Can Tech Make the Call Center a Help Desk?


Please, please, please, for the sake of everyone's sanity let this one be true. Bernard Marr, big data thought leader and columnist for Forbes, penned this article: How Analytics, Big Data and AI Are Changing Call Centers Forever.

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

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!

James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

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Re: Wringing more efficiencies
  • 10/6/2016 9:03:32 AM
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@lyndon. Terrible Service by Design: What have we come to?

Re: Wringing more efficiencies
  • 10/5/2016 10:52:16 PM
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..

Jim writes


I wonder how many organizations that applaud their savings via call center efficiencies (terrible automated systems and inexpensive flunkies handling the phones) also calculate the amount of lost future business when customers get angry.


 

Or perhaps making customers calling tech support angry is actually an integral calculated strategy. Back in July the New York Times ran a revealing article – Why Tech Support Is (Purposely) Unbearable – which explains that tech support call center strategy is deliberately planned to foment frustration, anger, or despair. 

The article quotes Justin Robbins, a former tech support agent currently in charge of research and editorial at the International Customer Management Institute:


"Don't think companies haven't studied how far they can take things in providing the minimal level of service," Mr. Robbins said. "Some organizations have even monetized it by intentionally engineering it so you have to wait an hour at least to speak to someone in support, and while you are on hold, you're hearing messages like, 'If you'd like premium support, call this number and for a fee, we will get to you immediately.'"


 

 

Re: Wringing more efficiencies
  • 10/1/2016 8:25:44 AM
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I am afraid that most are cost driven, not quality driven.

Re: Wringing more efficiencies
  • 9/30/2016 11:47:30 PM
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No doubt about that! When resources are scarce, though, I hope companies know what to prioritize.

Re: Wringing more efficiencies
  • 9/28/2016 8:44:39 AM
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I think that IF you hire good employees and you give them intelligent tools, you will have the best possible system.

Re: Wringing more efficiencies
  • 9/28/2016 4:52:24 AM
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@kq4ym I'm from the Philippines and if that call center account is being run in the same way I've seen some accounts being run, the agent kept giving you canned responses because she was given little flexibility. The core problem with accounts outsourced overseas is this: they were outsourced because of cost advantages, and that points to a call-center-as-cost-center paradigm referred to in the article. Your ISP likely didn't do a good job of empowering the agents here and sadly, that's commonly the case. A company that truly cares about integrated marketing will find it easier to keep the customer support in-house or at least company-owned. That way, agents have greater ownership of the brand and it'll be easier for them to coordinate with the rest of the company. When support is outsourced, it tends to become extremely process-oriented (scripts, flow charts) rather than customer-oriented, even if it could theoretically be otherwise.

Re: Wringing more efficiencies
  • 9/28/2016 4:34:42 AM
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I have gone through several centers where they have a script and by gosh they will not vary. If we can get analytics involved, maybe we can replace these scripts.

The funny thing is that those standard scripts and process flows are supposed to ensure quality. I think analytics will help, but as a customer, I think I'll be better served by truly empowered, competent and caring individuals. I've encountered brands like that. I believe companies need to prioritize training and development towards this direction more than improving technology. As a marketer, I think it's a matter of considering customer support as part of the marketing cycle vs. it simply being a cost center, like the article points out.

Re: Wringing more efficiencies
  • 9/15/2016 9:28:56 AM
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I agree. that makes the NLP better than a low cost call center.

Re: Wringing more efficiencies
  • 9/15/2016 8:46:36 AM
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@SaneIT. That's the sad irony of how we use technology. People build bots to help us order pizza but not to get our WiFi working. The value in the pizza bot is that the pizza place saves $10 an hour by replacing their order taker. Getting a fix on a down router or cell phone could cost a company a lost customer every hour.

I sat through one kind of disturbing presentation recently where the speaker was talking about all the "great" ways we can automate life (as well as the resulting challenge of what to do with the resulting joblessness). With the technologies that we are discussing in this thread, the potential isn't so much about eliminating people but about using technology to put people in touch with the right people, enabling effective human interaction. For a customer, it means solving a problem that matters to them, and for the company it means maintaiing a good customer relationship.

Re: Wringing more efficiencies
  • 9/15/2016 8:23:40 AM
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That's where the bot using NLP comes in.  It hears you, picks key words out of your discussion and determines when to escalate your call based on the conversation.  An operator might just sit through your explanation and keep reading the script because they don't understand a word you're saying but the machine can score callers and hurry a call along.

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