How often do you actually phone a call centre these days? Maybe not as often as you once did because you can now access information on apps and websites, and many organisations are proactively contacting you with alerts and updates.

So, when you do put a call in, the chances are you have something out of the ordinary to talk to someone about. It may be a more complex query, something the systems aren’t able to help you with, or indeed a complaint.

Now imagine being the person taking those calls. Several years ago, the person in the call centre may have been a school leaver, first job, limited life experiences, and they were quickly trained in how to deal with some of those more simple queries.

Diversity in skills

These days, the role of the contact centre frontline colleague requires someone with empathy who can stay calm, the ability to navigate multiple systems while processing a more sophisticated interaction, and maybe a little more in the way of life experiences to better understand the customer.

Working on the frontline today requires a different set of skills; both innate and learned, in order for organisations to continue to deliver exceptional customer experiences, every time. And that’s not just to deal with phone calls. With the expansion of channels for contact, many not only need technical skills to switch between screens and copy and paste data, but they also need to be able to communicate quickly and succinctly via synchronous messaging, such as WhatsApp and Live Chat.

Growing contact

Over the last three years there has been an upsurge in the volume of customer contact, despite an increase in self-serve options available. When consumers are under pressure, as they have been through the pandemic and with the current financial situation, the contact centre industry sees an increase in contact. People are worried, they are seeking ways to reduce their outgoings, arrange alternative payments for loans, and find better deals to suit their budgets.

It’s this upsurge that has resulted in contact centre leaders turning to technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), to support those interactions. Where self-service removed the most simplest of contacts several years ago, such as what’s my balance and where’s my stuff, AI is taking the next layer of the most simplest of interactions. AI, in the form of chatbots, is able to have a ‘conversation’ with the customer, using natural language, to provide answers.

The reality of AI

Of course, it’s just in the last few months that generative AI has threatened to take over jobs in the contact centre. It was suggested that this new technology would be able to have complex conversations with customers and deal with the most complex interactions, regardless of channel. The reality is quite different.

Not only do customers want to talk to a human – evidenced by people phoning contact centres for the very latest information, based on the belief that websites and apps aren’t kept up to date – but the data set that a generative AI bot would require to provide an accurate and appropriate service would need to be more than exceptional.

Where generative AI can really make a difference in the contact centre is by providing superior support to the frontline. Providing relevant information about the customer and their query quickly, taking on the wrap-up tasks and updating the systems based on the information provided would enable frontline colleagues to focus on the customer.

Frontline empowerment

Of course, with this comes the need for the frontline to be further empowered and given the freedom to deal with the complexities of the conversations they are having. Whether that’s access to ways to delight the customer more or simply systems that are better integrated. The frontline needs to be able to deliver exceptional customer experiences without their hands being tied.

With these more complex frontline roles comes more difficult situations. The frontline is more likely to be dealing with customers that are emotionally charged; and if the colleague is working from home, it can be difficult to overcome that interaction. Earlier this year, the CCMA conducted research into colleague wellbeing which suggested that the frontline needed more breaks in the day in order to deal with the mental stress of the role, as well as ensuring colleagues have the training and support around them throughout their shift.

So next time you put a call into a contact centre, think about who the advisor might have just spoken to, the complexity of your query and how different it may be from the other calls they’ve had that day, and the fact that when they have spoken to you, they will be taking a call from someone else with a very different need. There’s a lot for our frontline heroes to get their heads around and they are doing an outstanding job.


Leigh Hopwood, CEO, CCMA

As CEO at the CCMA since 2020, Leigh is drawing on her 20+ years’ experience in supporting the contact centre industry, holding leadership positions in a variety of membership organisations and as a professional marketer. Her mission is to support the development of the contact centre industry, give it a voice in society and to improve its overall reputation.

Leigh has been an awards judge since 2006, industry speaker and host of CareerTalk, and she sits on the Profession and Business Services Council in the Department of Business and Trade (DBT) on behalf of the contact centre industry. She is an Honorary Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a Chartered Marketer.