Following the recent, and quite disturbing, incident where Thandiswa Mazwai was called the K-word by a contact centre agent, the need for individuals working in contact centres who have the right personable skills, can manage stress and are excellent problem solvers cannot be over emphasised. South Africa’s national lockdown and continued social distancing requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic is creating a further necessity for consumers to engage with contact centres more regularly, and the agents in these organisations will have to adapt quickly to the ‘new normal’ and require excellent strong problem solving skills.
A recent survey carried out by business process outsourcing (BPO) solutions provider, Merchants, looked to gain insights into the experiences of South African people in relation to contact centres. Of the respondent sample, aged between 18 and 50+, 62% said they preferred to speak to a person when contacting a business or service provider as opposed to using digital channels or other touchpoints. In the last month, 63% of respondents had contacted their bank, 50% had contacted their mobile service provider and 41% had contacted their internet service provider.
There has certainly been a spike in the number of calls coming through to contact centres worldwide in the last few months, as consumers seek to make faceless contact with their service providers in seek of support, information or assistance. When contacting a business or service provider, the contact centre agent is seen as a direct link to the business. It does not matter to the consumer whether they are directly employed by the business in question or by a BPO provider – they are a direct representation of the business the consumer seeks to contact. As the needs of consumers change and evolve, the contact centre will need to do the same – focusing on the agents first.
In terms of their experiences with contact centres, one of the biggest frustrations amongst respondents was having to contact a business multiple times to resolve a query. Similarly, for those who had had a positive experience with a call centre, 72% said this was due to the agent solving their problem, while 69% said the agent was friendly. It is no surprise then that when asked that the most important trait is in a contact centre agent, the top result was ‘problem solving ability’.
South African contact centre agents are known for their problem solving ability, and I believe this is what puts the country at the forefront of becoming the next BPO destination of choice as businesses look to outsource into multiple regions. While human elements like empathy, humour and patience remain important in the contact centre, problem solving will always be the priority for the consumer.
The second most important trait, according to the local survey, was personality, followed by knowledge of products and services. While technology is able to do fulfill many roles and automate most end-to-end processes, the contact centre will always be an environment where the human element is critical – and I believe this is going to become even more important as we move into the ‘new normal’ and faceless interactions between businesses and their consumers continues to increase.
Businesses and BPO providers alike will need to focus on hiring, training and upskilling agents specifically around problem solving as they look to provide the best possible CX in order to hold on to market share in an increasingly competitive environment.
There is no doubt that the contact centre agent of the future is a problem solver first.
Mathew Conn is Group CRO at customer management partner, Merchants.