Your Contact Center Is Not Just a Contact Center

By Gopal Devanahalli

Some years ago, American Express upended their thinking about contact centers. They removed their standard script and asked their agents not to rush through calls. The strategy paid off. In a year when financial service companies dominated the list of customer service offenders, American Express made it to the 2012 Customer Service Hall of Fame.

If I had to choose a theme for contact centers in 2013, it would be customerization. It’s ironic how customer service channels, contact centers included, have survived by functioning as tools of efficiency or problem resolution, rather than as a medium of service delivery that creates customer delight. But we are unlikely to have this luxury for much longer.

Consumers are becoming increasingly demanding with respect to the products and services they consume, including after-sales service. With companies like American Express or UPS (which also made it onto the honors list) raising the bar – not only for service standards but also for the customer service experience itself – the same expectations will apply to other organizations. After all, how can a bank justify why customers cannot track the status of their loan application when they can monitor so many everyday services in real time, like a courier shipment in transit?

Enterprises must make three important revisions in their attitude towards the contact center.

1) Integrate Contact Centers with Other Channels: Today, multi-channel usage is normal, but the trend seems to have bypassed customer service at most organizations. Surveys show that having to narrate the same problem to multiple agents on the same or different channels is the biggest cause of customer frustration. Not surprisingly, agents are just as frustrated, spending a huge chunk of their workday attending to repeat calls and receiving customer ire when they aren’t to blame. At the average contact center, agents need to toggle between as many as a dozen applications to build a complete 360-degree picture of the customer, which is inefficient and time-consuming. That’s one of the reasons why problems aren’t resolved during the first call, with the prior ones being an inaccurate mapping of competency or wrongly directed escalation.

What enterprises need is a way to capture the history of every interaction on every channel – contact center, email, Web chat, and social media. Then, after integrating and sequencing the data, the information must be offered up to the contact center agent in a single view. This would eliminate the need to request the same information twice from customers. A dashboard unifying information from disparate sources (internal and external applications or channels) into a single view, with the capability to analyze it all to arrive at relevant, best-fit solutions, would bring down the average call handling time. Add to this a solution to route problem calls to the right expert based on skill, location, workload, and other business priorities, and then first call resolution will improve.

2) Enhance Self-Service Capability of Contact Centers: One way to improve the service experience for both customers and agents is to reduce workload and fast-track complaint resolution at the contact center by enabling self-service through online channels. While a majority of customers says that they are willing to take service issues to an online self-service channel (provided it works well), barely half of those same customers actually make the attempt, citing inaccuracy and incompleteness of such channels. Possibly they are waiting for the emergence of a reliable self-service channel that supports a single, online knowledge base.

This is a call-to-action for enterprises to enhance their contact centers, establishing a unified knowledge base, updated in real time, whenever an agent creates a new customer service scenario. The addition of social-media capabilities would enhance the quality of self-care even more by providing solutions recommended by peers and friends. But why restrict self-service to customers alone? Why not extend the features of this mechanism to create a diagnostics system that walks agents through a systematic process of issue resolution?

3) Use Contact Centers to Right-Sell: American Express says that rethinking customer service as investment rather than an expense is what triggered their eventual success. That kind of forward thinking has yet to percolate into most organizations, which still perceive the contact center as an expense item. These enterprises need to pause and consider industry data, which shows that every satisfied customer improves the cross-sales acceptance rate by 20 percent. It just takes some simple arithmetic to estimate the revenue potential. A customer service solution with a powerful analytics component can process the unified service, transaction history, and social preferences of customers into actionable product recommendations to improve cross-sell and up-sell rates. Moreover, these same recommendations can also be made available through the self-service window.

By transforming the contact center into a right-sell engine, enterprises can also shorten the payback period. With comprehensive customer data now at the disposal of the contact center agent, this no longer must remain only a pipedream. However, it’s important to determine the opportune moment to right-sell, because no one ever sold more to a dissatisfied customer seeking assistance.

Today, most enterprise contact centers suffer from delayed ROI realization and a prolonged implementation period. A business solution with the attributes of multi-channel information portability, true self-care capability, and revenue generation potential can significantly improve both metrics. Enterprises that have deployed emerging platforms in this space have significantly reduced the time to ROI and the duration to go live.

So where does that leave contact centers? With transforming customer contact centers into customer delight centers. Why not?

Gopal Devanahalli is VP – products, platforms, and solutions at Infosys.

[From Connection Magazine May 2013]

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