Disrupting the Contact Center Customer

You learn a lot at conference exhibits. The carnival-like environment is complete with popcorn, entertaining attractions, and assertive hawkers beckoning passersby to enter their booths for the latest and greatest.

This year I attended two major contact center conferences. While passing time before my keynote at both events I perused the objects of attention in every booth. It is clear that technology is king. The expo hall is no longer the realm of comfortable headsets, multicolored dashboards, and super IVRs; today's merchandise displayed looks more like something straight out of Star Wars.

Since my interest is in customer experience, not mechanical wizardry, I honed in on booths about the contact center experience. There were training programs designed to make contact center employees smart and friendly; there were gamification programs aimed at enhancing the work force morale, even programs to match agents with customers who had similar personalities. But, there was little directly focused on today's rapidly changing customers. No one seemed particularly worried about Tesla, Google, or Airbnb.

How Disruptors Are Altering Expectations

Disruptors make for great cocktail discussion. Indy 500 driver Tony Kanaan wears a high-tech shirt loaded with sensors that teach him not to grip the steering wheel so hard it sends his upper body into painful cramps during a race. ADP works with your Alexa to control your smart house security system as you retire for bed. But, the relevance for call centers is not on a disruptor directly but rather on how a disruptor reshapes customer expectations. After I get a text on Sunday morning from my concierge physician, my dentist is now one-down if I am unable to reach him on the weekend about a toothache.

Uber is the classic disruptor. Instead of hailing a taxi only to get a dingy vehicle with a driver with poor communication skills who insists on spending the ride on a cell talking in a foreign language with his brother, Uber (and Lyft) give me a courteous driver in a clean vehicle with knowledge of my route. Even before my Uber driver arrives--beckoned by my smartphone app--I know my driver's name, customer service rating, description of the vehicle, license plate number, and a contact phone number. Instead of fumbling with credit card or money at the end of my journey, I exit the vehicle knowing all will be charged to my account. And, I can instantly rate the driver who must maintain a 4.5 on a 5-point scale to keep a license.

So, where is the Uber-like transparency in my outreach to contact centers. Waiting for Maggie from Montana who loves motorcycles might be more tolerable than just waiting for whomever is next. What if my wait time had a countdown? What if there was a funny song about waiting on the phone? What if I could talk to some artificial intelligence device about my need or request before I talked to Maggie to shortcut her learning curve once she was available? Looking at a disruptor through the customers' eyes gives us lots of potential for innovation-starting what-ifs.

Beacons and chatbots and heat maps, oh my!

Retail mall stores can now communicate with you through your smartphone as you walk through the mall: "We have that purple blouse you were hunting for, and it is 20 percent off if you come into the store and purchase it in the next 10 minutes!" Smart bots are enabling stores to do product searching for you consistent with preferences you established and, like the sweet sound of a siren, beckon you into their store for exactly what you want and at an impulse-buy tempting price.

What if we could make contact centers more proactive and not just responsive? My HP printer has instant ink, which means HP monitors my ink use and sends me new cartridges before I run out. What if contact center help could be embedded similarly in products and services enabling helpful outreach. We can turn on or off cookies; we could turn on or off contact center help. What is the contact center version of beacons or heat maps?

Apple Watches (like the Disney Magic band) is working on giving you a take-your-breath-away virtual experience, along with portals to your whole life. Imagine playing on the golf course and having your doctor call to inform you to get to the emergency room ASAP because your Apple Watch informed his computer (constantly monitoring your health) that you are in A-Fib and at risk of a heart attack. And, by the way, you forgot to set the security alarm this morning and your dog is overdue for a rabies vaccine! So, can your contact center become more like a valued portal to customers. How can it elevate the experience to rival other awesome experience-creators in your customers' worlds?

The byproduct of disruption is that customers are functioning in a brain-based economy and getting the freedom to order their lives more as they choose. They have smart systems that save them time and eliminate hassle, putting them in control. They are perpetually made wiser through countless exchanges. To paraphrase the World War I song, "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen…well, a disruptor!"

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several award-winning, best-selling books. His newest book is Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles. He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.