Guest column: Constituent care — Are government contact centers ready for the generational flood?

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Written by

2014_02_Ron-Woody Ron Woody, senior solution architect at Xerox.

Ron Woody, senior solution architect at Xerox, is a FedScoop contributor. 

Every industry evolves. Due to cultural shifts and technological advancements, industries have seen rapid changes over the last few years in the way people are receiving information and communicating with others. We live in a digital world that affects everyone from the estimated 40 million baby boomers to the growing number of millennials – and their needs for communication are different and changing.

Culture and technology have largely affected the customer care industry on both the commercial and federal sides. Commercial contact centers have seen success in advancing to a more informative, consolidated center with multiple channels of communication; now it is time for government agencies to take the plunge.

The generation gap in the American population has grown. According to Department of Health and Human Services, there are nearly 40 million people aged 65+ in the United States – almost 13 percent of the population. By 2030, HHS projects there will be more than 72 million older persons making up 19 percent of the population.

The government must tend to the needs of the growing baby-boomer population who will rely on government constituent services now more than ever. If government agencies don’t accommodate this cultural shift, they will not be able to provide the level of constituent care these generations expect and demand.

Company contact centers used to be segmented and have multiple phone numbers for consumers to call based on the department or service needed. For example, it was not out of the ordinary for a customer to have one number to call for technical service and another number for parts. Today, consumers desire speedy, reliable information. They want a one-stop shop to answer several questions on various topics. Contact centers of today must be considered knowledge centers in order to meet the new demands of the general population.

The shifting preference of communication methods is a challenge to any contact center, brand or service today. The millennial generation is technology-focused and prefers digital forms of communication via channels like text messages, email, social media and online. According to a 2012 report by the CFI Group, the “Contact Center Satisfaction Index 2012,” contact channels other than the phone, such as email, Web self-service, chat and other online techniques, now account for more than 30 percent of customer service engagements. Web self-service and email appear to dominate this mix.

On the other end of the spectrum, the baby boomers – the largest segment of the population – would rather call a customer service line to get an answer quickly. Agencies must be able to understand who their beneficiaries are and which method of communication they prefer. Then, they can decide which methods to employ to better serve their constituents.

Cultural and technological shifts are also drastically changing the face of contact centers themselves. One company running multiple centers and customer service lines is inefficient and a waste of resources and money. To encourage efficiency and collaboration, many organizations have started to consolidate centers and enter a virtual space. In fact, many contact center employees don’t work in the same building, let alone the same state!

Workforce advancements like at-home agent cubes can be shipped to a residence for simple installation, equipping the agent with the necessary tools to provide customer care in a secure – and convenient and more economical – environment. Remote employees receive interactive training and are provided intuitive software that prompts agents to the next step and helps them successfully answer questions and process contacts faster and more accurately. These advancements play a vital role in creating the new unified, knowledge-based center. Agents are efficient and constituents view them as experts on topics, ultimately increasing customer satisfaction and saving agency’s money.

There’s a cultural shift on the horizon; the baby-boomer generation is fast approaching retirement and will generate such an incredible volume of service and constituent care issues to be dealt with that federal contact centers must be prepared. Meanwhile, the millennial generation requires entirely new means of communication that service agencies will need to figure out how to engage them properly – whether it is via email, social or a mix of many. Federal agencies must adhere to a cultural change and greater consolidation that will prepare their contact centers for the seismic generational shifts on the horizon.

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Commentary, Guest Columns, In their own words, Ron Woody, Tech, Xerox
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