Despite all the advancements in technology and new customer channels, one thing has remained constant in the contact center: when customers reach out, there has to be a frontline agent on the other end, ready to interact with them.

Though the way customers choose to communicate has changed – with e-mail, chat and social networks – what they want has stayed the same. Customers want and expect a skilled and knowledgeable agent who can solve their issues fast and on the first try.

Creating a real-time frontline workforce that is skilled and ready to handle customers in whatever channel they prefer requires a new way of thinking. The reality of this workforce starts with training, but it takes more than a room full of people and a PowerPoint – the training has to be individualized, online and immediate.

And it begins with who you hire. If you want to support multiple channels, you have to hire agents who can handle multiple types of customer interactions.

New technology exists to help you profile agents to determine if they will be proficient and successful. Then, you must train and coach them continuously. In many cases, such as a product announcement or change in billing, this means multiple training sessions within the same day to make sure agents have the information they need to be effective.

Universal agents are real, but they need some kind of training every day and practice with all of the channels you intend to support.

I had a call center in the early 2000s with agents trained to handle over 60 different customers. That’s one agent on 60 different queues. You can’t get more “universal” than that! We did it with targeted, individualized online training and we rewarded agents as they learned more skills. The more skill sets they had, the more they were paid.

The notion of one agent, one channel, one customer, one product is in the past. In order to be competitive, organizations will have to move towards “super agents” who can seamlessly handle multiple channels, products and customers.

This requires a different way of training, hiring, coaching, developing and rewarding agents. The holistic methodologies used in many centers today will have to change.

So, are most contact centers on board with this new way of thinking? No. Why? Because it’s just too easy to keep doing it the old way! In fact, the outsourcing world gets paid for doing it the old way – they are paid for providing dedicated agents.

Even with the technology there to support it, they don’t want it.

Part of the issue is educating the customer to the idea that you can take better care of their customers – regardless of the channel – with agents who have the skill sets to handle multiple channels, multiple products and multiple customers.