Why the Internet of Things (IoT) requires more – and more skilled – contact center agents

Posted October 6, 2016

By Mary Wardley, Vice President, Customer Experience: Customer Service and Contact Center Solutions, IDC

By connecting previously disconnected systems and allowing data to flow between them, the Internet of Things (IoT) will fundamentally transform how organizations make decisions, view business processes, design products, and deliver services to both B2C and B2B customers.

Through that greater connectivity, product and service suppliers will be better able to innovate or evolve existing products that bring consumers both more convenience and fun. In vertical industries such as healthcare, there are opportunities for products to inform doctors, health organizations, or first responders with critical health information. For research organizations, data tracking will provide information on a wide range of usage patterns across industries and use cases. And that’s just to name a few.

When considering an investment in an IoT solution, either in the purchase or development of that device or service, organizations need to think about the range of technology elements that are involved. These elements include the sophisticated network behind the connectivity, the cloud, security, and more.

But perhaps most importantly, organizations must consider the service or support that these new environments will require. In the event of a problem, who will the end customer call?

The key to success in the new world of IoT

Contact centers and their agents have long been a critical point of engagement between a company and its customers. But this goes beyond simple cases like clearing caches and resetting passwords. In the IoT contact center, highly skilled agents must solve more complex customer cases and provide cross-channel consistency of service. Stated another way, contact center agents are the key to success in the new world of IoT (read “Preparing your support team for the IoT-connected consumer” here).

Contrary to popular wisdom, contact center operators are already preparing to make a significant investment in talent. According to IDC research, overall agent numbers are anticipated to rise over the next 2-3 years. Many firms report expected increases of between 10%-50%, according to the IDC Hosted Contact Center Survey, an astounding fact when self-service channels are driving down agent requirements in other areas.

Indeed, the rising demand for agents reflects the complexity of customer service in the IoT age, but it also suggests the need for a different kind of agent. Consumers with connected devices require managing devices/services across multiple vendors, posing new customer service challenges in problem identification and resolution. Customers who have tried self-help and can’t find answers or who have a complex problem need agent assistance. More than ever, those agents will be the key to providing a world-class customer experience.

An evolving agent skill set

That’s why the agent skill set must evolve to meet the changing nature of service calls and the overall customer experience. Agents need to understand not only the supported solution, but the ecosystem of devices, services, and software that surround that solution, and how they interact.

Organizations, therefore, need to re-evaluate and re-calibrate their hiring criteria in response. Today’s agents must not only be people-focused and derive satisfaction from helping customers; they must also be tech-focused, inquisitive problem solvers with an innate curiosity and affinity for technology and gadgets. Hiring for these skill sets takes on particular urgency in industries such as healthcare where the complexity factor is higher, and where timely, proactive support of connected devices can significantly impact patient well-being.

Curating the “employee experience”

In the new world of IoT, talent management becomes a business priority, since there are significant costs to attract, train, and retain quality talent. The organizational perspective shifts to embrace the concept of “employee experience,” the interactions of an employee with its employer across the lifetime of that employment. Employee experience includes the recruiting, hiring, professional development, and treatment of an employee in which the employment period results in satisfaction for both the organization and the employee.

Successful employee experience strategies result in engaged agents who become brand ambassadors and a natural extension of the company’s business strategy. The agent is both empowered and enabled to support not just one product by one vendor but the entire environment to which that product connects. But companies must also consider the cost of attracting, training, and retaining higher-quality employees who will thrive in a more complex environment.

New IoT products and services will continue to emerge and put pressure on organizations to support a broader ecosystem than ever before. Forward-thinking companies with IoT products will respond to this challenge by differentiating themselves through fast and proactive customer support. However, success will require not only hiring more contact center agents, but better qualified service agents capable of problem solving and independent thinking.

Companies whose support teams are ready, willing and able to serve up superior service to the IoT-connected customer will be those that thrive.

Sample InfoBrief page: IoT demands on the contact center
Sample InfoBrief page: IoT demands on the contact center

 

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