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Multi-channel Contact Centers: What's Really Going on?
Sheila McGee-Smith and Zeus Kerravala both wrote last week about some leading-edge trends in contact centers, especially in the area of what Sheila calls the "blurring of the line between contact centers and CRM." Their descriptions of this emerging customer contact environment are compelling--but what's really happening in the contact centers themselves?
We got a glimpse of this real-world view in our last Enterprise Connect webinar (replay available here), when Art Schoeller of Forrester Research presented some Forrester data from a survey of contact center decision-makers. The data showed some encouraging progress on multichannel agent enablement, which is pretty much a prerequisite for the kind of next-gen contact center that Zeus and Sheila write about.
Here's the result for a question on how widely contact centers have deployed multi-channel agents:
The fact that more than half of the respondents have most of their agents multi-channel seems very promising to me. Even more encouraging, nearly a third of the respondents said that all of their agents are multi-channel.
Many contact centers will probably always see a need for a handful of agents to be specialists; Zeus discusses the particular demands that video-based customer contact are likely to place on the agent. But if most of your agents are multi-channel-enabled, that ought to make your contact center well equipped to serve a multi-channel-oriented customer base.
And here's what that multi-channel base looks like, in Forrester's survey:
Note that voice remains the most popular channel, but it's not growing in popularity. In contrast, text chat and social media interaction did see signficant growth between 2009 and 2012.
This chart also shows the growing popularity of self-help/community help, as website FAQs and online communities each grew in importance.
Finally, channels that weren't even significant enough to survey in 2009 attracted strong interest as well: Click-to-call and screen sharing in particular. And while mobile SMS ranked comparatively low in the latest survey, I think it's safe to assume that this channel will grow in popularity in the next iteration of the Forrester survey.
In many ways, the contact center is blazing the trail for next-generation communications, adding video agents as Zeus describes, and offering new levels of customer awareness and thus better customer service, as Sheila describes. Contact center decision-makers are successfully leveraging the cloud to deliver new capabilities, something their counterparts in broader communications implementations are still struggling with or are outright rejecting. Contact centers are also likely to be the place where Analytics and Big Data first are integrated with communications, since the payoff is pretty clear for this integration.
So it'd behoove everyone in enterprise communications to pay close attention to what's going on in contact centers over the next 12-24 months. Technologies and business cases that often lag (or never emerge) in the wider enterprise very often make sense for the contact center.