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What I Learned at Contact Center Demo and Conference

I am so excited about what I learned at ICMI’s Contact Center Demo and Conference this year. The recent trends that have emerged to improve the customer experience and to allow organizations to better understand customer needs are revolutionary. 

I attended my first call center conference about 20 years ago and had the opportunity to meet many people running call centers, observe demonstrations from numerous vendors, and listen to many speakers.  About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to attend another conference and again, I met many great people, saw many demonstrations, and learned from many speakers.  The one item that stood out to me was that during those 10 years, there had not been many significant changes in the call center industry.  As a matter of fact, almost all of the agenda topics were the same as the conference I attended 10 years earlier.  With that as a backdrop, as I packed my bags for Chicago, I wondered if this conference was going to be more of the same.  Once again, I met many great people, participated in numerous vendor demonstrations, and heard some incredible keynote and seminar speakers. 

The “BIG” difference that I observed was that the world of the call center has changed!!!  These changes are now empowering customers to a greater degree than ever while allowing organizations the flexibility to respond to customer needs and truly understand the voice of the customer.

The following provides a review of the key trends I learned about at Contact Center Demo and Conference:

Trend 1 – Multi-Channel Communications….We are no longer a call center, we are now a contact center

Customer service organizations have historically been called call centers because most communication with customers was via the telephone. A transition has occurred moving from a call center to a contact center; customer interactions now take place over a variety of channels including web, email, social, chat, text, and mobile.  This is a great benefit to customers because they now have options they can utilize anywhere and anytime. 

While providing tremendous value to customers, these new channels of communication have created numerous challenges for many organizations.  Companies are dealing with challenges that include:

  • Assuring front line staff has the appropriate skill sets to interact with customers via a variety of channels
  • Understanding customers expectations for each channel
  • Providing seamless customer experiences when customers cross over channels
  • Dealing with the loss of one-to-one interactions on the social channel

It was very apparent from many discussions that the contact centers of today are challenged to keep up with the changes that have resulted from these new communications channels.

Trend 2 – Cloud Technology….Anybody can be a contact center

Historically, starting a contact center was a daunting task requiring the implementation of an expensive technology platform.  Technology was and continues to be the key enabler to assure an efficient and effective operation.  Some of the biggest challenges include sizing the amount of the initial financial investment and then convincing senior management that the investment would provide an adequate return.  Additionally, there was the challenge of installing various components of a telephony environment; ACD, IVR, workforce management, call recording, and crossing your fingers that all of the pieces would work together. 

With cloud solutions today, any organization can have a contact center, an up front capital investment is not required and fully integrated systems are commonplace.  Regardless of the size of the contact center there is now a technology platform that is available that is cost effective and has all of the components that are needed to enable an effective operation.

Trend 3 – Speech Analytics….We can literally analyze the voice of the customer

There are a large variety of tools used to get feedback from customers with surveys being one of the most common.  While providing excellent feedback, there are many gaps with surveys; feedback is after the fact, customers self-select their participation, and survey responses represent a small sample of contacts.

Speech analytics, the actual voice of the customer, provides a real time monitoring tool that analyzes key elements of a conversation such as tone of voice and keywords to better understand the true feelings and challenges of customers during an interaction (the true meaning of voice of the customer).  Speech analytics is a non-obtrusive solution to help understand how a customer interacts with a service organization and the amount of effort required from all parties to resolve an issue.

Trend 4 – People Are The Key…..Regardless of technology and tools, it is all about the people

Regardless of the technology and tools in a contact center, it is all about the people.  

This final trend is not new and the challenges that contact centers deal with today are very similar to the challenges that call centers dealt with 20 years ago.

Similar to 10 and 20 years ago, there were numerous sessions covering topics including hiring, motivation, leadership, training, etc.  Each session provided great ideas on how to tackle these problems and the conversations among the attendees and the ideas shared were incredibly valuable.  All of the attendees understood the criticality of creating a supportive environment for their teams.  And many of them realized that there is no “silver bullet” for addressing their challenges, a comforting thought that they are not alone.

So now as I look back at the conference, I am incredibly excited about the new trends that are driving a revolution in the customer service world...multichannel communications, cloud technology, and speech analytics.  I am also somewhat relieved that we all continue to share the same critical challenge, leading and managing the most important resource in the contact center: the people.