This content is part of the Essential Guide: Guide to customer experience management best practices, technologies

Putting contact centers at center of customer experience strategy

Contact centers were historically viewed as cost centers rather than locus points for enhancing customer experience.

Historically, contact centers haven't been perceived as a generator of ROI for businesses. Many executives see them as cost drains, where facilities, agents and infrastructure cost money. And, as a result of this perception, executives haven't considered these costs as essential to the business of customer retention and customer experience.

But today, as the multichannel mandate intensifies, where multichannel interaction is defined as the need to interact with customers regardless of the communication channel they choose -- whether that’s a company website, email, text or social media -- while providing comprehensive customer service, contact centers have become just one arm of a larger customer experience strategy. Contact centers provide opportunities to sell to customers or market to them as well as service their needs. To do so, though, contact centers need to have access to essential customer data along with an understanding of product attributes from the perspective of sales and marketing as well as service.

Today's agents have an expanded role as brand ambassadors for their companies. Expanded expectations now include supporting customers throughout the customer lifecycle -- from cradle to grave, including prepurchase support through retaining customers at risk for defection. But educating and transitioning agents to this expanded role requires a cultural shift.

Enhancing tools and the flow of information in the contact center

Historically, contact centers have provided a reactive service between an organization and its customers, primarily resolving issues regarding use of products and services. The types of inquiries that customers would call about included the following:

In the past, when calls concerned nonservice requests, agents were frequently blindsided.
  • The status of a delivery.
  • Customer concerns or problems in using a product.
  • Questions about billing for a product or service.

In the past, when calls concerned nonservice requests, agents were frequently blindsided by questions, such as calls from customers who were aware of new promotions that weren't properly communicated to the contact center. At other times, agents were unaware of what a company's website looked like and couldn't field specific questions from online customers about products and services.

Now, with the multichannel contact center playing an important role in the overall customer experience strategy, agents must be educated on a variety of issues and be ready to handle all sorts of requests from customers. This has become a more challenging task now that customers can do online or in-store research or compare prices and features with competitors. Additionally, agents need to have information about a customer's prior interactions, sometimes known as a "customer journey," prior to the interaction with the agent.

These new requirements have illustrated the need to improve data exchange and communication among departments to ensure that agents are fully prepared for requests outside their traditional service zone. Additionally, tools need to be enhanced to improve the capture and flow of information so that on the occasion where a customer performs a channel pivot, the agent is aware of the actions previously taken by the customer.

Creating customer listening posts

Historically, contact centers captured customer sentiment from key performance indicators (KPIs) (e.g., speed of answer, first contact resolution), quality monitoring scores and customer satisfaction surveys.

But these metrics often shortchanged understanding true customer sentiment. Both KPIs and quality monitoring scores used internally established targets and results that include very little, if any, customer input.

Customer satisfaction surveys provided an initial attempt of capturing the customer voice, but, as with any survey tool, they are limited in scope and there are some shortfalls in the methodology.

In the multichannel contact center, which supports a broad definition of customer experience, additional tools need to be implemented to capture a more comprehensive voice of the customer.

Tools such as speech and text analytics provide the opportunity to capture customer preferences through analyzing what the customer is actually saying.  Executives throughout an organization can analyze customer interactions for words or phrases (e.g., "I want to cancel") or specific voice inflection that may signal unhappy customers.

Web analytics allow organizations to analyze how customers are utilizing a website and where customers may drop out in a sales process or feel the need to call customer service. This kind of information allows a company to improve its website or provide additional tools to front-line agents in anticipation of future phone calls and in turn improve its customer experience strategy.

For organizations to move from a single-channel call center to a multichannel contact center with the goal of improving the customer experience, it takes more than changing the name of the organization. Critical changes to the organizational culture, the tools available to front line agents and the development of effective listening posts are critical for success.

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