Will Video Conferencing make you regret referring to your contact center as ‘multi-channel’?

As much as the contact center world is deploying AI and bots, like any other business, to optimize its operations with existing humans, or someday replace them, there has been a parallel, a growing body of practice that's known as "Video Customer Service" that is quietly changing our industry.
With broadband almost everywhere now, video conferencing has come into the mainstream and is used by many business professionals almost on a daily basis.  All new laptops sold come with an embedded camera, first pioneered by Apply.  A 2017 study by IHS Markit stated that 85% of companies surveyed use video conferencing as part of their unified communications environment.
Make no mistake, video customer service could be coming to your contact center.  Video customer service gives us a fascinating window, not only into the future, but also into a world where "phone etiquette" is insufficient, and a place where bots will not be able to go for decades, if ever.
At Rethink Staffing, one of our earliest customers was a company with a pure Video customer Service need.  While we do handle their regular multi-channel support, their video customer service staff is twelve times the size of their multi-channel staff.  For their business, Video is customer service.
Asked whether or not we could do this, our answer was "absolutely," and we had a handful of early Agents who were game. But once we got started, there were a host of issues we definitely had to worry about, for which neither we nor our client was prepared.
For the uninitiated, video customer service is simply rendering a customer service session via video, where you can see the customer, and your customers can see you, and interact with you through a microphone, speakers and a webcam.  While not for everyone, you'd be surprised how many customers find it a viable option.
The key thing to understand about video customer service is something you probably already know from the way you communicate.  Whether you’re one of the 85% that use video customer service in your unified business communications environment, or more likely, if you Facetime with friends and family, you’ve been using video to communicate for a long time.
How does it feel to you?  Think back to an experience when you were having a serious conversation via video with a loved one. It was intimate, probably honest, and you picked up a lot of non-verbal cues.  And maybe most importantly, you had to think about the way you looked (made helpful by that little window showing you your face); and that impacted how you communicated with the person on the other end of the (video) line.
It is coming.  It is niche now but like most good ideas, it will grow.  Bold organizations are adopting it.  In preparation for the day when a video customer opportunity may be at your doorstep, here’s a small list of things to consider if one of these comes across your desk:
First up?  "Eyelines."  When your customers can see your agents via video, it's a whole new ball game about what your contact center actually looks like.  The customer will care, and comment, about what they see.  Embarrassment ensues, like the time we inadvertently positioned an agent's desk in front of the door to the men's room without realizing it.  Luckily all the customer saw was hands being washed before we caught that mistake and corrected it.
Second: "New Etiquette."  We had to re-write the rules here, on both sides.  What shocked us most was how some agents became numb in their behavior on camera, in many cases without noticing it.  Like the time that a customer who went to retrieve a piece of information, and our Agent decided now was a good time to brush her hair, and reapply makeup, and continued to do so when the customer returned to continue the session.
Third: "Connection."  Connection and computer speeds at your customer's point of contact will vary greatly.  While the software for video customer service should validate for video your customer's computing environment and speed, this will impact the way your Agents render service.  They have to be on the lookout for pauses, echoes, and other impediments to smooth communication.  Think back to the early days when we started getting calls from customers on mobile phones.
Fourth: "Thick Skin."  We had to retrain folks on what they could expect to see from those outlier customers.  No longer were we worried about sarcastic comments, profanity, or yelling.  Now, we had to worry about the visual side of all of that, as well as a window into customer's lives that turned early agents into enthusiastic voyeurs.  We had to train that out of the agents and help them understand how unprofessional that was.  It was easy to do so, especially, when one agent, in making a comment to another agent about the attractiveness of their last caller, without realizing that the video was still connected.  The caller answered “Thanks, sweetie.” But in another situation, that would have been a potential liability-creating situation.
Fifth: “Build Environment.”  Depending on your application and the standards of your clients, you may have to construct individual booths for each Agent/Workstation so that there’s no outside distractions, or background visual/aural noise.  There are many language tutoring companies in Asia that do this, so that the student gets the best possible experience, which they demand, considering how much they’re paying for the session.
And then there was the time when the Agent, confronted with an attractive member of the opposite sex on their video screen, tried to end the call by getting a date.
In the beginning, while it was certainly an entertaining and profound window into the human psyche, the video feed ended up normalizing Agent behavior much faster than the phone does, once they were made aware.  Simply put, the human psychological need for esteem and not to be embarrassed turned out to be our biggest ally in creating professional behavior while on video.
Also, it's important to not neglect the IT issues here.  Forget about just good webcams and microphones - that's table stakes.  Your IT department has to worry about massively greater bandwidth consumption, redundancy, congestion, as well as packet routing.
Finally, this is important enough to mention twice: the intimacy of video is so much greater than the phone.  Ninety percent of all human communication is nonverbal. The upside to video customer service is that when it's good, your agents feel much better about helping their customers. And, the thanks they receive make a much larger impact on them.
So if you see a video customer service application come across your desk, I say go for it.  If nothing else, it will be challenging and fun.  Just make sure you’re prepared for what you’re getting yourself into!
Mike Dershowitz
Rethink Staffing
Email/HO: mike@rethinkstaffing