Altering the Contact Center
Take it from cost burden to strategic asset.
Posted Dec 1, 2006
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It's remarkable that in today's high-tech customer service environment, one company has managed to turn press zero to talk to a human into not just a selling point, but into a major ad campaign. A Citibank commercial has some poor guy on the phone trying to get through to a live person while he is attempting to cook dinner. When the stove catches fire our guy, not wanting to risk losing the progress he's made, refuses to hang up the phone and continues to plod through the seemingly endless maze of telephone prompts. He then extends a broom over to the stove in attempt to extinguish the flame. The broom catches fire. We last see him dousing a bottle of champagne on the flames as chaos ensues. Like all comedy, it's the underlying real-world truth of the dilemma that makes it so humorous. In an industry that makes use of some of the most advanced communications technology, businesses are discovering that many contact centers continue to have untapped potential. Until recently, most service-oriented contact centers have concentrated primarily on managing incoming interactions, with the main focus on improving speed and efficiency. Speed of answer remains a core quality metric for many organizations, but answering the phone quickly is only part of the equation. If the agent answering the phone lacks the necessary knowledge and skill level to solve the customer's issue, then the only thing the company has accomplished is upsetting its customer 20 seconds earlier. Efficiency is still critical, but as a singular goal it is not effective at leveraging the intimacy of regular customer interaction to proactively add value to customer relationships and build loyalty. While some great leaps in efficiency and quality have been made over the past decade, contact centers are still in the early stages of evolution. One of the biggest changes in recent years is a shift in priorities. Rather than focusing on reducing costs and making communication more efficient, contact centers are implementing technology to help them increase revenue and win customer loyalty. At the same time, there's been a change in the view of customer service from a detached business function to an integrated set of business processes. As a result, organizations have sought to elevate customer service from an isolated part of the business to a strategic enterprise asset. Optimizing Effectiveness The effectiveness of an interaction is essentially determined by its outcome. Generally, contact center managers assess the desired outcomes as quality, customer satisfaction, and value creation. These objectives can be further refined by considering the needs and expectations of customers and the needs and expectations of the organization. While the operational imperatives of each organization are different, the fundamental objectives of managing contact center performance remain the same: Optimize the effectiveness of each interaction with the customer, and optimize the efficiency of those interactions. Interestingly, these two objectives are strongly entwined. That is, often, solutions and strategies for improving the effectiveness of interactions also directly improve the efficiency of processing interactions, and vice-versa. While contact centers have become more sophisticated, there are still significant opportunities to optimize the use of resources, transform the customer experience, add value, and multiply returns. Many simple technology solutions have been available to contact centers for years, but have simply not been applied in a way that maximizes their capabilities. Many simple technology solutions have been available to contact centers for years, but have simply not been applied in a way that maximizes their capabilities. For many companies, the business case (reduced costs, lower customer attrition, and better service) for investing in customer interaction management has driven projects forward very quickly. At the same time, however, companies should be careful that they aren't missing opportunities to maximize the capabilities of existing technologies that can add value to relationships and increase customer loyalty. When implemented well, voice self-service and speech is very popular. When poorly done, the technology gets people's blood boiling, and Paul English and others dedicate themselves to getting around it. Getting Strategic Instead of treating contact centers as a necessary evil for appeasing customers, innovations in technology have created expanded opportunities for organizations to reshape contact centers as a strategic tool for managing customer relationships personally and proactively. With the right architecture and the right strategic approach, businesses can put their focus on making their customers feel like what they truly are: important. About the Author Wes Hayden is president and CEO of Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories. Please visit www.genesyslab.com
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