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The Future of the Contact Center

Many in the industry expect that the impact of emerging technologies will be most strongly felt in the contact center. This presents exciting opportunities for innovation, and some believe one day everything will be on-line and that the combination of powerful software and social media will anticipate our every need. While this may ultimately happen, it won't be in my lifetime.

What will happen is an increased awareness that customers appreciate and will reward companies that provide superior service. 80% of companies rate the customer experience as a top strategic objective. The future of the contact center is clear; it is providing the "face" of the organization to their customers and to be the focal point in providing a world-class experience with intimacy and personalized service.

So what can Contact Centers do to offer world class experience? Contact Centers can go beyond just processing calls as quickly as possible and optimizing staffing levels. They can focus on providing the best services and taking care of customers' needs, not just getting customers off the phone as quickly as possible.

The problem is that by focusing on narrow ROI measurements aimed at measuring the efficiency of how well a group of multimodal technologies are expediting an inquiry, they may overlook customer satisfaction. The true measurement of the customer experience should be based on how well the customers are being taken care of and how well their needs are met. The net result is that happy customers recommend the company to others and generate additional revenue. Unhappy customers, by contrast, damage a company's reputation and diminish future business.

One of the most annoying things to a customer is how long it takes for them to accomplish what they called in for. The usual culprit: stand-alone contact center equipment not integrated to the rest of the organization's processes. No matter how good the contact center itself is, what does it take for the agent to handle an order or answer an inquiry? It takes time to toggle into other systems to address needs. Typically, employees need to access one or more databases to get the information needed to solve problems, check status, or make better decisions--the solution to the customer's issue may lie in systems for accounting, CRM, ERP, client support, or inventory. The greater the number of applications, the more time consuming it is, all of which hurt the chance for first-call resolution.

It is clear that in the future, the process of answering calls and inquiries in multiple media will be combined with true end-to-end integrated solutions. The contact center will be deeply integrated with CRM, ERP, and other personal productivity software (like MS Lync) to truly deliver Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP).

Big Data and analytics are major initiatives in most industries. When Big Data is applied to CRM and ERP, massive amounts of data can be sifted through. This includes the history of all interactions, business transactions, and social media (Linked In, Facebook, Twitter and the like). Big Data combines information from multiple software and data programs so that a user can leverage the power of having all of the information available with better access so that they can improve decision making.

Agents as the "face" of the organization "hear" things that are different from what management "hears". This results in a huge gap in knowledge. Agents sometimes hear the same complaints and issues day in and day out, which many times don't make it to the management level. Analytics are an essential tool for management to close that gap and uncover those complaints and issues by mining the data and finding common words and phrases that are heard in multiple conversations.

Big Data and analytics combines the diverse inputs from multiple communications media and virtually all enterprise data in real time, so that contact center agents are empowered to provide their customers the best service possible. In fact, these capabilities are so powerful that managers will have the tools and information to proactively address problems before they escalate. This echoes Steve Jobs' lesson of solving problems that people didn't even know they had.

Also new on the horizon is the emergence of Predictive Analytics. This capability uses Big Data to analyze everything that is known about the customer from all sources and make intelligent inferences about how to best meet their needs by guessing about what they are likely to be inquiring about. Analysis may also determine which agent has the best personality and skill sets to optimally serve the customer and ensure the best outcome. The agent can even be delivered customized scripts to assist them with the customers, and those scripts can change on the fly to adjust to changing needs.

Today the raging new technology is social media; who knows what it will be tomorrow? To incorporate other capabilities, contact center technology must be software based and follow industry standards, otherwise projects that aim to accommodate new capabilities will become unwieldy science fair projects.

Lastly, the very notion of the contact center is changing. Whether the need is to contact subject matter experts or anyone else with special skills, the increasing power of contact center technology will allow customers to be served directly by the person within the enterprise that can best help, with as little duplication as possible. For example, if a customer calls, tweets or puts on their Facebook that they are having a shipping problem, does it really make sense to notify the contact center, who will in turn contact shipping--or does it make more sense to notify the shipping department directly?

For most of the existing contact center industry, all of these trends are threatening and will cause massive upheaval. Their products are simply not designed to embrace these changes. The good news, though, is that these capabilities are already becoming available and we are at the early stages of having tomorrow's contact center solutions available today.