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Results of the 'Will Technology Kill the Call Center?' Debate

Last month, I told you about an upcoming online debate called: "Will Technology Kill the Call Center?" Research firm Software Advice moderated the event early this month with experts from IntelliResponse, Avaya Inc., Drumbi and Etech Global Services.

The 45-minute discussion was hosted in a Google+ Hangout in front of a digital audience. The panel discussed trends in customer contact channel utilization, technology and the future call center. The speakers offered advice for consumer contact strategy and ways companies can prepare for the future.

Click here to view the entire debate.

Here's a few key takeaways from their discussion.

Respond to the Customer's Choice

One of the questions I prepared for the debate was "What role has technology played in changes to contact channel utilization?"

IntelliResponse Vice President of Marketing Mike Hennessy said contact channels such as virtual agents and social media have improved to the point of leveling the playing field as far as customer user experience. This has resulted in greater customer choice - they want to use multiple channels, so they do.

"Technology can finally deliver on the promises from five or six years ago," he told the group.

In response, he suggested companies "right channel" their business, or determine which channels are most important to its customers and invest in those technologies.

Utilize Multiple Channels Together

I also asked the group about consumer contact channel utilization and how that has changed. All of the speakers agreed that consumers are embracing newer contact channels at a pace never seen before in the contact center world.

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. By the time the customer reaches the phone, they are likely at a crucial point in their interaction.

Can you tell if the customer was looking in FAQs, and what they looked at, before they called your 1-800 number? Do you know if they interacted with a virtual agent? Having these answers can bring context and personalization to the live response experience. This increases efficiency and customer satisfaction.

The Contact Channel Skill Set is Changing

Drumbi CEO and Founder Shervin Talieh told the group that "in the future, we will have the tools to seamlessly move from one touch point to another without losing all the context. … This will have a tremendous impact on customer experience, but also the agent."

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. Talieh said companies need to ensure that their contact center has the ability to leverage these various channels together. These centers will be smaller and more specialized. This means agents will need to be more skilled and technically savvy.

So do these trends hint at the eventual death of the call center, or it's rebirth? Let us know what you think by commenting here.