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Expert's Angle: The Process Behind Creating an Effective Customer Access Strategy

In the last 20 plus years the contact center industry has changed dramatically; technology, processes, the people employed, and the knowledge, education and career opportunities have expanded exponentially. The Call Center has turned into the multimedia Contact Center: the hub of the organization and customer interaction.

Putting Strategy Front and Center

In my role as an ICMI Associate and independent consultant, I continue to emphasize and reiterate the importance of taking a circular – or continuous improvement – approach to an organization’s development in this industry. The approach must be applied to any challenge or business initiative, with a customer-centered focus. We no longer use the mantra of just people, processes and technology; STRATEGY has been placed at the forefront and must guide every decision.

Once the strategy is in place, we must find the right people to implement it, establish the correct processes to meet our customer and employee requirements, and lastly identify the technology that best meet our needs. Though this model has been around for years now, it is amazing to me how many organizations still do not follow a logical path when defining the means in which to interact with their customers and then choosing the appropriate technologies.

And yet, has this notion of ‘technology being chosen last’ finally changed with the introduction of multimedia/social media venues? (Texting, chat, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, web self-service, kiosks, and video agents just to name a few.) In some ways, it has, but only to the extent that our customers are determining the way in which they want to communicate with us. In the past the telephone was the predominant method of communication or interaction; in many organizations it is still. It is estimated that overall only about 28% of customer interactions are non-voice calls or conversely 72% are still telephone calls1. Of course, this will vary by market segment and by the desire of an organization to make available other forms of communication for their customers. Yet the rate at which non-voice channels of communication and interaction are growing, we cannot sit back and ignore the wave.

5 Steps for Implementing Multimedia

When the time comes to decided how to approach implementing multimedia in your contact center, here are five important steps that should be considered:

1. Identify what channels are already being used to communicate with your customers. Most organizations are using email, self-service and web interactions. Identify how much volume is generated in these areas and compare it to the voice contacts. Use data to evaluate what channels of communications are increasing – not only in your organization - but also in similar industries. Data is a very powerful tool to highlight what is going on in your organization, so do not assume anything; have the data to validate any assumptions.

2. Work with your marketing team to investigate what methods of communication would enhance the customer experience, while achieving the desired business goals. Marketing is the part of the organization that should have the ‘pulse beat’ of the customer, along with the knowledge of what customers want, how they want to interact with the organization and the understanding of the long term business goals. However, it is the contact center that houses the information about the customer experience and really is in tune with overall customer expectations. The contact center is the place the customer will go to voice their opinions of dissatisfaction with the services offered, both from the product or service being sold, to how the service is being delivered. The customer will also use new methods of communication to voice their opinions quickly and to a networked audience. The customer also tells our representatives what channels of interaction they would like to have and when a channel is not effective. The key point is to ensure we have a way to capture and collect such information in order to make wise decisions.

3. Enlist a sponsor for all the initiatives to be under taken. After gleaning the information, formulating a list of the potential communication options, designating the scope and initiatives to enhance the customer experience, you will need a sponsor to champion your program. That sponsor needs to be at the executive level and is critical for success, especially when budgets and other projects are always on the horizon and competing for vital resources. This sponsor will keep those at the higher levels informed of the overall purpose and goals behind the initiatives, along with the progress once things are underway.

4. Select an effective and knowledgeable Project Manager. This individual will need to be not only experienced in project management processes and principles, they also must have the knowledge and experience with Contact Center operations and the technologies that support them. The PM will keep the various team members working together and moving the project forward. They have the big picture and will work to keep things in scope, schedule tasks and document milestones. The project manager makes certain the project is measured, tracked and time lines are maintained.

5. Ensure all departments affected will be involved in the project from the start. Each department will need a representative to guarantee they register their department’s ideas, concerns and opinions about the impact, potential risks and benefits of the project.

  • IT is required to evaluate the feasibility, integration and overall architecture of the chosen technology. In most organizations, a technology road map has already been adopted, so validation of the new technologies for the Contact Center must fall within that road map. If the initiatives being considered do not fit, then it will be important to have IT understand the benefits and reasoning behind the solutions that are being considered. IT must be on board or the project will be in jeopardy.
  • Finance must be present on the team. They assist the project manager in creating the required project budget, along with vendor agreements. They will monitor the vendors so they remain in line with their quote. Should the financial aspects change in a negative way, working with them closely will alleviate any surprises and may facilitate acquiring more budgetary dollars if required.
  • The Education and Training and Human Resources department will have input as to how the new technology will impact the customer service representatives training needs, along with the skills required for bringing in the new staff to the contact center.
  • Various members from the Contact Center staff, such as a customer service representative and a supervisor should be involved. Their perspectives as the front line staff are invaluable. You may also want to consider a member from the Work Force Management and Real-Time monitoring team and possible the Quality Assurance team. They will be directly impacted by the technology chosen and will know the impact those changes will have on the customer. Of course, the manager or the director of the contact center is in the forefront of the project and works closely with the PM throughout.

By having clear goals and objectives, a well thought out plan and following a focused process will allow the project team to select the best technologies to move the organization forward. By choosing a team with great depth you will gain more acceptance of changes that will be forth coming, along with a plentiful knowledge base to guarantee as few as possible major hurdles or road blocks will be encountered. By following this process you will be able to select the appropriate multi-media communication channels with which your customers will want to engage your organization. The availability and the constant introduction of new methods and modes of communication can be over whelming, however, we cannot let the technology drive our strategy. Technology is just the enabler and we must determine how to use it effectively.

1. ContactBabel. US Contact Center Decision Makers Guide 2010 – 2011, page 150.