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About a month ago, I opted to make the move to the iPhone 6, since my iPhone 5 was out of juice and I was eligible for a new phone. Once I had made the decision to upgrade, I went to my local provider and met with the sales rep, who told me which plan would be best for me. As we all do, I signed on the dotted line. That's when the trouble started.

portable First, I started getting notes about high usage. This seemed odd, because while I have three phones on my account, two of them belong to two old but savvy ladies. Even as savvy as they are, I know neither of them has taken up texting or video streaming. I knew I hadn't either. Hmmm... Then less than halfway through the month, I got the "you've used your quota" note, and when I got the bill, I saw it was considerably higher than normal.

Initially I didn't blow a gasket. I looked at the bill and figured I'd call and make things right. It was only after I examined the bill and found no phone number on it that I went berserk. How in the world could a) I have been signed up for the wrong plan despite my clear (at least to me) explanation of what I needed and b) I fix this problem if I couldn't find anyone to talk to about it?

Not content to merely walk off into a haze muttering expletives, I opted to reach out to well-respected contact center analyst and overall telecom prognosticator Sheila McGee-Smith, founder of McGee-Smith Analytics. "Are contact centers going away?" I asked, not optimistically. Truthfully, I've always believed deep down that such entities, initially placed in "cube farms," have primarily existed for the purpose of insulating companies from their customers, and not for actually serving them. But now, are they really disappearing?

Sheila responded directly. "First," she said, "the vendor ... is likely still working in the last century with burdensome processes and procedures. But that's really not the question. This isn't a problem that's limited to one vendor." I couldn't agree more.

She continued: "There's a lot of data in 2015 on consumer preferences for customer service in contact centers. In a recent global benchmarking report, Dimension Data is predicting that over half of interactions in contact centers will be digital in nature by 2016. Those interactions could be digital chat, could be email, could be SMS, but they will not be 'find the 800 number and call.'" (See Sheila's related story, Re-Examining Self-Service.")

Companies are forever trying to build a closer relationship with their customers. In early generations of customer service, a consumer could look at the bill, make a call and, with any luck, speak to an agent who could help. Within the past decade, call or "contact" centers have evolved dramatically, supported by massive technological innovation such that the agent with whom a customer interacts may not be in India or the Philippines as he or she was five years ago, but may be sitting in his or her home office in a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa, just looking to work for a couple of hours while the kids are at school. Further, much of the interaction, particularly with younger consumers, may not involve any audio but rather be handled entirely by Web chat, text, or mail. As for the letter? I think that disappeared with the last episode of The West Wing. Or maybe The Ed Sullivan Show.

So I guess this is, at least in part, an age thing, and in another part, a convenience thing, and in another part, a cost-containment thing. Sheila told me pointedly, "Companies are trying to meet customers where they want to be met, but sometimes they're trying to reduce costs and not being customer-centric." So essentially, it's really a question of finding that delicate balance between actually providing service versus providing a lower level of service cost effectively.

With Millennials, the ideal relationship from the company's perspective looks different than does the company's relationship with customers from previous generations. "Millennials are not quick to pick up the phone to talk -- they'd rather message either by text, chat, or even video. It just doesn't occur to them to call," said Sheila when we talked.

An unintended consequence of this generational difference is that when someone has to at least try to reach out and touch a real person, the consumer's problem is generally more complex and requires more active participation by a knowledgeable, quality call center agent -- a costly resource to the entity providing the service.

The successful contact center needs to balance competing needs: making a variety of easily accessible self-service options, utilizing a variety of technological platforms, available to consumers, and, when needed, having agents available who are sufficiently sophisticated and informed to resolve complex consumer problems. From any way you look at it, most contact centers have a long way to go.

And now, back to my issue. I did finally find someone at the wireless service provider who could help me solve my problem, which is why I didn't reveal the company name here. But I had to travel an unbelievably long and twisted road to find him.