Gamma – a recap of the epic CX report

Gamma – a recap of the epic CX report

We’re always thinking about it – customer experience (CX), and how this relates to the world of contact centres (CCaaS). 2023 was a really interesting year for the industry when it comes to this ever-changing landscape, so we thought we’d take the time to pull together some of the most intriguing thoughts and insights we’ve had in this area.

CIO WaterCooler roundup

We’ve been collaborating with CIO WaterCooler a lot, sharing what we see as the key developments in the world of CX and CCaaS – hoping not only to join the conversation, but lead it. So, what was covered?

Well, first off, the integration of Amazon Connect into the market is advancing apace, with Gamma confidently alongside. Amazon Connect – as we all know – is renowned for its customer experience as a service offering, and it’s transforming how businesses interact with customers across various digital channels. This development is not just reshaping the private sector but is also leaving a mark on public sector services.

We’ve observed and commented on the fact that digital transformation in government services is particularly critical – Gamma has been at the forefront of this, working with clients from the DWP to the NHS, leveraging our unmatched partnership with Microsoft. The impact of Microsoft Teams (supported by Operator Connect) in enhancing customer interactions and service delivery in these sectors simply can’t be understated. We firmly believe that it’s reshaping the very fabric of how government services are rendered, making them more accessible and efficient.

And you can’t just slap on an Amazon or Microsoft solution and call it a day – it needs to be a bespoke, managed, tailored service. This is particularly vital in addressing business problems, especially in customer experience, for both the aforementioned enterprise and public sectors.

We haven’t just been talking about/considering CX in the context of products – we’ve been thinking about it across the board. Online visibility and the influence of social media are at their peak, and with that CX has become a primary driver for businesses. The way customers perceive and share their experiences online can significantly impact a business’s reputation and success.

And with that in mind, we’ve been vocal about the fact that unifying various digital communication channels like email, chat, voice, WhatsApp, and text for customer service presents its own set of challenges. We’ve made it clear confidently that our goal is to provide a seamless and consistent customer experience across all these platforms for both our direct customers and channel partners. We’ve shown our recognition that customers have varying preferences for communication channels, necessitating a flexible and adaptive approach from businesses – not only in our output and advice to the market, but also in the solutions we provide.

We’ve acknowledged that while time marches on, we must think about all generations: the choice of communication channel by the customer is crucial. While younger generations might lean towards digital methods for tasks such as booking appointments, older generations might prefer more traditional methods.

And on the topic of the future, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly significant role in the world we’re operating in. Its application in contact centres, through conversational AI for initial interactions and real-time analytics for agent assistance, is revolutionising customer service. AI’s ability to understand customer intent and provide personalised service is enhancing the efficiency of resolving customer issues – and we’re at the forefront of both exploring the solutions we offer in this area, and the wider conversation in our industry.

We discussed how analytics and strategic planning are essential in understanding customer interactions, measuring success, and guiding future strategies. Knowing the reasons behind customer contacts and having a clear strategy is crucial for effective service delivery. And we’ve noted the noticeable shift towards cloud-based solutions and customer self-service, aimed at resolving issues efficiently without always needing direct human interaction.

Plenty to think about and consider when it comes to the future of CX and CCaaS! Anyway, let’s dig a little deeper.

Ethical Considerations – The Role of AI in Contact Centres

We’ve touched upon the whirlwind with AI – while companies are increasingly turning to automation and analytics to improve both customer and agent experiences, this newfound freedom comes with a bit of a burden, especially in the weird and wonderful realm of AI ethics. So it’s pretty vital for anyone working in this world to thoughtfully and ethically utilise AI.

It all has an impact: the collection and analysis of vast amounts of customer data by AI is changing the way organisations understand and anticipate consumer behaviour for the better. What are the ethical impacts of data use and the interplay between AI systems, customers, and agents? As AI’s presence in contact centres grows, it’s important that companies come up with AI strategies that are both practical and uphold ethical standards – something that we’re not only signposting for the market as a concern but also considering within Gamma when it comes to our own use of AI.

So, it’s important to look at what ethics means in this context. Ethics is a concept dealing with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, basically, and we feel it’s crucial when it comes to guiding the deployment of AI tools like automation and intelligent routing systems. There’s no shying away from it – it’s the responsibility of those who program and deploy these tools to question and define the ethics around AI’s application. It’s so important to put together a framework that minimises risks and maximises effectiveness, getting ahead of any potential hazards associated with AI applications like decision-making or guidance – otherwise the whole thing could go off the reservation, so to speak, and before you know it there’s a tangled web of problems to solve.

There’s a lot of nebulous understanding in this area. Ethics can be hard to iron out to begin with, even in human-to-human. interactions, and throwing something we barely understand into the mix (like AI) makes it even harder. Think of the ‘black box phenomenon’, where we know what AI does, but not how it does it – sort of like dealing with someone who takes actions, but never knows the reasoning behind it. This would raise concerns, wouldn’t it? Sure, there are leaps in the right direction, like ‘explainable AI’, but the internal maze of decision trees and imperfect data can introduce strange, inexplicable behaviour – or worse. Remember, AI is trained on data we produce, which brings along with it all the benefits of our supposed genius – alongside all the horrible biases, judgemental thinking and all the other ‘darker’ sides of human nature.

Now, sure, in contact centres, personalisation means that decisions are made based on individual customers and their information, which should mitigate problems. But fundamentally, continuous machine learning (ML) training and supervision of AI through customer feedback, analytics, and key performance indicators (KPIs) are going to stay top of mind – or should do.

Transparency is important too: we have to make sure customers can distinguish between AI bots and human agents. And not only that, but the quality of the data powering AI is also at the heart of it all – inaccurate or outdated data can lead to poor CX.

Then there’s the ethics around the human beings already employed by a company – they need to know that AI is designed to support them, not replace them. The role of AI should be to make life easier for them, assisting in tasks, while complex and emotionally involved issues should be dealt with by human beings.

All of these considerations (and more) should be top of the priority list for leaders to address when implementing AI in their organisations.

Epic CX roundup

CX, of course, exists independently of AI and is a whole world of considerations. We’ve been tugging away at the tangles of CX at Gamma for a long time now, and we’ve put together some fantastic insights in our recent ‘Transition to Transform’ document, thinking about the concept of ‘Epic CX’. So what have we found? Here are five key areas we think should be on your mind throughout 2024.

  • Hero Narrative

The existence of the “hero narrative” in customer service is undeniable. This narrative shapes how we perceive and share our customer service experiences, more often than not swinging between nightmare and dream scenarios. The emotional weight of these experiences is profound, impacting not only customers but also the brand’s reputation. Interestingly, both positive and negative extremes are symptomatic of underlying systemic issues in customer service. Customers, when seeking help, enter a vulnerable state. Contact centres can either fortify or damage the brand’s image, depending on the quality of service provided. Contact centre agents often face their own battles, feeling entrapped by inefficient systems that hinder their ability to deliver optimal service. The prevalent “knight in shining armour” expectation is not only unrealistic but also problematic, as grand gestures often mask a failure in meeting everyday service expectations. Think of it in a relationship sense – is a relationship where one partner always has to make ‘grand gestures’ healthy? Definitely not! So, rethinking what constitutes consistent excellence in customer service is crucial.

  • Emotional Labour

The concept of emotional labour, critical in customer service, is also really important to remember. Defined by scholars like Bolton (2005) and Hochschild, emotional labour is baked into various professions – think of vets, doctors, teachers, and, of course, contact centre agents. This labour is at the heart of contact centre agents’ daily experiences. They plunge through an ocean of emotional states, from dealing with confused and angry customers to delighted ones. Empathy is key in managing this emotional labour. While some agents are naturally empathetic, others may need to make extra effort. Empathy in customer service comprises three elements: mindset, skill set, and tool set (including AI). Each of these contributes to the effective management of emotional labour, with the context being critical for delivering empathetic service. Support mechanisms for agents handling emotional labour and insights to help them perform more effectively are vital. Consistent delivery by agents is key to making ‘Epic CX’ a reality.

  • Thinking Outside-in

The shift from ‘Inside-out’ to ‘Thinking Outside-in’ is key when it comes to customer service. This approach admits that the brand story is largely written by customers – think of the influence of reviews and social media. This will raise questions – how genuine is the customer experience provided by contact centres? The contact centre’s role is, of course, pivotal when it comes to this, as it’s where “brand rhetoric meets brand reality.” Or to put it another way – are we doing what we’re saying? The outside-in mentality also involves knowing when to divert customers to more convenient channels. Examples include a high-street department store blending retail and digital experiences and a luxury hotel chain valuing human contact. Despite all the shiny new tech, the human element remains – and should remain – at the heart of customer service. The debate extends to whether an omnichannel approach suits all brands or if some benefit more from focused service channels. Understanding customer preferences and delivering a tailored experience are the biggest takeaways here.

  • Frankenstein Estates

The concept of “Frankenstein estates” in the CX world draws on the image of the fragmented nature of Frankenstein’s creation. These estates are basically a nightmare of ill-fitting systems that create sub-par customer and employee experiences. Signs of this include a lack of unified customer interaction history, difficulty in channel transitions, siloed communication channels, and overwhelming agent interfaces. The adaptation to hybrid work models and poor self-service options are additional warning signs. Outdated systems, poor implementations, and lack of strategic planning contribute massively to these problems. Transitioning from a Frankenstein system to a unified one involves careful partner and platform selection, strategic vision, and meticulous planning. The costs of maintaining a Frankenstein estate, both financial and reputational, are not to be underestimated. Sometimes it’s hard to admit changes must be made, but improvements won’t come until businesses with Frankenstein estates face up to reality.

  • Channels

Ah, channel coherence. We’ve got to face up to it: biases of vendors promoting their channels, whether telephony or AI-driven chat, need to be addressed. The discussion should shift from determining the right channel to understanding the customer experience desired and the preferences of the customer demographic. We need to be thinking of a ‘minimum viable set’ of channels, including voice, agent chat, and email. The importance of a single, coherent cloud platform using AI to streamline the customer journey is the way forward. Multiple channels, like lanes on a highway, should offer customers the flexibility to switch as needed, with AI playing a role in creating a seamless journey. A final thought for you: the right channel is the one that instils the most customer confidence at any given moment.

The Cognitive Load Burden on Contact Centre Agents

The lightning-fast transition to remote working has thrown up some unique challenges in staffing and agent performance. This isn’t going away any time soon and will continue to significantly impact contact centres.

Digital channels have made things easier in some ways but have also introduced new complexities in communication. These channels can be out of sync at times, leading to timeline lags between customers and agents. They demand both ‘get it sorted now’ and ‘I need to find the right support to help me with this’ scenarios, making the whole experience even more complicated for agents. They’re more often than not left on their own to decide the priority of certain channels over others, and many are juggling with engaging with multiple customers simultaneously across different platforms.

So what’s the impact on cognitive load? And, more importantly, what is cognitive load? Well, cognitive load is the mental effort required to manage multiple tasks and responsibilities all at once. This load can affect productivity and decision-making, leading to frustration and poor performance – and it impacts wellbeing. There are ways to deal with this – but there’s no ‘one size fits all’ way out of this problem. Every business needs to audit the impact of cognitive load on their agents and mitigate this wherever possible. The impact of cognitive load on CX can’t be overstated either – if the agent feels lost, that feeling gets passed on to the customer. Keep an eye out for more on this from Gamma – we’re going to be offering advice on how to deal with this phenomenon in 2024.

The Final Word

There’s always a solution, even if you haven’t quite found it yet – there’s a way to take the first, best step towards making things better for your business, your employees and your customers – because all three are equally as important. Even taking the time to read the latest thinking is a positive step, and we’re here for you if you ever want to know more. These issues are important to us here at Gamma, and we’ll continue to offer our insights to the market, and beyond – because we truly believe in “communications with a conscience” – it’s the right thing to do.

The epic CX report is available here: CX Challenge – Gamma Telecom

Speak to a member of the Gamma team to start your journey to epic CX

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