There is much talk about automation in the news at present. Robots are replacing workers at car factories, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used in ever more situations and there seems to be a sense that we will all soon be replaced by machines of one sort or another.

This also applies to the contact center industry. Wise companies have invested in creating portals and mobile apps that allow their customers to use and change services with little, if any, human contact. The Internet of Things (IoT) has given us consumer devices that can automatically advise companies of their customers' needs. And when a customer needs to ask a question very often an AI agent will interpret the question and provide an answer.

This is all highly efficient of course and very good for the customer. The customer doesn't want to wait in a contact centre queue if they can help it, plus the reduced need for manpower will reduce the cost of whatever service is being provided.

What future then for contact centre agents? Are they redundant? Hardly! If anything the contact centre agent has a more important role than ever before, for two reasons;

• Firstly, no matter what marvels we work with AI and automation there will always be customer issues that fall through the cracks. So placating a frustrated customer, addressing the issue thoroughly and sealing up that crack for the future requires a highly capable and responsible agent. This is not someone who just answers questions or reads scripts - but rather a customer service expert, an analyst and a trouble-shooter.

• And secondly, consider how your relationship with a company is shaped by its employees, and how much more likely you are to buy something when you have spoken to a charming, knowledgeable and helpful employee. Each interaction creates the opportunity to build a lasting emotional relationship between customer and company, buyer and seller - one human to another. That relationship is gold.

So the future agent is a representative of your company who can make the difference between a faceless automaton and a company with character who cares about its customers.

So what does the contact centre need to do in the future? As simple as always but more focussed than ever: people who can communicate well with customers are a scarce resource. Their time must be managed in the most efficient way, and that must be done by well-designed software.



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