Blog: Contact centre agents transform to subject matter experts

Here at Foehn we organise industry forums for our customers and prospects. Typically, the format sees client executives, sector leaders, analysts, and Foehn experts assemble on a virtual platform to share their thoughts on topical issues. The programme started in 2021 with local government and business process outsourcing. More will follow. The response has been enthusiastic – 23 service leaders attended the most recent local government event – and opinions often surprise.

In this blog we’ll examine the changing role of the contact centre agent as their jobs morph from reacting to mundane queries to full-on customer advisers and subject matter experts. The motivator for this move is a side effect of increasing interaction complexity and the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) into customer journeys. But, with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, the shift may well have been inevitable. Read on.

Fast-accelerating automation effects

The role of the subject matter expert (SME) is changing said an article on Industry 4.0 in 2019. They’re now on the front line of business processes and empowered to make day-to-day decisions. Their authority has increased, and they’re expected to be problem solvers and real-time solution providers.

That was then and this is now. Today the fast-accelerating introduction of chat and AI-powered bots is seeing reductions in agent numbers as decision-making is placed more in customers’ hands and they increasingly dictate how and when they want to interact. In fact, a service leader in a recent Foehn local government forum, said, “One eye opener is that 59 percent of webchat activity is way outside normal hours.”

More rewarding roles

Now in an Industry 4.0 company, digital assets routinely handle process management work, releasing agents for more varied and rewarding roles. In fact, they become SMEs. They can do this not only through more comprehensive training and knowledge sharing but also because they have immediate digital access to relevant data and can connect with other SMEs to make the best decisions.

How big is the shift? One of our BPO forum contributors said: “We’re seeing more innovative solutions being put forward. The evidence is we’ve got an outsourced operation where technology has reduced head count by 50 percent.”

The SME-style agent massively enhances the customer journey by taking on special cases and providing unique value-added solutions for these. Not only that, but skills-based routing solutions and more recently AI-powered platforms like Genesys Predictive Routing match incoming calls with the performance of super-agents to cater for the needs of high-net-worth customers. Bots can also be used to surface contextual information to agents before and during conversations.

SME agent training a win-win

This means skill sets and responsibilities have expanded. SME agents need the appropriate expertise. Equally, they need access to collaborative tools like MS Teams plus cross-functional process data and the know-how to interpret this real-time information. Here integrating the contact centre platform with CRM systems and other knowledge databases is essential to ensuring SME agents always have a 360° view of customer journeys.

That takes us back to issues like training and knowledge sharing and the coalescence of advanced HR and contact centre supervision techniques, otherwise known as workforce engagement management.

Reflecting on their achievement in transforming the customer journey, one of our business process outsourcing forum contributors, concluded: “Probably the biggest contribution to our success over the last twelve months has been automating self-service, learning how to grow a knowledge base, and being able to upskill agents. So, we’re now in a position where we’ve got subject matter experts as opposed to customer service advisers.”

More about the author
Jas Bansal

Jas Bansal is a marketing manager at Foehn, with a breadth of experience within the tech and service provider market. Jas is responsible for Foehn’s content and communications for the hosted telephony and cloud contact centre market as well as working with clients on references and testimonials. As an keen advocate of technology and all things digital, Jas is results driven and an expert at taking a message out to market across multiple channels.