From Call Center to Contact Center: The Call Center Grows Up

By Jeff Mason

As businesses look for new and innovative ways to engage with customers, many often forget that frontline customer services representatives are the true face of a brand. Prior to the rise of e-commerce, online customer service was primarily done through call centers. While this approach certainly works for the most basic customer service strategies, it is time for businesses to move from running call centers to operating fully integrated contact centers.

How Is a Contact Center Different Than a Call Center? A contact center is the modern-day version of a call center. While call centers traditionally deal with one mode of communication, contact centers take a hybrid approach, integrating phone, email, chat, fax, and text. It may seem intuitive for major brands to communicate with customers via these channels, but many companies are still running their call centers the old-fashioned way: exclusively through the telephone.

It was only a couple of years ago that online social support came to fruition – at first as an experiment to engage youthful consumers and soon after as a total revolution spanning generations. Today’s Internet has brought consumers within a keystroke of making contact with businesses. Not only do consumers tend to buy more as a result of this integrated technology, businesses are also discovering that contact centers can provide more efficiencies and enhance bottom-line growth. Simply stated, email and chat window services require no storefronts to maintain.

Therefore, to avoid alienating an entire – and growing – segment of customers, it is critical to consider the benefits that contact centers offer. Customers can be serviced faster while shrinking overhead costs. It’s the perfect solution.

It Takes More Than a Website to Close the Deal: Most business with a contact center are using live chat. While many businesses have figured out how to get customers to their website, closing the deal can prove more difficult. This is where live chat can help. Live chat (better known as click-to-chat) offers a simple, cost-effective way to humanize the user experience of a company’s website and, more importantly, convert the interested but undecided online visitor into a paying customer.

In addition, live chat is designed to maximize call agent efficiency. Pre-written answers to common inquiries can allow for up to four simultaneous chat sessions.

Proactive Chat: An Important Closer: An effective feature of live chat is the proactive chat invitation. By initiating automated chat invitations with potential customers, based on specific pre-defined rules, or by reaching out and offering proactive assistance, agents are able to keep a customer on the website and help close the deal.

High shopping cart abandonment rates greatly affect online sales for businesses. According to Forrester Research, the number of website visitors abandoning the shopping cart at the payment stage is a whopping 88 percent. Each abandoned shopping cart amounts to revenue leakage. Proactive chat can address the queries of the customers in real time on a variety of issues regarding purchase, shipping, and pricing – all prominent factors in shopping cart abandonment. Proactive chat also leads to cost reduction for businesses by lowering the number of phone calls made from the website. Better customer engagement leads to satisfied customers, thus decreasing the number of phone calls made.

According to Forrester, consumers are using online Help sections and FAQs more than ever before. The Help and FAQ sections are the most commonly accessed online customer service channels, with 60 percent engagement rates. In addition, this trend is increasing with customers using Help and FAQs sections more in 2011 than they did two years prior. Conversely, greater numbers were left unsatisfied. Only 51 percent of consumers who used Help or FAQs resolved their issue, down from 56 percent in 2009.

Live chat has demonstrated its ability to enhance customer satisfaction, drive sales, deflect contact center calls, and improve operational efficiency. Given chat’s dramatic growth in consumer adoption and its compelling satisfaction rates, businesses that do not currently offer chat may be missing a tremendous opportunity.

It’s Evolution: It’s important to understand that today’s online consumer is impatient, has high expectations, and is willing to seek support across a variety of communication channels. Businesses still making do with just a call center will soon find themselves being left behind.

A contact center is better able to handle customers with speed, efficiency, and in a way that meets customers’ needs. Couple that with cost savings and increased revenues, and you have a formula for long-term business growth.

Jeff Mason is vice president of marketing at Velaro.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2012]

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