Will Video “Kill” the Call Center Agent?


Will Video “Kill” the Call Center Agent?

“Rewritten by machine and new technology/
And now I understand the problems you can see”

Video Killed The Radio Star
(The Buggles)

No, video did not kill the radio star, contrary to the famous lyrics that launched MTV some 40 years ago, on August 1, 1981. Artists adapted to the music video medium, which eventually evolved to live-streaming and YouTube with the rise of the internet and mobile devices.

Easy access to video-based technology is opening doors for a new generation of stars, including Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes. But will this happen for call/contact center agents as contact centers adopt video?

Or, to paraphrase The Buggles’ hit, will video break the hearts of agents? How will video affect employees hired because of their audio and keyboard skills rather than their appearance?

Instead, will contact centers and their employees also adapt to this “new” medium? Will the next generation of staff truly be contact center agents, adept at handling customer interactions on any channel: audio, text-based, and yes video?

We asked several leading experts on agent recruiting and management to find out. Our “stars” include Brent Holland, Founder and CEO, Intelliante, Mark Pereira, Briljent LLC, and Kathleen M. Peterson, Chief Vision Officer, PowerHouse Consulting, Inc.

Q. How will video impact agent recruiting and management?

Brent Holland

Brent Holland: Companies will use video-driven communications internally and externally. I believe we will see more innovative applications of video-enhanced support. For example, Blitzz is a technology startup that improves troubleshooting by using video to inspect devices or equipment remotely.

Video-based customer support is still uncommon, though it is gaining traction rapidly in some industries. The American Hospital Association reports that 76% of hospitals use telehealth technology to improve access to high-quality healthcare.

Some companies adopt video to create a personalized customer experience (CX) by using screen-sharing or co-browsing to improve issue resolution. Although a video channel is unlikely to replace phone or chat support soon, I believe it will become more common.

Contact centers are technology-mediated social hubs that connect consumers with company representatives through various channels, including video.

Yet despite the social nature of contact centers, introverts usually outperform extroverts because they are better listeners, think before acting, and enjoy one-on-one conversations.

Although it may seem odd for introverts to perform well in a social environment, telephony and chat technologies eliminate the social stressors introverts try to avoid.

Introducing video into contact centers will change that dynamic. Extroverts will outperform introverts on video-mediated engagements in the near term.

Over time, however, extroverts’ preference for talking instead of listening, making impulsive decisions, and being the center of attention will negatively impact the CX.

Mark Pereira

Mark Pereira: I believe video would be used for both internal and external customers, as videoconferencing applications could be used to walk a customer through an application (training), troubleshooting challenges, and determining eligibility for programs such as health insurance.

I also believe it would make a better CX overall by the customer being able to see the agent they are interacting with versus a conversation over the phone or chat. While video has not been widely used for this purpose, I do feel that there is still time for this channel to catch on for a majority of the call/contact center industry to implement.

Kathleen M. Peterson

Kathleen M. Peterson: Video in the contact center has gained traction in multiple categories over the past year, but largely as an internal collaboration tool.

Whether utilizing Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx, or other platforms, contact centers have turned to video for recruiting, training, coaching, and meetings, particularly for remote agents, to close the communication gaps with their work-from-home (WFH) teams. But I haven’t seen anyone recruiting specifically for video agents.

Where I haven’t seen much video is direct to consumer interactions. The major exception here is healthcare’s swift adoption of video visits with physicians to close some of the gaps in care.

I believe we are still a long way away from consumers wanting video interactions for basic customer service. While a video doctor’s appointment is easily accepted without concerns regarding the doctor’s looks or environment, the same may not be true in other cases.

Q. Are there any HR, legal issues e.g., discrimination that may arise with video?

Brent Holland: The Buggles song suggested that video will negatively impact the careers of performers whose appearances do not translate well on screen.

Will contact centers hire video agents with disfigurations, scars, or severe acne? As the number of video-based jobs increases, the issue of perceived attractiveness will likely become more pronounced.

Although employment laws do not cover perceived attractiveness, the risk to companies is that HR decisions that consider an applicant’s appearance—intentionally or not—may adversely impact specific groups of people.

Two examples come immediately to mind. First, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination.

Second, hiring for video-based jobs holds the potential to shine a brighter light on disability-related issues at work.

In the U.S., for example, individuals with an impairment impacting a major life activity (e.g., hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, breathing) are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Although adding a video channel can improve the CX, companies must not overlook the moral, ethical, and legal obligations when hiring for these customer-facing jobs.

Mark Pereira: I feel that as video catches on, I do believe that call/contact centers will be looking for professionalism in agents (not just their demeanor and tone of voice) to represent their brands in a positive manner.

In addition to the current minimum requirements necessary. I do feel that promotion should be given to an agent’s performance on the job and reliability.

I also feel call center training is going to get more intensive with the introduction of video as a means to interact with customers as posture, appearance, backgrounds, and the agent’s surroundings.

The specter of discrimination based on looks for both applicants and existing agents who were not hired with the anticipation of being seen on screen can become an issue.

But we need to provide the resources to make agents succeed versus resorting to discrimination for being hired, getting promoted, or removed.

Further, existing agents may resist the option of moving to video as they may not feel comfortable, and this could limit their growth within the center.

Kathleen M. Peterson: Appearance has the potential of being a problem if/when companies decide to offer video interactions with customer service or help desks.

To avoid any specter of discrimination companies will have to follow very defensible selection rules when it comes to any criteria related to working as a video agent.

An individual’s facial features, hair, size, or any other criteria related to “looks” could be considered discriminatory. I believe agents will likely have to be offered the choice NOT to be a video agent if it wasn’t part of the contact center when they were hired.

Q. Do you anticipate new policies, requirements, or training with video?

Brent Holland: I believe companies will place greater emphasis on dress codes, personal grooming, proper etiquette, non-verbal behavior, and mannerisms, including when and how to take notes while someone is talking.

Historically, the best-performing agents listened to customers while simultaneously entering data or searching for information.

On a video engagement, though, an agent who multitasks to improve efficiency may seem rude; one implication is that handle time is likely to increase.

Companies are also likely to create more rigid policies for WFH agents. Some guidelines may attempt to control the work environment, including cleanliness, clutter, lighting, artwork, and exercise equipment.

Mark Pereira: Training will need to be provided to agents on how to adjust lighting in the room, proper angle of the camera, being conscious of their surroundings, posture while on the call, body language, proper usage of virtual backgrounds, and on their attire.

I also feel that quality assurance (QA) will need to incorporate additional criteria to grade agents.

Moreover, call/contact centers will need to be equipped to meet the needs of call storage since video files take more bandwidth and capacity than compared to voice alone.

For agents that WFH call/contact centers will need to test internet speeds to determine if the agents are ready to transition to video calls.

We all know that it can be quite difficult to hold a phone call conversation when someone’s phone isn’t getting sufficient coverage due to the area or internet connection. So in the case of a call center agent, think about the lag in video or image freezing when the conversation is being done via video.

Kathleen M. Peterson: Remote workers will have to have an environment that represents the brand, which has to be written into company policies. One that is cluttered with overflowing laundry baskets falling out of the closet won’t be acceptable.

The key to video, regardless of where the interactions are taking place, is to have the audience focus on the agent and what they are saying and not be distracted.

Agents need to be cognizant and taught about lighting. For example, if there is a window behind them, they become a silhouette in a frame and they run the risk of glare.

Having the right facial movements and demeanor are also important.

When the camera rolls, agents should begin with a smile and portray enthusiasm, energy, and positivity. They should also focus on the screen, not on themselves.

Agents must avoid the temptation to use the screen as a mirror and groom themselves. And to never have anything in their mouths while live!

Clothing is critical as well. Agents need to avoid wild colors and patterns and instead wear soft patterns and colors.

Finally, agents must make sure the cameras are angled correctly, namely straight on and a bit above them in order to look their best.