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Contact Center Agents are the Experts

We’ve been talking about integrating UC and contact center functionality for a long time now. Years ago, at Enterprise Connect we used to call it, “The company as contact center,” and the idea was that every knowledge worker could potentially pitch in to help contact center agents deliver better customer service. This integration hasn’t really materialized yet, but the business environment is definitely more conducive than it’s ever been, given the overriding importance that customer service has attained in the enterprise.

On an Enterprise Connect webinar last week (sponsored by Slack by Salesforce), we saw an interesting, relatively new twist on this concept. Robin Gareiss, CEO and principal analyst at Metrigy, presented research showing that enterprises’ top use cases for integrating UCaaS and CCaaS involve a different dynamic than we’ve been hearing about. When Metrigy asked enterprises, "What value do you find in integrating your contact center with UC?" the top two responses were, “Agents/supervisors can help with programs requiring customer insights,” and “Agents/supervisors can be involved in providing product development feedback.” Conversely, the ability to bring (non-agent) experts into customer interactions ranked just behind these.

As Gareiss put it during her talk, the other organizations within the enterprise are starting to say, “These people in the contact center are pretty smart. They could probably help us.”

Indeed, Metrigy’s research found that contact centers are hiring agents with a higher skill level; 55% responded positively to the question, “Is your company hiring agents with more skills/experience than you have in the past?” The top reason for seeking more skilled agents, according to the survey: “New products require new expertise,” and “Want to improve customer ratings.”

There’s a general assumption that as AI grows in the enterprise, especially generative AI, these systems will take over more of the self-service and handle more of the straightforward questions. That means contact center agents’ jobs will become even more high-skill—and high-stress: The more complex the problems, the more fraught the interactions likely will be. So, agents will not only have to be more skilled, they’ll have to be more resilient in the face of difficult customer behavior.

And now, on top of these more stressful customer-facing roles, it appears contact center agents are also going to be pressed into service as proxies for the voice of the customer, and as on-the-ground experts on product issues. AI should be able to help with some aspects of this new role—if agent interactions with callers wind up surfacing problems or opportunities, presumably that information will be captured and packaged up by some AI system without the agent necessarily having to do a lot of post-call work to surface it. But this new role will require agents to be more sophisticated in how they deal with customers, and how they draw out the information that sales, marketing, and product teams can then leverage.

In the meantime, there’s a new reason for enterprises to break down the silos that keep contact center agents separated from other departments. Whether it will be enough to finally drive the integration of UC and CC platforms remains to be seen.