There is a secret army of 4.6m untrained customer service workers stretched to breaking point as businesses ‘fail to invest in technology or training’.

According to research by cloud communications specialist 8x8, as well as 766,000 contact centre staff in the UK, there is a huge amount of additional staff who don’t work in a traditional customer service environments.

These ‘informal contact centre’ staff aren’t getting the same support as those who work in customer service full time.

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One area lacking in investment is technology - more than two fifths of informal contact centre staff (43 per cent) 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.

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Only a third are confident handling multiple service enquiries across different channels

Over half (51 per cent) 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.

But only around a third (34 per cent) are very confident handling multiple service enquiries across different channels.

Despite the diversifying range of communication channels, more than four in ten (46 per cent) say they haven’t had enough training – or any at all – on how to deal with clients over the phone.

Kevin Scott-Cowell, UK MD of 8x8 commented, “When people think of customer service, they instantly think about aircraft hangar-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.”

According to the research, it is staff in smaller firms (250-499 employees) that are most likely to call out for more help.