Part of SearchCRM.com's Call Center Trend Watch guide
Contact centers have proven their adaptability over the years and are once again facing a major challenge. Enterprise managers are clearly communicating their impatience with cost-oriented contact centers by outsourcing to offshore locations, hoping to reduce costs by 25% to 50%. While companies that effectively outsource offshore can achieve a great deal of savings, outsourcing is not the only solution, nor is it the best way to improve the return from a contact center.
Contact centers cost too much!
There is no question that contact centers cost too much to be used purely to service customers or take orders. Enterprises should provide the best service possible to their customers in any channel. That means beginning the interaction by handling whatever issue the customer raises. But once the initial transaction is completed, contact center staff should take advantage of this person-to-person interaction to build and enhance the relationship. This doesn't only mean up-sell and cross-sell, although these are important functions. Instead it means doing whatever it takes to enhance and build the company's relationship with both its profitable customers and those who have long-term potential. It may mean wishing a customer a happy birthday or asking if a client has recovered from a recent illness. Or, it may mean asking how a recent purchase is working out. I'm talking about the concept of proactive customer care -- going beyond the basics and anticipating the future needs and wants of your customers.
To anticipate customer needs and wants, contact centers require analytical applications to provide useful information in real time. Contact center managers also need to work closely with marketing to determine the right approach and make the best offer for each customer segment, whether an individual or a group of thousands. The days of rushing customers off the phone is grudgingly being replaced by an appreciation that providing an outstanding customer experience builds profitable and lasting relationships, even if it takes a few extra minutes.
The age of contact center analytics
Contact centers are entering the age of analytics, an era that will greatly enhance enterprise profitability and customer satisfaction. While this trend will be positive for enterprises and welcomed by customers, it will require significant changes in contact center practices, staff and technology. Contact centers will need to shift the primary emphasis from productivity to relationship building -- something that did not happen during the last ten years despite the prevalence of the CRM movement.
To address this new age of analytics, contact centers will need applications that provide real-time and retrospective analytics. Managers throughout the enterprise will need systems to capture and analyze the huge volume of structured and unstructured data received from potentially dozens of contact center systems. Capturing customer data at the point of contact and combining it with existing institutional knowledge to optimize the current transaction is an important goal. Plus, all of this must happen during the first 60 seconds of the call, so that agents have time to figure out how to go beyond the basics and provide an outstanding experience.
Contact centers must adapt or become extinct
Senior managers won't continue to pay large sums of money for assets that they do not view as strategic, such as cost-oriented contact centers. This is why offshore outsourcing is so popular today. The problem is that contact centers are necessary and should be treated as a strategic asset. Many companies learned this the hard way after shifting their contact center activities to outsourcers who did not understand the culture of and sometimes even the language spoken by their customers. In some of these cases clients publicly revolted, communicating their frustration to friends, on the Internet, and even with the press. As a result these companies lost customers and revenue. Something has to give, and it has to be the rigid contact center productivity mindset.
Changes are already underway. Within five to 10 years, contact centers will become one of the most important revenue-generating departments in most enterprises. Some enterprises have begun to try to figure out how to improve their customer experience while keeping costs down. The enabler will be analytical applications and the beneficiaries will be enterprises, their customers and even contact center agents, whose jobs will become much more rewarding.
About the author
Donna Fluss is the founder and principal of DMG Consulting LLC, a firm specializing in customer-focused business strategy, operations and technology services for Global 2000 and emerging companies. Ms. Fluss is a recognized thought leader and innovator in CRM, contact center and real-time analytics. For over 23 years, she has helped end users build world-class differentiated contact centers and vendors develop high-value solutions for the market. She is the author of the book, "The Real-Time Contact Center" and many leading industry reports, including the 2006 Speech Analytics Market Report and the annual Quality Management/Liability Recording Product and Market Report.