The idea of providing customers with a one-stop hyper adaptable point of contact isn’t new, it’s just that technology and human limitations have complicated the evolutionary path to this lofty ideal. We are not there yet, so the current model that routes calls through multiple streams differentiated by needs and organisational functions – sales, accounts, support etc – characterises the customer experience for most people today.
When you examine a fantasy encounter with a universal agent of the future, it’s easy to see why getting there is likely to be so tough. Imagine calling your friendly telco provider to discuss your broadband plan. During the conversation you broach the topic of upload speed, suspicious that your current modem is an inhibiting factor, so the conversation switches to troubleshooting. During the same call you also discuss a smartphone upgrade and family access to streamed entertainment. That just isn’t going to happen without being shunted around different agents, and even directed to a website, a process involving hold times, transfers, and call backs.
Who knows, perhaps a 20-year veteran of the business, someone who had worked across all departments and made it their mission to stay abreast of new products, services and technology, could safely answer every customer’s questions and provide advice and options leading to a satisfactory resolution. Does such a person exist? Possibly, but unlikely, and certainly not in numbers required to make a meaningful impact in a large contact centre. Though they could perform a more isolated function, as some sort of guru answering questions and providing advice, much like the experts working at Apple’s Genius Bar.
Like so many advances in customer experience, technology contains the answers – or at least holds the keys. Specifically, a knowledge base system that functions within a tight ecosystem of technologies embracing broad-based CRM and contact centre functions is the starting point. Again, these technologies are not new, but their sketchy integration and sometimes siloed existence prohibits the presentation of critical knowledge at conversation speed that is fundamental to developing super agents able to confidently tackle freeform conversations with customers.
But then consider the progress of AI-driven chatbots and advances in web design and user experience that are geared to deal with common tasks, such as enquiries about plans, service availability, and pricing. As this front-line technology gets smarter it reduces the load on universal agents, unhitching them from the burden of having to stay up to speed with rudimentary product and service information, and releasing more bandwidth to provide in-depth service.
The universal agent concept sounds simple enough, but even for companies that have the tools and people to develop the idea, there are significant training, technological, and logistical challenges to navigate.
Accordingly, this new species will exist in pockets, mostly as a high-value resource to manage VIP customers, or complex offerings. However, as younger audiences choose accessibility and seamless user experience over brand preference, as research suggests, companies will be compelled to accelerate the provision of frontline universal agents to attract the next generation of customers.
The resulting experience, memorable for its personalisation and quick resolution can, by some estimates, make customers up to three times more likely to recommend a product or service, and three times more likely to become repeat customers. First contact resolution rates will go through the roof too.