Friday, October 19, 2012

Guest Post: Today's Call Centers Are Reborn With Multi-skills, Multi-Channels


This guest blog post was provided by Ashley Furness, Software Advice Analyst

Today's consumer demands instant gratification when they contact a company. In the past this was fulfilled through call-in service: the phone rings, they talk to an agent, they get an answer. Now they face extended holding, automated prompts, unhelpful agents and a sea of transfers.

This irritation–coupled with technology for better, faster service through Web channels–has impacted customers’ support preferences. So what does the future hold for customer-company communication? 

This was the subject of a recent live online debate moderated by research firm Software Advice. The event, a live Google+ hangout called “Will Technology Kill the Call Center?” featured a discussion about consumer contact channel utilization, technology and the impact of these trends on the future call center. The speakers offered advice on customer contact channel strategy, as well as forecasted what companies can expect from the next generation of consumers.

The panel answered four scripted questions before the discussion was opened up to the digital audience of 40 attendees. If you missed the event, we'd like to share a few key takeaways from their conversation:

Technology Levels the User Experience Playing Field
As was mentioned, customers crave speed to contact. Poor user experience for non-phone channels previously prohibited their adoption, but that has changed. The speakers said virtual agent, chat, self service and other technologies can finally deliver on the promises they made years ago.

As a results, consumers now have the option to choose which channel works best for them. It’s up to the company to “right channel” their business–or determine which channels are most important to its customers and invest in those technologies. Companies should consider, for example, that the majority of customer contact will soon come from a smartphone or tablet. Users don’t want to tap through self-service login screens, or fish around FAQ pages using a tiny keyboard. So organizations should start investing in ways to best serve these customers.

Don't Silo Communication Channels
All of the speakers agreed that consumers are embracing newer contact channels, such as virtual agents and self service, at a pace never seen before in the contact center world. In fact, a recent Avaya report showed 60 percent of consumers continually change how they contact a company.

This doesn’t mean customers are choosing these new channels instead of voice. Rather, they are using self service, FAQs, mobile and other channels in addition to the telephone. 

This also means that once that consumer reaches the phone, they are likely at a crucial juncture in their interaction. The speakers said companies need to be smarter when that customer gets there. In other words, they need to be able to track the interaction from beginning to end. Was that customer looking at FAQs before they called the 1-800 number? Did they interact with a virtual agent? These answers can bring context and personalization to the live response experience. This increases efficiency and customer satisfaction.

The Call Center Reborn
The speakers agreed customer contact preference is shifting away from voice, but this won’t kill the call center. The concept of a call center comprising phone agents has evolved into a contact center comprising ”command teams” who manage customer interactions through multiple channels. That’s because today’s consumer demands instant gratification, and the reborn center is expected to support those demands, whether they come through Twitter, live chat or a phone call.

This will continue to affect expectations from contact centers and their agents. Companies need to ensure that their contact center has the ability to leverage these various channels together. This means agents will need to be more skilled and technically savvy.

“At the end of the day it’s the agent behind the technology that's going to make the difference. While technology will enable agents to be better, faster, more efficient. It will not replace the contact center,” one of the speakers said.

About the guest author: 
Ashley Furness is an analyst for Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. 
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