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  • Jean-Samuel Najnudel

Customer service, a major challenge for companies

For a long time, customer service was seen as an activity that had no impact on the value of the company and was outsourced to countries with cheap labour. But under the pressure of e-commerce, especially Amazon, and start-ups, it has become a major issue for companies.

This radical change in status is forcing companies to invest in innovative technologies and in upgrading the skills of call centre agents. The call centres of yesterday and today, two conceptions with very different purposes.

Considered yesterday as a cost centre with no added value for the company, customer service was entrusted to a call centre based in countries with cheap labour: India, Morocco, Algeria, Senegal, Mauritius, etc. The quality of the service delivered was of little importance, as customer satisfaction was not the primary concern of companies. And for good reason: competition was less fierce and customers were more loyal. In this context, the cost of customer service was a priority. But, forced by a more competitive economic environment and more demanding consumers, call centres have had to evolve.

Customer service, a major asset for customer relations

With its customer-centric strategy and its plethora of products and services, Amazon has turned the retail market and the consumption of the French upside down. American companies have made it part of their culture that "the customer is king" and are doing everything possible to satisfy consumer demands. It is therefore under the impulse of this practice that French customers, who have become increasingly adept at e-commerce, have begun to demand a high level of customer service. This behaviour was reinforced by the offers of startups, which were unable to fight their competitors with an aggressive pricing policy and bet on customer service to differentiate themselves. It is in this context of changing customer relations that French companies have been forced to rethink their call centres and align the quality of their services with the standards of these new entrants.

Thus, customer service has gone from being a low-cost service considered to have no impact on the value of the company to a value-added service that generates revenue and requires significant technical and human investment. This is a radical change of direction for companies that have had to rethink their customer services, particularly their call centres. And while some companies have chosen to re-insource their call centres to increase proximity to their customers, others have retained offshore or opted for nearshore (local subcontractors).

However, whatever the system chosen, the call centre has taken on a new dimension. The new generation of call centres has become a source of value for the company and must now deliver a personalised, high-quality service. This development has forced call centres to recruit more experienced profiles and to deploy remote coaching processes for teleworkers, double listening, discreet intervention and call recording in order to support teams and new recruits in mastering their speech. Real-time supervision and control technologies for the call centre have also been implemented to better manage peaks in activity.

Human/machine complementarity for a top-of-the-range service

Thanks to the implementation of artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions, call centres can automatically generate answers to recurring customer questions, thus ensuring a 24/7 service and quickly satisfying customer requests. Some AI algorithms are more powerful, understanding more complex customer queries and selecting appropriate answers to customer problems from information sources and the company's knowledge base. Sent to the agent, this information supports it in its mission. This augmented agent then delivers an optimal service.

AI is also a learning facilitator. Thus, by selecting in a large volume of data the information useful to solve the customer's problem, the technology allows the agent to learn directly and to develop its skills. AI gives agents, even beginners, the means to be quickly operational, and provides them with comfort in the execution of their missions. By supporting the employee, this technology accelerates the rise in competence of agents and thus reduces the impact of turnover, a real issue in this type of job.

By automating certain repetitive tasks, these technologies are also an excellent way of retaining talent by relieving them of non-value-added tasks, allowing them to devote themselves to more complex, more rewarding and useful issues. It is therefore a real complementarity between man and machine that is now taking hold in call centres and shaping a more upmarket customer service. By going hybrid, some call centres have halved or tripled the time needed to process a customer request.

The essential use of centralising platforms to manage multi-channel practices

In this frantic race for customer satisfaction and faced with the use of several channels by consumers (website, email, telephone, social networks, etc.), companies must equip their call centres with innovative solutions capable of managing all channels simultaneously. Thanks to the dematerialisation of the telephone in the form of software and its ability to be interfaced with tools linked to other channels, the omnichannel centralising platform offers a whole range of functionalities: organisation of tasks, call processing, statistics, sending messages, chat, etc. This convergence of channels is essential for creating an efficient customer service that meets the challenges of today's and tomorrow's call centres.

At a time when e-commerce is exploding, competition is fierce, and consumers are more demanding and volatile, customer service has become a major business issue. Faulty customer service today results in a raft of negative reviews, attacks, criticism and even insults on social networks. Driven upwards by startups and major e-commerce players, the expected standard of customer service requires technological and human investments. But unlike yesterday's call centre, which was seen as a cost centre, the new generation call centre has become a source of value.

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