James Thew - Fotolia
Call centers were created to provide an efficient way for customers to contact a company when they have questions regarding its products and services.
During the past 40 years, call centers have evolved tremendously becoming contact centers; today's capabilities weren't on the radar even 10 years ago. Who can imagine what a contact center will look like in another 10 years? Here we take a look at contact center evolution by examining where contact centers were, where contact centers are and where contact centers are going in the following key areas:
Where contact centers were. Contact centers used separate on-premises-based systems, each performing specific functions. Organizations were responsible for integrating their Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) with a separate workforce management system with a separate call recording system. Each system had its own licensing requirements, and all systems had to be integrated seamlessly to function properly. Especially when problems arose, working with multiple vendors was not an easy task.
Where contact centers are. Currently, various providers offer integrated contact center software technologies, especially in the cloud environment. A single solution provides an integrated suite of features including workforce optimization, call recording, analytics and more. There is no longer a need to work with a variety of vendors paying multiple invoices and integrating different platforms.
Where contact centers are going. The integration of software will continue to be a part of the contact center evolution, especially as it relates to contact center software and CRM technologies. Currently, some contact center software can track the history of customer interactions. Some "intelligent" CRM solutions can route contacts to agents. It is only a matter of time until a single set of integrated software technologies can improve the customer experience and drive operational efficiencies.
2. Communications channels
Where contact centers were. For some time, the only way to reach out to a contact center was by making a phone call or sending a letter. ACD technology was new and did an effective job of routing calls to agents. Mail involved a host of problems, including illegible handwriting as well as letters being misplaced (sometimes purposely -- remember finding stacks of letters in agents' desk drawers?) and never being processed.
Where contact centers are. Currently, customers can reach out to a contact center via a variety of communications channels: voice, chat, email and social media. This variety of channels provides customers with options and -- depending on their preference and what they are trying to say -- allows the customer to select the most appropriate option. This expansion of channels of communication has created many challenges for organizations in assuring they have the tools and staff in place to respond to each of these channels.
Where contact centers are going. Looking ahead, channels of communication are going to continue to expand. Video chat provides great opportunities for customers to interact with organizations and see visual demonstrations on how to use a product. SMS is another channel that has huge potential for growth as we see Millennials constantly using this channel to communicate. As these channels expand with contact center evolution, organizations will continue to be challenged in assuring they can respond effectively across all channels and provide an outstanding customer experience.
Where contact centers were: For a long time, interactive voice response (IVR) was the primary technology that organizations implemented to support customer self-service. The primary reason IVR was implemented was to deflect calls from the contact center with the goal of reducing overall costs. The success of IVR was measured by the number of calls that could be handled without having to transfer to an agent, with minimal focus on the customer experience.
Where contact centers are. Throughout contact center evolution, self-service has expanded with customers being able to self-serve via phone, web, mobile and more. Organizations have become more aware of providing an "acceptable" customer experience, and many organizations have implemented best practices -- e.g., limited menu choices and customer-friendly scripts, among others -- for the self-service experience.
Where contact centers are going: Self-service will expand with the growth of collaboration among users of a company's products and services. Customers will not have to reach out to an organization to get questions answered. Instead, collaborative forums will be available -- they are available to some extent today -- where customers can reach out to fellow customers to find out the best ways to use a product or service.
4. Data analysis
Where contact centers were. As a result of having standalone systems, contact centers produced mounds of reports focusing on individual pieces of data, primarily from ACDs, including how quickly a phone was answered, the average length of a phone call, etc.
Where contact centers are. Currently, contact centers use balanced scorecards. These scorecards can be at an agent, team or department level, and display, in a single place, the results of key metrics including: service levels, quality results, first-call resolution, customer satisfaction and more. The balanced scorecard attempts to balance the reporting of key metrics across the spectrum of efficiency, effectiveness and customer experience, among other things.
Where contact centers are going. Looking ahead, organizations will provide information on how the results of transactions in the contact center impact customer behavior including items such as: repeat purchasing, retention and more. Instead of relying on asking customers about their potential purchase behavior following a transaction, organizations will provide follow-up reporting to determine if customer behavior matches the intent stated during a survey.
Contact center evolution has expanded tremendously over the past 40 years, with contact centers performing functions that were never dreamed of in the past. It is impossible to predict what the next 40 years hold, but in the short term, we can imagine where contact centers are going. From there we can only imagine where contact centers will land.
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