Eight Days a Week: The Always-On Contact Center

FROM THE SEPTEMBER 2019 ISSUE

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In February 1965, The Beatles released a song called “Eight Days a Week” as a single to the U.S. market before it appeared on the album Beatles VI. It became the band’s seventh No. 1 single in the U.S. in just over a year.

The inspiration for the song came from a conversation Paul McCartney was having with a chauffeur who was driving him to John Lennon’s house. McCartney was banned from driving for a year in 1963 after receiving two back-to-back speeding tickets. Apparently, the Magistrate hearing his case thought Paul needed to be taught a lesson and invalidated his driver’s license for a year. So, Paul did what any other 21-year-old with no license would do. He hired a chauffeur to drive him around. During the drive to Lennon’s house, McCartney asked the chauffeur how he had been. The driver responded that he’d been working hard—“Working eight days a week.”

And the rest is history.

In the contact center, working eight days a week may be close to becoming the new CX standard, according to research commissioned by Verint and undertaken by Opinium Research of London. For this study, Opinium interviewed 34,068 consumers in 18 different countries, including the U.S. The purpose of the research was to better understand the evolution of the demand for “always-on engagement” in customer service and measure attitudes toward various technologies in the workplace.

Among the findings of this research is validation of the continued need for human interaction, even in this era of digitization. While digital channels have ushered in new expectations of convenience, they have also created higher expectations of service from customers. In other words, service has to always be on.

The Opinium research revealed that 60% of consumers globally expect to be able to engage with an organization at any time and on any channel. Surprisingly, this result didn’t vary significantly across age groups, meaning boomers are becoming as demanding about customer service as their millennial and Generation Z counterparts. Beyond that, 77% of consumers said that convenience was a major factor in choosing with whom they do business. Translation: If it’s not convenient for customers to do business with you, prepare to risk losing three-quarters of your customers.

Another fascinating result of this research was the revelation that 43% of consumers would likely engage less with an organization that replaced humans with digital alternatives, such as bots and other artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. This should be of particular interest to companies that are pondering the cost savings of replacing people with technology in high-touch customer service situations.

Of course, the always-on contact center has to have help on the other end of the phone or desktop as well, ready to assist those in search of always-on customer service. This doesn’t necessarily mean a huge increase in staff and, in fact, the majority of consumers don’t expect to find a person to be on the other end of the phone each time they need help. Surprisingly, the research revealed that 83% of consumers felt a greater degree of loyalty to a company that uses digital tools as the primary means of engaging with them.

It seems that employees are more open to the idea of having supplemental support from technology as well. In fact, the Opinium research shows that 71% of employees are in favor of using technology to replace repetitive, labor-intensive tasks. Beyond that, 58% of employees stated that they would like their employers to use more automation technologies, such as AI, and 55% have gone as far as asking their employer to acquire better technology to help them work more efficiently.

So, it seems the fear of automation replacing jobs is being pushed aside by both consumers and workers in favor of an understanding that automation not only helps workers perform at a higher level, it is a necessity in order to meet the requirements of always-on customer engagement. Now for the hard part—how do we put the intelligence gathered in the Opinium research to practical use in the contact center?

Nancy Porte

“These increasing customer expectations are forcing organizations to adopt a 24/7 approach to service. To succeed, organizations will continue to adopt automated solutions such as chatbots and artificial intelligence—the hybrid workforce—leveraging a combination of man and machine to drive customer engagement and operational efficiencies,” said Nancy Porte, vice president of global customer experience for Verint.

“Even in the ‘Age of Convenience,’ the human factor remains vital for engagement, however. In fact, survey results show that human engagement is particularly valuable for critical interactions that can serve to build long-term relationships. For example, when a customer has an urgent question or complaint, their first preference is to speak with a live human agent via the phone or in person.

“The end goal of a hybrid workforce approach is frictionless omnichannel engagement—empowering customers with the ability to switch seamlessly between channels—including the ability to engage with a human when needed. Employee engagement and empowerment are essential elements in this equation. The human workforce must work hand-in-hand with technology, freeing up humans to focus on more impactful and fulfilling work that accomplishes the end goal of customer satisfaction,” she said.

Porte continues, “Fortunately, the research shows we’ve reached a tipping point, where fear and loathing around technology at work is subsiding and there is an increased appreciation for automation in supporting employees.

“Just recently, the World Health Organization went on record categorizing burnout as an occupational phenomenon stemming from unsuccessfully managed chronic workplace stress. The research shows that stress is the ‘new norm’ in the workplace, but technology is making a dent. Globally, only a small minority of those surveyed say they enjoy low stress levels in the workplace. However, nearly three-quarters (72%) who said they have low stress levels at work attribute this in part to access to tools and technology to work productively, while almost two-thirds (64%) agree that automation technology helps reduce both workload and stress.”

If you’re as fascinated by this kind of research as I am, you can get the complete results of this Verint-sponsored international study of always-on engagement here.

Always-on customer service is becoming a reality. Customers are able to reach either a human or a digital service representative 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it seems that technology is being increasingly accepted by both customers and workers. With such exceptional customer service offerings, is it possible that the customer experience can get even better? Probably. In the immortal words of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, “Eight days a week is not enough to show I care.”


The National Association of Call Centers

Did you know columnist Paul Stockford is also the editor of In-Queue, the monthly newsletter of the National Association of Call Centers? Get your free subscription and read more of his provocative commentary every month!