Contact Centers--Evolution or Revolution?
| Published: November 26, 2014 | Comments
In business today, the most important voice is that of the customer. As we reflect on this year’s Contact Center Demo and Conference Richard McCann wonders if complacency is resulting in missed opportunities.
Businesses in the financial services sector now believe that their ‘future growth depends on making customer experience special ’.(1) Researcher and writer Brian Cantor agrees that the future lies in essential transformation of channels, processes and data. In his recent report, ‘Performance, Operations & Technology – Call Center Performance in an Age of Customer Satisfaction’, Mr Cantor says that performance evaluation has shifted from C-level executives and investors, and the customer is now the voice of judgment.
The 94% of all US and UK customers (2) who said they would take 'some action' the first time service levels failed to meet their expectations undoubtedly agree with Mr Cantor. Indeed, 42% (3) say they would take their business to a competitor ‘immediately’ if they were dissatisfied with service.
Multi-channel is on the rise and most call centers have become ‘contact centers’. The top four rising channels - web self-service, live chat, mobile live and mobile self-service - are all digital. Thus the ‘traditional’ channels are falling by proportion. That trend will accelerate, driven by the pace of innovation of web and mobile apps.
“Contact Centers need to adapt quickly to keep pace with these changes, or else customer experience could suffer if multiple channels lead to disjointed service and fractured customer data,” says Nigel Warren, Head of Marketing at iBPM software specialist MatsSoft.
But how is this being integrated? Many centers have allocated dedicated reps for each channel, but Mr Warren points to the danger of what he calls a ‘silo mentality’: “One of the advantages of aggregating the different channels into a single system is you obtain one place to set-up service levels, rules and escalations. You could set-up different service levels for different channels or you could treat them all the same. Take complaint management as an example. Arguably it makes no difference if a complaint is registered by phone, by Email or by Tweet. The meter starts running the moment the complaint is received. You wouldn’t want it handled differently just because the communication channel was different. By bringing these different channels into a combined view, contact centers will have the most flexibility in terms of resource allocation.
Our financial services customers are combining Web, Email, SMS, Twitter and phone into a consistent web front end that aggregates customer communication into a consistent case management environment. Such consistency reduces agent-training requirements and ensures that however the customer prefers to communicate with the company, they experience consistent service. “
In the UK financial services sector, for example, 'a reportable complaint' is “any expression of dissatisfaction by a customer which has not been resolved by close of business on the business day following its receipt” and failure to meet that deadline means that the complaint has to be reported to the Financial Conduct Authority. That incurs compliance effort and cost, as well as effecting reputation via published complaint league tables. Minimizing such cost and reputational damage is much harder to achieve if calls, letters, Emails and Tweets are not aggregated into a single system. And yes, a tweet sent to a bank can be an official complaint!
Customer-oriented metrics now possess the influence once held by operational ones such as ‘average handle time’ and ‘average speed of answer’, and customer-centricity has become the driving force behind today’s centers. Customer satisfaction—not cost efficiency or revenue generation—is their paramount objective according to the report (4).
Yet despite existing in a world of multiple contact channels and virtual infrastructures, many of today’s centers still have a reluctance to go multi-channel according to Cantor, who says that despite ‘technically serving customers in multiple channels’, his data casts significant doubt on the maturity of the alleged omni-channel revolution.
Engagement via social channels is conspicuously absent from the shortlists of many contact center services. Occasionally treated as synonymous with the word multi-channel, social remains slow to garner support from today’s enterprises, says Brian Cantor.
Making changes to your customer service processes can have a dramatic effect not just on customer experience, but on your efficiency and cost-effectiveness as well. Nigel Warren says contact centers are missing out by failing to address root cause deficient processes that lead to unnecessary queries and phone calls: “Improving customer communications and web self-service capabilities can dramatically cut the number of chaser (follow-up) calls. For example, one client halved the number of chaser calls within a few weeks of implementing automated status-update-messaging for their home loan applicants.”
Measuring Performance in a World of Changing Objectives
While some businesses still focus primarily on the cost of operating their contact centers, others look at the value being generated. But all require insight into how their centers are performing. Efficiency metrics are apparently no longer top of mind; 60% look at the agent’s impact on customer satisfaction metrics, while 42% rely on resolution metrics .
Increasingly, businesses see their centers as gateways to improved customer relationships and greater revenue. 44% of businesses define driving customer satisfaction as their center’s primary focus; only 27% most notably focus on reducing the cost of customer engagements .
Quality, Technology and Cloud Investment
Technology is an irrefutable gateway to a stronger contact center operation, capable of facilitating entry into new channels, improving quality and reliability of interactions, reducing the cost of satisfying customers and capturing valuable insights from inside and outside the center. Brian Cantor’s report reveals that a total of 66% of contact center operations will feature a hosted or cloud element by the end of the next eighteen month period and 31% of organizations will exclusively rely on hosted or cloud solutions.
“The agenda has switched to winning, delighting and retaining more customers to drive profitability,” argues Warren. “If customer experience improvement is the new battleground for competitive advantage, being told by IT that you’re going to have to wait six months for an enhancement to some aspect of your customer service architecture is just totally unacceptable. So operations and customer service departments are seeking more agility and more control of their technology, which in some cases they can get by moving to the Cloud and working with specialist service providers, instead of in-house IT. Sixty percent of organizations have substantially outsourced IT, and you have to wonder if that has impacted agility and encouraged more contact center leaders to consider the Cloud?”
Complacency or Innovation?
The shift to a more customer-centric approach requires more than a mindset change, it also needs action. That some businesses now recognize the center as a source of value offers empowerment for contact center managers, but it also risks creating an aura of complacency, says Brian Cantor.
For instance, virtually no respondents in Mr Cantor’s survey identified gaining customer insights as a center’s top objective. Yet when one considers how valuable that information can be to the business—and how effectively the contact center can capture that information—are businesses squandering a great opportunity?
(1) 91% agree: ‘Opinion Matters’ research 2014
(2) ‘Opinion Matters’ research 2014
(3) ‘Opinion Matters’ research 2014
(4) Performance, Operations & Technology – Call Center Performance in an Age of Customer Satisfaction’
Strategy & Planning, Metrics, Customer Experience
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