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One thing we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that people love ordering products and services online. The age of “digital first” interactions—in which customers encounter businesses online rather than through traditional phone or in-person channels—is here, and it dominates our daily lives. With companies across nearly every industry scrambling to create exciting “digital first” customer experiences, it’s easy to imagine that human associates in traditional customer service contact centers could be left behind. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

The “digital first” transformation will not eliminate the need for the human contact center, but rather elevate the associate to a more expert role.

This is because well-designed “digital first” platforms will have already provided a basic level of service to customers seeking help before they ever reach out to a human associate. Social media posts and search engine ads will direct customers to websites and marketplaces where they can engage with a company. Well-designed, user-friendly company websites will guide visitors through the process of making a purchase or creating an account on their own. AI bots will proactively initiate conversations with customers when they appear to be having trouble and make the first attempt at helping them solve their problems. And help content will be on hand to provide answers for common questions and needs.

Be prepared for more complex customer interactions

That means that when a customer reaches out for human help, it will nearly always be a next-step escalation. Companies need to train their staffs to be ready for more complex customer interactions than they’ve handled in the past and to pick up wherever the digital experience dropped off. In the early days of customer contact centers, associates might typically have found that 50 out of 100 incoming calls could be easily resolved with a few simple steps. In a “digital first” customer service environment, associates should expect simple calls to be scarce. The overwhelming majority of customer calls will be more complex, time-consuming and potentially charged with customer frustration.

Contact centers must respond to this new reality by helping their associates “skill up.” Far from rendering contact center associates extinct, “digital first” platforms will make human associates more essential to the achievement of a seamless and satisfying customer experience. Contact center associates should now be supported by technology that tracks a customer’s activities on the company’s digital platform prior to the call, so that associates can meet customers where they are in the process, preventing the need to describe their entire problem in detail on the phone or even reauthenticate identity (when connecting through an app account). Associates must be ready to take ownership and navigate for customers who have already tried to reach a solution with bots and troubleshooting guides on the “digital first” platform.

Higher demands necessitate enhanced skills and support

The higher demands for this level of service will not only require enhanced associate skills, but also the support of knowledge management systems so that associates can easily access, share, and track the most effective resolution pathways. These more highly skilled associates must also work with a greater sense of urgency. We can no longer think of resolution time as being the length of the phone call; in many cases, the customer may have been trying to self-solve their problem on the digital platform for hours, days or longer.

While the digital-first evolution could result in associates finding their jobs more stressful, it could also introduce more intellectual stimulation and more career opportunities. Contact center associates’ qualifications and skills are going to become more specialized and sought after. Gone are the days when a contact center associate simply resets a password or advises the customer to cycle power. Now associates will have to be troubleshooters, unraveling complex puzzles of company processes and technology.

As the nature of customer care roles evolves, it will be essential to engage associates in the redesign of their own jobs. With a focus on customer-first, associates are a key source of intelligence on where complexity exists, where experience and technology friction happens and what improvement actions are needed to proactively smooth the digital journey.

Are your customer care associates highly skilled, knowledgeable and ready to deliver a state-of-the-art “digital first” experience? The Northridge Group can help you build the competencies needed to support a forward-thinking “digital first” customer experience strategy. Contact us today to find out how we can guide you into the future of customer service.


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