New age: how call centres are trying to balance efficiency, round-the-clock service and the human touch

From 3D printed offices to on-demand apps for anything and machine learning and virtual assistants, technology is reshaping the way we communicate with each other everywhere.
Business, Strategy, Growth, Call centre, Contact, Telecommunications, Tech, Future, Society


Businesses in the Gulf region need to understand customer demands clearly in order to compete and grow.

Google made headlines when it recently showed off the jaw-dropping new capability of Google assistant Duplex, which will soon be able to make phonecalls on your behalf and book appointments for you. The voice sounded incredibly natural; the person on the other end had no idea he was talking to a digital AI helper.

Looking at the technology evolution that occurred in the last 15 years, we have seen giant leaps that have made the modern way of living possible. From 3D printed offices to on-demand apps for anything and machine learning and virtual assistants, technology is reshaping the way we communicate with each other everywhere.

In this digital age, customer service seems to be an area of business that companies automatically presume is heavily supported and perfectly matched with technology. They are not entirely wrong; giving customers self-service options would give these individuals valuable time back and automate certain tasks on their behalf. Also, transitioning to a more digitally-enabled environment will free up talent and allow them to focus on growing the business and enhancing customer experience.

Within businesses, contact centres have long played a pivotal role in attending to clients’ requests and resolving their problems – albeit within working hours or other limitations. With the new generation of customers, the demand for round-the-clock support is unprecedented and a robust digital call centre provides what’s needed.

According to US-based market research company Forrester, contact centre satisfaction affects customers’ willingness to repurchase, reluctance to switch and likelihood to recommend. Given the high stakes, companies are challenged with a need to balance out their technological transformation while keeping in place a human element within contact centres to ensure a pain-free customer experience.

Increased demand for instant resolution

The UAE market is one of the leaders in tech innovation adoption globally, with a recent Accenture survey finding that UAE customers are ahead of global averages in terms of readiness to adopt AI-powered devices and services.

This clear appetite among consumers to embrace such technological innovations is disrupting businesses. According to business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, the value of e-commerce is estimated to reach $11bn by the end of 2018, thus reflecting a shift in consumers’ buying behaviours. Moreover, 78 percent of consumers in the UAE rely on their mobile phones for their e-commerce purchases. For instance, 50 percent of the people within the UAE aged between 25-34 conduct their shopping online while 22 percent of them shop through their desktop.

In addition, now more than ever, the market is being flooded with messengers, assistants and chat-bots with AI capabilities. These obvious transitions in digital penetration are shifting the communication channels in which these customers operate and perform their underlying purchases.

In the age of real-time everything, nowhere is this demand for instant information more visible than with call centres. At RSA, we have seen an exponential increase in customers’ demand for an instant resolution from the minute they get in touch with our operators.

Also, customers must be able to get service from any number of digital channels and platforms, not to mention any device. Therefore, we strongly believe in engaging with customers on their favourite digital channels including phone, web chat and email, in addition to having a strong presence on social media. Regardless of the channel, customers are now time-starved and in need of an instant resolution, whatever the platform.

From a contact centre perspective, we currently operate with the idea that the customer is at the centre of our innovation journey – the investment only makes sense if they are satisfied with the technology behind the service. This means we evolve our business in a way that compliments the customer’s needs with respect to their insurance, the channel in which they want it to be distributed and the way in which they want us to reach out to them.

Keeping the human touch

While technology brings greater efficiency to business operations, companies shouldn’t overlook human interaction. As digital innovators and investors work towards providing robots with the ability and knowledge to deal and address technical problems, it will be sometime before they gain the ability to measure human emotions and speech nuances, or understand the degree of frustration a customer has towards a problem.

A company may have the most competitive products coupled with the latest technology, but ignoring customer service fundamentals could have an impact on its customer retention and bottom line.

According to Bain & Data, a customer is four times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service-related rather than if it’s price- or product-related. Without humans, there is also the risk of missing out on business opportunities. Generally, employees in industries such as insurance and hospitality may not only care about noting problematic areas but also knowing when the customer is satisfied with the service in order to leverage this for retention and cross-selling purposes.

Often being one of the first layers of interaction with customers, RSA looks at contact centres as an important channel to position our company for growth and engage customers in an aim to maintain their satisfaction with our services – and hopefully their loyalty.

A key consideration as we move towards the new-age contact call centres is to master the balancing act between digitising for efficiency and keeping the human touch. As a customer-centric company, we rely on the customer to dictate the right balance and how much human versus non-invasive interactions they wish to have.

RSA has always strived to maintain an ideal balance between technology and the human element through its interactive website that offers a user-friendly experience as well as a call centre that is dedicated to addressing the needs and wants of our customers.

Looking ahead, businesses that can strike a balance between quick resolution of problems and personalised service will ultimately win the customer over.

This story first appeared at Arabian Business.

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