James Thew - Fotolia
Contact center software is key to helping companies transform their contact centers from cost centers that largely resolve customer service issues to strategic assets that can further customer loyalty and retention. While contact centers have historically been the focus point for helping customers with product and service problems, today they are becoming tools to integrate sales, marketing and customer service.
According to data from the International Customer Management Institute, more than 60% of companies believe that contact centers are a cost and a drain rather than a source of revenue or innovation. At the same time, more than 50% of respondents to a Deloitte survey believe that contact centers can help increase customer retention. To bring contact centers in step with creating revenue, they need modern infrastructure.
Basic contact center software needs to be able to gather metrics on call center key performance indicators (e.g., service level, average handle time, customer satisfaction, etc.). Newer technologies allow organizations to implement customer-focused strategies including the following:
- Transforming the call center to a contact center
- Listening to the voice of the customer
- Reducing customer effort
Transforming the call center to a contact center
Customers want to interact with contact centers utilizing a variety of communication channels including: voice, email, chat, SMS text, social media and so on. Not only are customers using multiple channels to fulfill their needs, but they are also using multiple devices. The growing use of mobile devices provides additional flexibility for customers to interact with a company at any time and from anywhere.
So, how can technology help?
As customers travel between channels, technology improves the customer experience. A customer might use the web to learn about a product and want additional information and may initiate a live-chat session. For those customers, the technology must provide information to the chat agent so that the agent has critical information at the ready regarding the customer account (to avoid the customer having to repeat himself) and customer history, along with the steps taken on the web, prior to the customer initiating the chat.
Technology can also improve the efficiency of operations. In the past, contact centers moved agents between systems to process various kinds of inquiries. Inbound calls were received via an automatic call distributor (ACD) and routing rules were established to ensure that agents received the appropriate calls and that agent resources were used efficiently. If email messages came in, agents had to be manually transferred from the ACD and assigned to work mailboxes to respond to email. Moving agents around reduced utilization rates and if multiple mailboxes were involved, agents had to be assigned to various mailboxes. The process was very inefficient and error-prone.
Now, contact center systems can receive inbound contacts from all channels and similar to an ACD, automated routing can be set up, regardless of channel, to automatically move work to agents and eliminate manual processes of moving agents to specific work functions.
Listening to the voice of the customer
Organizations are aggressively implementing voice-of-the-customer programs to get customer feedback and improve the customer experience. Quality-monitoring programs and customer satisfaction surveys are some of the current methodologies used to gather information on the voice of the customer.
So, how can technology help?
Technology such as speech analytics is a new tool that allows an organization to listen to the voice of the customer.
Real-time speech analytics analyzes phone calls as they occur and, if specific keywords are used or if inflection in tone is detected, the system can flag a call in real time and notify a supervisor that a call may need to be escalated.
Post-call speech analytics provides the ability to analyze a large sample of phone calls and identify all calls where specific keywords may have been used. This is an important tool to identify phone calls where the customer says, "I want to cancel my subscription," and forward those calls to the COO or, where a customer says, "My mobile device keeps getting error code ABC," and forward those calls to the engineering department for detailed root cause analysis.
Post-call speech analytics can also improve the efficiency of a quality-monitoring program. If call recording is not used, quality analysts may have to "camp" on an agent's extension waiting until a call is presented to the agent so he can listen to and analyze the call. Even when call recording is utilized, quality analysts only listen to a sample of calls, but if many calls in the sample are executed well, it limits the constructive feedback to be provided. With post-call speech analytics, samples of calls can be selected where scripting was not followed or recurring issues arise and, therefore, the quality analyst can focus on those specific calls where improvement opportunities exist.
Reducing customer effort
It's clear that reducing customer effort is a critical driver in improving customer satisfaction. Many processes require customers to jump through hoops and take convoluted actions to accomplish a task, which directly conflicts with minimizing customer effort.
So, how can technology help?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is now available improving the interactive voice response (IVR) experience of customers calling into a contact center. Technology supporting IVR systems has many limitations resulting in customers needing to utilize touch-tone technology to self-direct their inquiry. The customer journey, including accessing multiple layers of menus, multiple options on each menu, hard to understand prompts and so on can make this a very high-effort experience.
With AI permeating contact center operations, customers no longer need to self-direct; instead, they can now speak or write in a natural manner and the technology can understand the specific inquiry.
AI can analyze big data, with the ability to understand specific consumer behaviors and preferences. Therefore, for organizations pursuing a proactive customer service strategy, marketing strategies can target specific consumers rather than a general demographic group.
Contact centers can use many new enabling technologies to improve the customer experience and reduce costs. But an organization cannot just wave a magic wand to implement software and expect it to work; effort is required to build the underlying processes and understand customer needs to achieve the benefits of these new technologies.
The road has been paved to move contact centers from a cost center to a strategic asset. It is now up to organizations to develop and implement the roadmap to take advantage of this exciting journey.
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A guide to call center metrics
Salesforce brings chatbots to customer service
Legacy applications pose problems for contact center infrastructure