies such as a application that matches a caller's personality with the most suitable agent.
NLP holds promise in helping automated systems to understand words and phrases that aren't listed on fixed menu of options. So, it won't confuse "WiFi not working" with "high fives and twerking." With the latter, I imagine a dozen call center agents dropping their headsets and doing a bit of bump and grind.
Speech analysis technologies could help to identify when a caller is getting frustrated with what they are hearing from an agent, signaling that it might be time to escalate the call to a supervisor. Have you heard this one? "Well, my supervisor will tell you the same thing I told you."
The key question centers on whether companies care enough about customer service -- marketing lip service aside -- to actually implement new technologies with an eye toward improving the customer experience. I fear that too many companies will continue to count on call center technology primarily as a means to close more tickets while using still fewer people. Or they might just say the heck with humans and automate everything.
The call center concept makes perfect sense in its purest form. People who understand a company's products and services are available to help when you need help the most. However, experience indicates that companies view call centers as cost centers, not as key tools in building better customer relationships. That call center represents an opportunity to help customers -- people who have paid for your products and services -- have a good experience, with the hope that they will buy more of those products and services. Smart companies recognize that people who call their support lines want help, as in HELP!
Have you ever been surprised that a company handled a problem in a single call, and in a friendly, professional manner? Why should that stand out as the exception?
Rather than providing good service, too many call center agents transform from human to automaton. It's one thing to recite from a script when you are walking someone through a complex technical problem, but scripts don't work when the caller has a complaint or a service question. Those require people who care and will listen. What scripts do is allow a company to hire cheap labor rather than people who are equipped to provide real help.
If there is any doubt in your mind that 20 years of supposed improvements in call center technology haven't made the customer experience better, just mention to any gathering of a half dozen acquaintances that you had a bad experience with Company X last week. Then listen as everyone chimes in with their horror stories about Company X and others. If you want everyone to be able to relate, make your complaint about your cable provider.
So, I hope that the technologies that Marr discusses actually do make a difference, and that more companies start to view their call centers as actual profit centers.
I'll close by asking whether you ever have had this experience: After a half hour or so of a useless merry-go-round of a conversation with a call center, your frustration has turned to anger and you let the agent know that they were no help and that you will never do business with them again. Their response: "Is there anything I can help you with today?" Aarrgh!