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Five priorities for the contact center

New technology options, a real push to outsource, and interesting ways to measure success are changing the game for contact center managers.

Contact centers aren't what they used to be.

New technology options, a real push to outsource, and interesting ways to measure success are changing the game for contact center managers, according to Sabio Research. The London-based consultancy helped identify five priorities for contact centers this year.

  1. Look offshore: Significant cost savings from outsourcing contact centers overseas, particularly to India, are just too attractive for some organizations to ignore, according to Adam Faulkner, director of Sabio. He estimates that as many as 40% of all call centers are now outsourced. The number of contact centers in India alone is expected to triple between 2002 and 2008, thanks to technology such as IP telephony and thin client applications that purportedly cut costs and prevent technology headaches, Faulkner said. Yet cultural and language barriers -- as well as a potential customer backlash -- are impediments. Organizations should consider outsourcing as part of broader strategies for business processes, Sabio recommended.

    Complex regulations like HIPAA kept Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, from taking its contact center operations overseas. Its top priority for 2004 is to reduce contact center traffic by driving customers to the Web. To do so, it's relying on software from Bozeman, Mont.-based RightNow Technologies Inc. Using online self-service, getting agents to train callers to use the online options, and integrating voice recognition (IVR) are all part of the company's push, said Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana's Joseph Flemming.

  2. Consider IVR: Similar to outsourcing, IVR -- combining telephone input and touch-tone keypad selection to respond to customer requests -- offers a big cost-cutting opportunity. Companies will continue to adopt IVR during the next year, but should pass on some of the technology's benefits to customers, Faulkner suggested. Just like some utility companies offer a discount to customers who pay bills online, companies can offer savings to customers who use their phone systems rather than talk to agents.
  3. Small contact centers take ASP route: Application service providers (ASPs) are making new inroads into the contact center. Smaller contact centers require much of the same technology as their larger counterparts, but they don't have the capital, Faulkner said. Enter ASPs. He predicts that 60% of contact center deals over the next three years will be for less than 50 seats. Sabio cautioned companies going the hosted route to use multi-tenant systems -- systems in which several businesses share server resources, avoid customization and understand the potential for downtime.
  4. Explore new performance management measurements: Contact centers need to continue to change the way they measure their performance, Faulkner said. No longer is it a matter of fielding as many calls in as short a period of time as possible. Innovative ways of measuring the "overall quality" of the call is needed, Faulkner said. He suggested a balanced scorecard that measures "overall effectiveness," rather than per-call efficiency. For example, one travel agency has identified that agents with 18 months or more of experience generate about twice as much business per call as a new agent. Therefore, agent retention becomes a key metric.
  5. Don't forget loyalty: Despite all the talk about how much more expensive it is to find a new customer than to keep one, many companies still haven't gotten the message, Faulkner said. Companies need to use the customer information they've received from their CRM systems by applying strategy, not just technology, and improve the customer experience when the calls come in, he said. For instance, Sabio's research found car insurance providers discovered that their most loyal customers were those who had accidents, because this is one of the few times they actually had experience dealing with the company. It is at this point that organizations can focus on the customer experience -- and work to make it a good and memorable one, Faulkner said.


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