Britain’s secret customer service army: unsupported and undertrained

PRESS RELEASE: Britain has a secret army of untrained customer service workers who are stretched to breaking point as businesses fail to invest in technology or training. Currently there are 766,000 people working in contact centres in the UK.1 However, there are more than 4.6 million additional staff dealing with customer service enquiries, who don’t work in a traditional contact centre.2

These ‘informal contact centre’ staff aren’t getting the same support as those who work in customer service full time. One area lacking in investment is technology – more than two fifths of informal contact centre staff (43%) say they don’t have access to customer service technology that would assist them in their role.

This is despite their jobs becoming more complex as businesses offer customers more channels to get in touch. Over half (51%) of these strained support staff say there’s been an increase in customers getting in touch via social media, email and webchat in recent months.3 But only around a third (34%) are very confident handling multiple service enquiries across different channels.

Despite the diversifying range of communication channels, more than four in ten (46%) say they haven’t had enough training – or any at all – on how to deal with clients over the phone. Staff are most perplexed by the world of social media, with 60% saying they would like more training in this area.

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According to the research, it’s the staff in smaller firms (250-499 employees) that are most likely to call out for more help. This could be because they are expected to perform a wider range of job functions, whereas those in larger companies have more specialised roles. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of staff from these smaller firms want further support on how to communicate effectively via social media.

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Many of the invisible contact centre workers are interested in how the development of artificial intelligence, such as chatbots, could help their role. More than four in ten (41%) say they would like AI to take care of simple, routine customer service queries.

Kevin Scott-Cowell, UK MD of 8×8 commented, “When people think of customer service, they instantly think about aircraft hanger sized contact centres full of headset-wearing agents. This research confirms this is a complete misconception: there are more than six times as many people working in ‘informal contact centres’ than there are in official ones. This secret army is still having to communicate professionally with customers across multiple channels, but in most instances they haven’t been trained and don’t feel confident doing so. With the right specialist technology and training in place staff can be supported, even if this is only a small two to three-person team. With the advent of cloud-based contact centre technology, this doesn’t have to be a huge investment, but will undoubtedly improve overall customer service.”

1 ContactBabel, UK Contact Centres, December 2016
2 Research conducted by Censuswide of a 2,000 nationally representative poll from 25.02.17 to 26.02.17. 8.8% of respondents said they do not work in a contact centre but do answer queries from customers. This equates to 15.4% of employed individuals. 8.8% x 52.8 million (ONS adult pop) = 4.64 million.
3 Research conducted by Censuswide with 500 employees who deal with customer service enquiries in businesses over the size of 250+ employees but do not work in a customer service department or contact centre. The online poll was conducted from 02.03.17 to 08.03.17.