Published: March 21, 2022 | Comments
Not long ago, one of my contact center peers posed this question: "How can our industry use [insert emerging technology] in our operations?" The specific technology they asked about is unimportant; buzzwords like “artificial intelligence”, “machine learning”, “blockchain”, “metaverse”, and “5G” go in and out of the headlines daily.
The way the question was posed caught my attention more than anything else. The technology in question was tangentially related to contact centers, at best. We hadn't identified any problems it could solve, yet there seemed to be some unspoken pressure to "do something, anything" with this innovation. I realized that not only had I heard this question before, but I'd also asked it myself.
Technology is evolving and iteratively improving every day. Today's contact centers have amazing capabilities that we could have only dreamed of a few years ago, spurred on by solution providers who have made it easier than ever to bring the bleeding-edge right to your office.
It made me wonder, "Are there any potential downsides to this fanfare and excitement?" My background is in information technology, and there was a time when I relished technology for technology's sake. Not long after I reached a position in which I could impose my ideology on unsuspecting end-users, I came to understand the consequences of shoehorning "awesome" solutions where they weren't the optimal fit. The latest and greatest technology in the wrong hands has the potential to diminish productivity, damage the user experience, and waste valuable resources.
While it's thrilling to contemplate how we can employ new technologies, these tips may help you find balance and direct organizational energy where it will do the most good for your contact center.
Don't Strive For Cutting Edge
Beware of setting goals or assessing your contact center's success based on technology trends set by the wider industry. Amazing contact centers are characterized by the outcomes they deliver, the memories they make for customers, and the value created for the companies they serve. The fanciest automated quality scoring doesn't mean much if customers always walk away upset when agents do everything by the book. Customers care more about getting correct, helpful responses than dialogue that perfectly mirrors a script.
Furthermore, the cutting edge isn't always trending in a direction that makes sense for your organization and its brand promise. For instance, Natural Language Understanding (NLU) has improved by leaps and bounds in recent history, and many firms have developed truly impressive voice assistants to greet customers when they call. That doesn't guarantee that customers will love them in their moment of crisis, and many companies that want to shine have regressed to human operators answering the phone after the first ring.
Follow Your Strategy
Every contact center should have a robust strategic plan driving its investments. Great strategic plans are born from critically reviewing the current state, evaluating what outcomes best support company objectives, and identifying opportunities to remove friction or build alignment to high-level goals. Meaningful strategic plans are multidimensional; they're formulated with the advice of every role and every level within the contact center to ensure no critical opportunities are overlooked.
Technology should not be a strategic objective. On their own, gizmos and gadgets don't improve organizational performance. Improved performance comes from capabilities, speed, or reliability enabled by technology. By starting with the idea of what you want to achieve and later determining how to get there, you'll open the floor to many more diverse ideas. With a broader selection of alternatives to choose from, you can select an approach that best fits your team's budget, tolerance for change, and risk appetite. Specific technology implementations should only become a goal very late in problem-solving.
Add Arbitrary Constraints
While grand plans are thrilling to consider, they create substantial risk. Many situations warrant elaborate solutions, intricately planned projects, and hefty price tags, but you can overcome many hurdles with much simpler means. Particularly in large enterprises, it's easy to presume that every obstacle demands an answer of the same magnitude as our operation or with a particular technical pedigree.
Begin with judgment-free brainstorming; it's good to think big! Then, evaluate other approaches to solve the problem. Imagine various constraints or channel your past experiences to force yourself and your team into greater creativity. Ask, "What if we had no budget?" or "What if we can't spare everyone for a half-day training?" Consider any previous small-scale attempts to address the same type of problem. Does the proposed solution share any common weaknesses? These mental exercises can help identify project risks early and prevent overengineering solutions.
Build on a Solid Foundation
Finally, the most crucial element of any process or service innovation is to begin on a solid foundation. The best-designed IVR cannot compensate for an inefficient organizational structure or a flawed service delivery model. The industry's leading AI-powered knowledge base tools can't compensate for articles that are difficult for agents to use or understand. Gamification won't motivate or retain agents who don't feel valued and respected by their managers.
One may quickly become so enchanted with hip new product offerings that we forget where we're starting. We must step back and recognize that even the most advanced contact center hardware and software must successfully interface with our people, processes, and customers. To attain the inspiring results we read about in case studies, we must start with similar raw ingredients. Technology won't make us different; for the most part, it will amplify who we already are. It's best to layer new capabilities on an already well-oiled machine.