The Last Call Center Representative: A Non-Apocalyptic Future
As Brian answered his first call of the day, he was surprised that it was still 10:30 Friday morning; as it was his earliest call all week. In his excitement to get a call before lunch, he almost dropped his cell phone in the sand next to the hammock where he spends his days.
It’s not that Brian is the last call center ‘rep’ on earth; just the last at Promiseland Inc., which years ago had adapted to the self-service culture that took over the world in the mid-2010’s. After a long evaluation, he beat out the other 200 employees for the position – including several in management that envy him even today – which offers the fulfillment of receiving only calls from customers that really need personal help, and such low call volumes that he is perfecting his painting skills and going to school at the same time.
And what of all of the bad experiences with call centers and complaining customers? Brian has heard these stories from his parents, but has difficulty believing that multiple people in the same company had to ask a customer her address twice on the same phone call; or that reps had to ask for the phone number of a customer (after all, the customer was calling from a phone, and caller ID had been around since the previous century).
The revolution had been slow at first, with two decades of computer generated voices generating images of an autonomous and inflexible tyrant behind the ‘curtain’ that was determined to disallow human contact with employees. But while the voice of “IVR” (as it was called) didn’t stick by itself, customers’ appetites to help themselves did. And when the Internet became a way of life for people, the stage was set for a ‘giant leap’ for “customer-kind.”
The giant steps continued for 10 years with every company allowing customers to order service from wherever they are, with whatever access to the Internet they have, from France to Facebook. It was relatively basic at the beginning when customers could choose to receive technician arrival updates in their email or on their phone. Then it got personal!
Suddenly technicians’ pictures were appearing in appointment confirmations, and technicians’ estimated arrivals were updated if a five minute variance of the promised time occurred. Customers loved it because they felt safer when the tech arrived, and they always knew exactly when that would be. It was then that the first 30 percent of customers’ calls stopped coming. Essentially the call center went from the predominant option of the late 20th century to the exceptional ‘last option’ in the early 21st century – as companies adopted technology already available in 2010 (from ClickSoftware as the world leader in service optimization).
As companies shrunk their call centers, many of them took the next major stride toward the customer with the emergence of virtual asset management (VAM) by which consumers and businesses didn’t have to request service at all. Upgrades to almost every appliance and gadget in the house or the office were delivered without the involvement of the customer; and customers started receiving unprompted messages like the following.
“Dear Mr. Brown,
Your refrigerator model 4453, serial number 922784A, at 458 Franklin Road appears to be cooling insufficiently due to a clogged air filter. According to your preferences, we have technicians available to perform service at your location on the mornings of Wednesday or Thursday, with estimated arrival times between 8:00 AM and 8:30 AM on both days. If you prefer to save $15.00, we also have technicians available already in your neighborhood that can arrive between 2:00 PM and 2:30 PM Thursday. If you prefer a more convenient time, please click on our company name ‘Promiseland, Inc’ and you can choose another time. Thank you!”
VAM, along with fully mobilized customer interaction management effectively eliminated the need for customers to call for service. Every need was either predicted or as easy as a few slides of the finger on a customer’s smart phone, from troubleshooting to appointment booking – it was all right there. Then it spread from service into sales as technicians that were already in the home identifying opportunities, and had the confidence of the customer, could sell and close personalized offers using integrated mobile sales applications. The service workforce had become a legitimate sales channel from companies across virtually every consumer market.
The final step in making the call center, like Brian, the last of their ‘kind’ was the total availability and real-time availability of predictive and actual travel for optimized decision-making. After customers’ calls for service dropped, the remaining calls came only when a technician didn’t arrive as promised. Constant updates to the arrival time, along with optimization that could switch technicians on the fly brought the final blow to the giant call centers, and introduced the age of a tremendous renaissance in service – calling a rep when a person’s ‘touch’ is an exceptional necessity, and getting great and unhurried personal service.
Although Brian new that customers were happier now, his second call of the day at 2:15 PM reminded him how lucky he is to have grown up in an age when being profitable meant that customer call centers were about quality and not quantity. And the call itself was from his mother, reminding him that he too, like his customers sometimes just need to have a person say “I care about you in spite of this fast-paced world we live in.”
Author’s Note: The obstacle between us as service companies today and the ‘life of Brian’ is not technology or time; but our own willingness to recognize and adapt to the change available to us today.