Conversations stand the test of time

One night recently I was walking back from a night out with my buddy from work. I was staying with his family and as we neared his house I saw a phone box. I opened the door and came face to face with an image very similar to the one you see at the top of this page. Through disuse and neglect, the vines and undergrowth had taken over.

The phone itself worked perfectly. Since leaving university I have always worked in the contact centre industry; I don’t know if it’s related to that, but I’ve also always tried to keep telephone calls as short as possible. I’ve always worked in an industry that relies upon communication through the phone with people, but when it comes to my personal life I’ve always preferred any other channel but the phone – I hope I’m not the only one in the contact centre industry that has this weird dichotomy going on!

Anyway, seeing this vine-covered phone on a walk home after a few beers on a cold winter’s night intrigued me. It seems at every contact centre function I attend there is always someone telling the attendees that we will all be replaced by bots and algorithms who will not only sort out your broadband query, but also order you a book you didn’t know you wanted. Was this phone box a perfect example of how time and progress waits for no one?

I did some research and the phone box I found was a KX100 and was introduced in 1991; at its peak in 1999 there were 137,000 KX100s in the UK. Today this number is halved and declines rapidly year on year.

My first thought upon seeing this was not about technology and its progress, though, it was about conversation. In our lives and our customers’ lives, regardless of the device I use to contact a company, the vast majority of communication in our industry is still done by talking.

Even if it is declining, every prediction says that in a multi-channel world there will always be queries and customers that require the need to talk to someone in your company. Recent research by the Institute Of Customer Service (January 2017 – The UK Customer Satisfaction Index) showed that whilst there has been a growth in the number of customers using text, apps, webchat & email the proportion of in person and over the phone interactions still accounts for 62.6% of all interactions.

So in some ways the method of doing that has changed, but not the skills of how best to have that conversation – well, that’s not wholly true – we do see at our work how in some instances and in some demographics, conversation is changing, but on the whole, good customer service at the height of the KX100 is the same as good customer service today.

The big swing and a miss in too many companies is focusing on the complexities and best practice of technology, rather than the complexities and best practice of conversation.

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