Don’t kid yourselves: the life of the Customer Service Representative (CSR) is part Annie and part Jay Z’s Hard Knock Life. We have ridiculously high expectations for these folks. They should be in a fabulous mood. They should know our complete life story. They need to understand our mood, and where we were on ‘their’ corporate website, and our last Tweet and facebook post. In the decade that will come to represent the apex of solipsism, even if most of the navel gazers won’t recognize the word or the symptom. “Who? Us? We’re social!”
Then we take this well intentioned CSR and reduce their ranks. Winnowing them like the ranks of soldiers in La Bataille de Verdun – the Verdun campaign in WWI, wiping out over 300,000 soldiers in under a year. How is that for a morale dampener? Yet that is what is happening in banking, and in insurance, and media, retail services – cadres of CSRs are being ‘outplaced.’ In the 1990′s there was half as much work per agent. Now they have twice the work, and it is more difficult. Compensation has not kept pace with stress levels. How would you perform at your job knowing that the creeping forces of business process optimization, self-healing systems, knowledge management and customer self service were eventually going to leave you out of a job?
To think that the panacea that will give the CSR new opportunities for growth and advance is true for a tiny percentage of the overall agent pool. For five times more agents than will benefit there will be a reduction in ranks. The customer service function will be 30% externalized within ten years. That’s right: you may not have much of a formal contact center, and it will not much resemble that of 2012. That is what we will be predicting, researching and publishing in our upcoming year. It is both scary (for the CSR) and rewarding (for the business), and it is this duality that will require a fine balancing act. How we manage the next eight years of transition will define many businesses – for their vision and compassion or lack thereof.
Where will you end up on the scale between a hard knocks life and business Nirvana?