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Irwin Lazar
Irwin Lazar is Vice President and Service Director at Nemertes Research, where he develops and manages research projects, develops cost...
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Irwin Lazar | February 24, 2012 |

 
   

Whither the Call Center?

Whither the Call Center? Amid the rise of new channels, many organizations are struggling to create a consistent and coherent strategy for customer engagement.

Amid the rise of new channels, many organizations are struggling to create a consistent and coherent strategy for customer engagement.

The rise of social media, instant messaging, SMS, and "apps" has changed the way companies communicate with their customers. But amid these new channels, many organizations are struggling to create a consistent and coherent strategy for customer engagement.

One would think that all these various forms of engagement would be driven through the call center. After all, the contact center is already set up to manage customer integration according to business process rules, track conversations, and measure success factors such as call completion time and customer satisfaction. Contact center managers have invested substantial resources in knowledge management and workforce management/optimization, to apply the right person to the right task, and ensure that all agents have access to the resources (information and/or people) necessary to fulfill inquiries.

But the fact is that most companies haven’t unified multichannel customer support in the contact center. For many, the "contact center" is still a "call center," primarily focused on voice-based conversations and not yet equipped to handle engagement via web, mobile, video, or text-based services.

According to the 2011-12 Nemertes Communications and Collaboration benchmark, most companies (59%) haven't yet made any plans to bring channels other than voice into the contact center. Only about 10% have any plans for video, while around another 20% are deploying text-based call support (usually e-mail, but increasingly SMS). That's not to say that companies aren’t engaging with their customers via these emerging channels, it's just that they aren't using the contact center to manage those engagements.

In our interviews with IT leaders we hear of a variety of scenarios: "Marketing handles social interaction;" "We've got a web application group developing our customer portal;" "Our applications team just floated an RFP for a mobile customer application management platform." Those going down the path of deploying different forms of engagement isolated in different business groups risk a variety of challenges ranging from the lack of integration resulting in a poor customer experience, to duplication of efforts resulting in excessive cost.

Consider the following scenario: Customer "Bob" wants to check his account. He logs into the web portal or uses a mobile app, only to hit a point where he feels he needs to speak to a live agent. Without integration and common processes, he might click to call, or be required to dial an 8xx number, only to hear the agent at the other end ask "please provide your account number," with no knowledge of who the customer is, and what he has already done in the various customer-facing applications. Alternatively, those calling companies with an integrated customer service platform would hear: "Hello Mr. Smith, I see you are looking at a transaction dated March 2nd, how can I help you?"

Contact center and customer experience vendors recognize the need to deliver integrated platforms and are largely moving beyond simply delivering automatic call distribution platforms, integrated voice response, and other related contact center service and management products. Rather, they are broadening their wares to enable customers to use process rule systems, knowledge-basis, and analytics platforms to unify management of all forms of customer engagement, while even enabling per-channel support options. For example, agents recognizing that a person is on a mobile device might be able to push out the location of a nearby repair center or store. Agents recognizing that a customer is on a PC could push out documentation relevant to the task at hand.

But these are technical solutions to the challenge of unifying customer experience management. Perhaps the bigger challenge is changing organizational configurations that silo different groups from each other and limit information exchange. "The contact center is a dinosaur, they don’t understand the web or social media," is but one comment we've heard on more than one occasion from IT and business leaders. Overcoming these concerns requires an integrated strategy that incorporates the call center into the overall customer management experience, not as simply an infrastructure component along with telephony and network infrastructure.

Success comes from creation of a unified customer engagement area, tying together outward facing services, and integrating groups such as marketing, customer service, mobile application development, and even security and compliance. Such a scenario requires acceptance of change, and acceptance of the idea that from the customer perspective, the ideal is a consistent experience regardless of channel.



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