For the last several months, I’ve written here about the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution in financial services customer care. As AI fundamentally changes how this work is done—and by whom—there’s another revolution that is just as critical. It’s a revolution in leadership. Because the reality is that different ways of working demand different ways of leading.

What should leadership look like when AI comes to customer care? Let’s first think about what it looks like in contact centers today. Leaders are immersed in operational tasks and mindsets. They monitor performance metrics, resource and train agents accordingly, and must react fast to solve the crisis du jour. I think of this as operational firefighting.

In the era of AI, the fires won’t completely go out. And performance metrics will continue to be critical in contact center environments. However, as intelligent automation and breakthrough data insight make organizations faster, smarter and flatter, people will be empowered. Higher-value tasks will bring new decision-making power. Tomorrow’s best leaders in financial services customer care will understand this new human empowerment and cultivate it in these ways:

  • Look outside the walls. Leaders typically optimize within the four walls of the call center. But as human-machine collaboration takes off, leaders should think about the entirety of the work with a strong end-to-end process focus. This means rethinking what goes to the mid- or back-office, shifting tasks to front-line agents who can make informed judgements augmented by AI and analytics. Customer issues that once got lost in the black hole of endless hand-offs get resolved at first contact. As machines learn more, problems can be solved before consumers even know they have them. The benefits are significant—from cost and efficiency savings to improvements in customer satisfaction.
  • Focus on the future, not the past. Even the best leaders fall back on making decisions based on historically high call volumes. It’s their comfort zone. It’s what they know. But as financial services customer care becomes digital first—which is want customers want—leaders need to shift their mindset from volume to value. With AI handling basic transactions, humans will handle the complex ones. Leaders need to prepare agents to have these long, complex and even difficult conversations with customers. This means giving them the resources and tools they need to be empowered to resolve issues quickly with the “human touch” customers crave.
  • Develop new checks and balances. Empowered employees need guard rails to ensure service is accurate, consistent and compliant. This is why developing the right system of checks and balances will be a critical responsibility for leaders. This can be fairly simple to do. Imagine agents have been given some situational guidelines around waiving customer fees or offering them credits or rebates. Leaders can run simple reports to see which agents are (or aren’t) doing this and how often. These reports reveal how people are (or aren’t) leveraging empowerment, which is key insight. After all, telling people they are empowered is one thing. Having them embrace it is another.
  • Create more leaders. There’s this great leadership quote from business management guru Tom Peters that says, “Great leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” This should become the new mantra in financial services customer care. Instead of acting solely as operational managers, tomorrow’s leaders should also act as coaches. They should strive to instill and build leadership DNA and customer-centric ways of thinking and working in agents across the call center. This is a very different leadership dimension that will challenge some leaders to build new leadership muscle in “soft” skills like empathy, communication and motivation.

I’ve enjoyed exploring the AI revolution in customer care in this blog series. Please continue to follow my blog for insights on other top-of-mind issues and opportunities in financial services.

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