Celebrate! The Future of Work is Already In Your Company

If you are reading this on your mobile phone, congratulations – you are a cyborg. Do not worry, we all are. Any tight integration and enhancement of our human cognition with machine-based intelligence are, in a sense, the creation of a cyborg system, scientists argue. And this enhancement is only set to increase, as we continue to augment our brains to be more productive in the future of work.

However, although we will all work together with intelligent machines and AI to get the job done in the future, there are degrees to the level in which we will be cyborgs. My prediction for the most augmented job? Contact center agent!

There are several reasons for this. For one, contact centers' very success at solving customer problems depends on how quickly they can pull information together, verify the necessary data, and decide on the best course of action, all the while making a human connection. This means that contact centers have years of experience in data management, and they have been refining their work processes and policies day after day, year after year. 

When viewed from this perspective, contact center agents are the epitome of the man/machine connection. The value of an agent comes from their ability to juggle the applications necessary to solve your problem. But the very nature of the contact center is changing, driven by cloud, AI, and analytics. The agent alone can’t do much; the applications individually can’t either. It is the combination of the human with machine intelligence, that wins. 

During the recent Customer Service Week, the spotlight will – deservedly so - be on contact agents. They have a tough job! Every year, research proves people enjoy engaging with contact centers less and less, influenced by changing customer preferences. For example, 4 out of 5 Millennials say they need to muster up the courage to make a phone call, while that’s precisely how most brands choose to interact with customers. And while 60% of people disconnect a call after being on hold for about 60 seconds, the average hold time is… wait for it… 90 seconds!

This makes ensuring agents have the best tools at their disposal, critical to success. Supporting agents in their efforts with cognitive intelligence, especially, leads to more personalized care, and the opportunity to build deeper, more meaningful relationships with customers. The less friction and the more intelligent the interface between the agent and their applications, the better they can help customers. 

Frustratingly, the adoption of intelligent contact center technology is lagging. For example, just 15% of contact centers are leveraging cloud technology today. This is primarily because moving to the cloud is vastly complex and risks disruption of business. Furthermore, it takes on average 4 to 6 weeks to train a call center agent on a new desktop since they juggle anything from 12 to 15 different apps to get their job done. This makes any technology change, no easy feat.  

But seeing as the contact center industry is highly lucrative (it’s the fastest-growing sector in the Philippines alone!), it will be worth it. 

Imagine that agents not only have all info at their fingertips, but they can also help route calls based on it. What if an AI system could derive intelligence from voice sentiment? Or automatically take note of action items, generating a summary of the customer engagement on the fly? Add better call control, voice, and call quality to the mix and cybersecurity without compromising ease of use, and you have a winning ticket. 

But we can do even more. Today, it’s possible to transform customer care from ‘reactive’ to predictive, leveraging information from various sources and moving from isolated customer journeys to cohesive and engaging journeys. With audio analysis, agents can see how they are doing in real-time instead of receiving weekly or monthly feedback. Contact center managers can use predictive dashboards to play around with factors that influence customer behavior – for example, if I reduce wait times at the ‘sign up’ step, I can improve sales by x%, and so on.

In the future, many of the things that can be automated will be automated. The use of bots is exploding, and the customer care cases that will be leftover will be more complex, take longer to solve and take diverse (human) skills. This is true not only for contact center agents but for every one of us. It is precisely this unique, powerful, and seamless combination of human cognition and machine-based intelligence that will help all of us thrive in the Future of Work. 

For now, contact center agents are taking the lead. 

Hariharan S., managing director, Collaboration, Asia Pacific, Japan & China, Cisco wrote this article. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HR&DigitalTrends. 

Hariharan S
Hariharan S., Cisco: Not only do they drive customer loyalty and business growth, but contact centers’ role in leveraging customer data to the fullest also makes them frontrunners in how we will all work in the years to come.