Since the days of AOL and Netscape, the Contact Centre industry has garnered many highs and lows throughout this era of digital evolution. Remember the times when a customer was transferred up to eight times before connecting to the right person or department, usually accompanied with the typical lift music when waiting in the queue to be answered’. In the early days of customer experience, the contact centre was often considered a “cost centre”– not a key focal point for customer service and revenue generation.
This stimulated a trend to decrease costs, increase productivity and transform digitally. The lockdowns in 2020 only exasperated things. Technology was leant on heavily as a short-term fix for the remote-working headaches of company leaders. Whilst it’s true we jumped technically five years into the future and there is many publications, blogs and white papers glorifying how deftly industry pivoted with technology, implementing digital transformation projects, but these solutions are not future proofed.
There’s difference of being proactive and reactive. It was relatively easy for us to initiate cloud-based contact centres within 48 hours when our clients desperately needed it, but that wasn’t the industry norm. Even now organisations are still juggling quick fixes upon insufficient infrastructure, and often only the least humane of artificial intelligence’s (AI) capabilities, such as chatbots, were deployed.
The focus was on firefighting with technology, not realising business should always be based upon people. What is technology truly? It is defined as the application of scientific knowledge to the practical aims of human life or, as it is sometimes phrased, to the change and manipulation of the human environment. The key here is that it aids human life.
Whether they are employees or customers, to be truly successful it is about making work life as satisfying as possible. Humanity and empathy can’t be deployed like a cloud-based CX platform, and the mental and physical repercussions of lockdowns reminded us that humans are a tactile, sociable species needing meaningful interaction as much as oxygen. It’s odd then that technology, of all things, is bringing us back.
Changing the Focus
Today in the CX industry, we are witnessing a prevailing focus on empathy. Before lockdown, performance metrics ruled and call centre staff were tracked, monitored, and analysed stringently, even comfort breaks! Meanwhile their days were long, arduous, and repetitive, making the delivery of consistently amazing CX almost impossible. This especially when stakes are higher because customers expect whomever answers the phone, chat, or email to know their entire history with that organisation.
So why empathy? Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Why do we need it? It is important when people understand how others are feeling you can respond appropriately to the situation. It is typically associated with social behaviour and there is lots of research showing that greater empathy leads to more helping behaviour – an attribute needed in the CX world.
So disruptive organisations aren’t just using the tech to inform and empower their CX teams, they’re altering HR practices so that people want to do the customer service job. Empathy can’t be mandated, time-managed, or streamlined – you need to live and breathe it. One famous UAE airline began moving in this direction some time ago – aligning hobbies and pastimes of their CX people with their customers’, providing common ground and a basis for empathy. From this mindset you get a CX team knowing a customer’s calling about a lost suitcase, and answering that question first with initiative, autonomy, and common sense.
Similarly, a now very successful online shoe retailer gives new recruits $200 to spend on shoes, sending them through the entire customer journey to experience from a customer’s perspective before they’ve ever answered a phone. While many companies invest large sums of money in chatbots and artificial intelligence, this company promotes interaction with customers in a personalised way, to make them feel heard and understood. For the company, phone calls are the key to building lasting relationships with customers. There are no time limits, no matrix and staff are given the authority to do whatever it takes to WOW the customer.
Employees are treated like family and therefore reciprocate this to the client, resulting in more sales, higher retention and less marketing spend. It’s the difference between being happy to have a job and fostering a culture of people happy in their job. Does an empathic approach truly work? Well, they went from $70million to $1billion in 5 years.
More recently, lockdowns increased awareness that humans need both ‘me time’ and social interaction, so smart employers now build workdays and shifts around personnel’s out-of-work routines. There’s time for yoga, pilates, and to collect the kids from school. We’re even seeing personnel given vouchers for grocery shopping, or having groceries ordered for them so they’re not trying to deliver epic CX while fretting about chores they have to do after work.
CX at the Organisation Heart
This empathic mindset is growing. For example, one utility client of ours revamped its brand based solely upon empathy. Their ad campaigns boasted that their CX staff spent however long was necessary on the phone with elderly customers to coach them on how to programme their digital thermostat. It took hours, but it was worth every penny because once word got around, they started growing their market share as if by magic.
But even that’s not the full extent of it – living that empathy impacts the HR department as well as the marketing department. People still ask me, “How do we solve the recruitment crisis? We have one million CX jobs to fill!” The answer is not just in deploying technology that enables your CX teams to do great things, it’s in realising and accepting humans are your most important resource and building an environment that they thrive in.
Humans are motivated by money only when the job to be done is repetitive and mundane. For everything else humans are motivated by mastery, purpose, and autonomy. So smart employers now promote horizontally as well as vertically, and reward CX employees for their versatility i.e. mastering not only voice but also email, chat, and any other mediums of customer communication. This perception engenders employee retention, if only because their days are more diverse, more stimulating, and more rewarding.
It’s the difference between wanting the best for your customers and staff because they make you profit, and because you just want to see them thrive. Ironically though, if they thrive, then sooner or later so does your profit.