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Can a contact center play pivotal role in enterprise CRM strategy?

On the customer front-line, contact centers are best positioned to guide corporate CRM strategy, according to a global benchmarking report.

As companies increasingly focus on sustaining customer relationships, contact centers have their best shot yet at becoming serious corporate leaders that can guide organizational CRM strategies.

But they could just as easily blow this opportunity if they don’t start thinking more strategically, according to the findings in the 2011 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report, which was recently published by Dimension Data of Johannesburg, South Africa.

“All too often, the contact center objectives didn’t match the enterprise objectives,” said Andrew McNair, head of global benchmarking at Dimension Data. “If they are to be more a part of the enterprise, their objectives need to be the same.”

The benchmarking report, which surveyed more than 500 contact centers worldwide, shows contact centers are making progress on key strategic fronts, such as adoption of social media and channel integration, to help create a single view of a customer. But plenty of work remains.

Here are some of the key findings:  

Social media: About 20% of respondents said they had added social medial channels to contact centers, and another 32% said they would be adding these social media contact center channels in the next 12 to 24 months. In the previous benchmarking report, released in late 2009, social media was not even a survey topic.

McNair said marketing groups are leading the social media charge at many companies, and a contact center can step up to offer some kind of “collaborative or supportive” role with marketing so it has input in the overall corporate approach to social media.

Contact center channel integration: Only 25% of respondents indicated that they had fully integrated Web and telephony systems, a fact that shows contact centers are not yet fully managing and integrating a multichannel center.  

Case management ownership: Because a contact center is often the first point of contact with a customer, it could own the customer case management process, McNair said. But he said less than half of the contact centers surveyed reported having tracking systems in place for customer inquiries that are routed outside the contact center.

Also, the industry or geographical regions one would expect to be advanced are actually below the global average, McNair reported. For example, only 14% of North American contact centers reported having enterprisewide tracking ability. Others outdid the North American region significantly, with Asia and the U.K. reporting well over 50% using enterprisewide tracking systems.

“We were disappointed in the results emerging here,” McNair said. “The contact center should act as the gatekeeper.’’

McNair said that while the survey identified key areas in which contact centers need to step up, it also showed that they are certainly more aware of the strategic changes they should be making. For example, he noted that for the first time since surveying contact centers about self-service, customer satisfaction was the key driver rather than cost reduction. This shows a shift in understanding the long-term strategic benefit of improving customer relationships rather than focusing just on cost, McNair said.

In addition, the report showed contact centers are identifying the key areas of technology they should be targeting. Asked what their top technology driver was, respondents selected “the convergence of voice, data and video” as the No. 1 technology issue. That issue was followed by service availability and consolidation of technologies as other top technology concerns for contact centers.

Cloud computing ranked sixth among technology trends and issues. However, McNair noted this year’s survey showed a 30% increase over the 2009 report in adoption of IP services at contact centers, indicating that more are enabling their environments for future implementation of cloud-based services.

Finally, McNair offered a few other “personal” insights when assessing this year’s data, noting that contact centers might be better served by leaders with a more sales-oriented approach and who are comfortable running profit-driven operations rather than leaders with a strictly service mentality who are comfortable managing a set budget.


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