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The State of the Contact Center Industry

The State of the Contact Center Industry

/ Operations, People, Technology, Artificial Intelligence
The State of the Contact Center Industry

Where are we headed?

Happy 15th Anniversary, Contact Center Pipeline! You’re a teenager now. A lot has changed since you were born. In my world—I help customer service organizations write better email, chat, social media, SMS, and knowledgebase articles—we’re experiencing a revolution. In 2024, generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Claude and Bard are upending what it means to be a workplace writer.

The “Good” Old Days?

Back when you were born, contact centers were adding one written service channel after another. For years, they’d been serving customers over the phone, email, even postal mail and fax. (Remind me to explain what a fax is to you sometime.) In 2009, we’d begun offering live chat, social media, and SMS.

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Claude and Bard are upending what it means to be a workplace writer.

Were we doing a good job serving customers in these written channels? Well, you’re old enough to know the truth. We were doing kind-of a good job. Our emails were pretty good, but often too scripted and too slow. Our social media responses were somewhat good, but we often ignored customers who were asking for help in our social channels. Or, we responded to their social posts by asking them to phone or email us to get help, and that’s not social customer care. Our SMS messages were quite good, but we were maxed out serving customers in other channels and sometimes ran out of energy (and staff) for SMS. We pushed outgoing SMS messages quite well, but we didn’t respond to incoming messages as well as we should have. So, were we doing a good job serving customers in written channels? We were trying, but we could have done a lot better.

Everyone struggles to write well at work. It’s just hard.

Writing to Customers: The Struggle is Real

Why were we falling short in our written responses to customers’ questions or complaints? There are several reasons, and they are as true today as they were on the day you were born:

  • Many agents who serve customers in written channels started their careers on the phone. They’re GREAT at talking to people, but they’re not good at writing. They weren’t hired for their writing skills. They sought out a job where they talk to people on the phone; it’s predictable that they’d be less competent at writing to them.
  • Management has unreasonable expectations of how many replies agents can produce per hour. Nope, the quality will not be good when agents are handling four or five live chats simultaneously. No, customers will not be happy when they have to wait two business days for a reply to a tweet because social customer care agents just can’t handle the volume. No, agents can’t reply to 15 emails per hour, and I don’t care how many templates you have in the library.
  • Writing is hard. Everyone struggles to write well at work. It’s just hard. Yes, well-written templates can make writing to customers somewhat easier, but even at your young age, you know how rare a well-written template is! Writing is hard; correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar is hard; expressing empathy is hard. It’s all just hard, and agents are expected to do it quickly, with little writing training, and little feedback or coaching.

Can Gen AI Solve Our Bad Writing Problem?

Generative AI can do more to solve the problem of badly written responses to customers than any knowledgebase, CRM, macro, or widget. Gen AI tools can interpret the incoming question from the customer, draft a reply, and revise the draft reply to make it shorter, longer, or more empathetic. Gen AI can write our emails and chats to customers in our company’s brand voice. Gen AI can correct our spelling and grammar mistakes, add bullets or numbers to make our instructions easier to follow, and ensure that we’ve answered all the customer’s questions.

Customer service agents know people.

What gen AI cannot do—and why it will never replace customer service agents— is review its own writing for accuracy, practicality, and humanity. Customer service agents know people. They know what works, or doesn’t work, with real live customers. Agents must always be the ones to review what gen AI creates and edit the bot-created responses, so they are useful for people.

Happy 15th, Contact Center Pipeline! It’s a brave, exciting new world, indeed. The contact center industry has much to celebrate and look forward to.

Leslie O’Flahavan

Leslie O’Flahavan

E-WRITE's Leslie O'Flahavan helps people write well to customers. She delivers customized training for frontline agents, social media managers, and contact center leaders. She is a problem-solver for all written channels: email, chat, text and social. Leslie is a LinkedIn Learning author of five customer service writing courses. Connect with Leslie on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.

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