What should contact centre managers STOP doing in 2023?

Contact Centre Managers will not be able to run operations the same way in 2023 as we have done in the past. Following COVID, the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis, customers expectations and behaviour will be noticeably different.
Add to that, we're still grappling with hybrid working and finding a way to make that work really well. 2023 will bring new challenges for contact centres in a very difficult customer experience, employee and commercial environment. I hear you "its just one thing after another!" - yes it is and you are at the front of your organisations, so you will see and feel it most.
So, let's see how we can help.

We need to stop 'doing the same' as we did in 2022 - we need to be very intentional

Now is not the time for continuous improvement, it’s time for a radical rethink of our customers’ experience and journey – time for some smart changes.
When customers are stressed by other factors, they are even more irritated by the little things - IVRs that talk at them and take them down dead ends, they’re even more frustrated by long wait times and being cut-off, they are far less tolerant of your mistakes and a lack of knowledge and are really wound up by any lack of ownership in your team.
So we need to make a deliberate effort to expose and focus on your CX ‘irritants’ and getting rid of them as fast as you can. Rapid, tactical changes. This will also protect your team by not making emotional customers worse.

Training will be key - see it as an investment and a protective blanket. Training is highly valued by contact centre teams, it gives them space away from the difficult 'day to day', it shows you value them, it makes them feel more able to handle the challenges, it brings them back to WHY customers behave as they do and it is one of the strongest drivers to staff retention - and you need to keep knowledge and experience right now. Moreover, high impact training can be used to shift mindsets - educate the team about big changes in customer needs, wants, expectations and behaviours to bring about a marked shift in how they attune.

2023 is also the time to bring your WHOLE self to work – all of those human skills that sometimes get left at the door as we swipe in and put our ‘professional’ hat on. You are going to need every ounce of your humanity, so let all that good stuff come forth, bring it with you through the door and let’s use it. Never has it been more important to be able to relate to the lives of other people, staff and customers, and show solidarity. Contact Centres will become a more emotional place.

Cost pressures will be coming at you internally and they will naturally force you to think ‘reduction’ – but box clever – you need to reduce the right things or you’ll create more pain. The first place everyone goes is people, seeking to find a number of ‘heads’ that can be reduce. You need to play super smart, there are other ways.
Thinking objectively and differently when you're so close to it, is really hard, we know. Sometimes it helps to bring in the experts with a cross sector view so you can adopt approaches that are working in other organisations / sectors and get a very raw and objective take on what you could do differently.

We need to stop seeing Digital Customer Experience as a poor relation to human experiences

Spoiler alert – sometimes digital customer experience is MORE satisfying for customers than human experience. There you go, I said it!

We were transforming a client’s IVR approach, injecting some personality, making the journey faster to resolution, more informal and satisfying. One of our outcomes was that IVR CSAT outperformed Agent CSAT for the first time ever. No-one wanted to tell the team, but why not? This is simply about allowing customers to use the channel that suits them best in that moment, and banishing the crazy notion that human is always better, it’s just not true.

Simple digital experience elements that ‘just work’ are invaluable in customer journeys. Customers learned a lot through the covid/lockdown periods, almost everyone learned how to do more digitally, especially around things like the use video conferencing. We must capitalise on the skills customers have acquired because we all know, if you don’t use it, they will lose it. Sure, there are potential benefits for organisations in terms of reduced cost (but don’t assume digital always equal reduced cost, it doesn’t) and IF those are passed on to customers, you’re helping them with maintained or lower prices too and we all need a bit of that!

There are also customer benefits in keeping those skills fresh, everyone is getting older, the world is going more digital and those two things can be hard to balance – the digital revolution that happened in covid gave us an incredible opportunity – if you can help customers maintain these digital skills then you are helping them maintain their confidence, independence and control as they get older.

And for those of you who have automatically got a voice in you head saying “what about vulnerable customers? what about the digitally excluded?”, there are benefits here too if you are clever and thoughtful about the experience design. Banish the myth that digital doesn’t work for vulnerable customers, in many case it works better than phone or face to face. We worked with a client whose client base was 100% vulnerable and we introduced various digital elements into the experience to improve CSAT. For customers who need longer to think, absorb what is being said and craft responses, telephone is a horribly pressured channel but livechat or messenger conversations allow them the space and time they need. Yes, there always will be a small vulnerable group who cannot access any services digitally – by making sure the rest of our customers who can, do, we free up capacity to tailor specific approaches for those who can’t.

We need to stop seeing IT as a back office function

Oh crikey, the cat really is amongst the pigeons with this one! The more services are delivered to customers digitally, the more IT are actually THE front office function. Once you go past 50% digital CX provision, IT are your PRIMARY customer facing function. I know, scary as! For everyone! Being customer facing is not what most IT colleagues thought they were signing up to or are skilled/equipped to deal with.

It’s time to split the IT team into customer facing and those that are genuinely still a Back Office function. And I’m suggesting you bring the customer facing part of your IT team into the Contact Centre, to create a joined-up team, recognising that they are directly delivering crucial elements of customer experience. Let’s give them the CX mindset development they need and methodical tools (they’re logical, they like tools and sequential approaches – they just not had access to the CX ones yet!). Let’s teach them about how customers think, behave and why - let’s give them customer insight to inform their decisions.

You probably need to start looking for some different characteristics in your customer facing IT recruits because their ability to understand people has now become a core skill for the role. Have you got some individuals in your contact centre team who have the ability to acquire some IT skills eg programming the AI – its powerful to cross skill the other way? A blended group of people with an IT background and people with a customer experience background, given the right development, tools, approaches and understanding, will be a key contact centre asset for the future.

So, let's take a really fresh and objective look at the customer experience / journey so we can meet the customer and commercial challenges of 2023 head on. Let's accept that in many situations, a digital customer experience can achieve higher customer satisfaction than human experiences. And let's bring some of the IT Team into the contact centre, recognising that their role is now about delivering frontline customer experiences.

Bring your whole self to work, live your company values every day and let’s show customers that you as a human really do care and will do everything in your power to help. Because once this recession is over, those kindnesses and thoughtful details will be the memories that hold of you that won’t fade. We remember the people who helped us, who related to us and our loyalty to them is deep. 2023 is a huge opportunity to take a different approach, it’s exciting, embrace it!

Nicola Eaton Sawford