The relationship between IT and customer service organizations can be an uneasy one in many organizations. With customer service becoming a critical business differentiator, contact centers and e-business organizations need to deliver innovative and memorable customer experiences, while controlling costs at the same time. On the other hand, IT organizations are typically risk-averse and often get backlogged with projects. This divide can result in a sluggish response to market changes, which could mean lost revenue opportunities and escalating service costs for the business.
To achieve the optimum balance requires a new breed of multichannel contact center software that satisfies the needs of both business and IT stakeholders. When choosing a solution, look for IT-friendly attributes that can minimize risk and maximize ROI, while facilitating innovation.
- Unsiloed: The ongoing proliferation of communication channels, including new media like social and smartphones, requires businesses to provide multichannel customer service. But, channel silos create inconsistent experiences and reduce contact center productivity. Delivering superior and consistent cross-channel customer experiences requires a hub-style approach, where applications that support individual channels are built upon a common customer interaction hub platform. Originally advocated by Gartner, this model shares data, knowledgebase, workflow, analytics, and integrations across channels, enabling consistent service across multiple media, as well as the ability to support multiple business units and languages from a single deployment, reducing system total cost of ownership (TCO).
- Usable: While user training costs are typically included in TCO calculations, the hidden cost of agent or end-customer resistance to embracing complex user interfaces and agents running multiple applications during the course of a customer interaction is almost always ignored. A related issue is "findability" - can users intuitively, quickly, and easily find the information they need? If not, they will stop using the system, a major hidden cost that is not captured in traditional ROI models.
Software usability is a major cost driver that cannot be cloaked by over-investing in training. Ask vendors about their usability design and testing processes. Ask agents to compare usability across solution alternatives and assess the evolution and modernization of the interface. How many clicks are required to complete the most common tasks? Does the UI increase content findability and relieve agents or end-customers of their information search burden?
- Architected right: An IT-friendly solution employs a modular, multi-tier, standards-based (e.g. J2EE) architecture that includes support for emerging approaches such as Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) for application development and interoperability; reliability, availability, and scalability (RAS); security; and integration. By enabling the reuse of existing server infrastructure and application assets and services, and the ability to mix and match components for rapid configuration of business processes, SOA systems deliver increased ROI, reduced TCO and increased business agility.
- Deployable my way: Software vendors often push the deployment model that best suits their business rather than what the customer needs. IT-friendly solutions offer deployment flexibility, cloud, on-site, managed service, or hybrid, and the ability to switch seamlessly from one mode to another, based on evolving requirements.
- Risk-free: IT organizations have been burned by multi-year lock-ins with slow-moving suppliers, making them gun-shy late adopters. An important IT and business-friendly trait for multichannel customer service software is to make it easy and risk-free for businesses to innovate. Ask suppliers if they offer cloud-based trials for rapid value assessment. Do they offer usage-based pricing and not insist on long-term contracts? Are they willing to put "some skin in the game?"
- Reliable, available and scalable (RAS): Seldom accounted for in TCO and ROI analyses, RAS is critical to the success of any enterprise-class deployment. Customer interaction management systems are arguably the most mission-critical of all CRM applications because of the potential direct impact on customer experience and the overall business. Look for solutions that provide RAS features such as distributed server support, self-monitoring, fault tolerance, and hardware redundancy. For cloud-based solutions, ask about up-time guarantees as well.
- Secure and compliant: IT-friendly solutions support robust security with ongoing penetration testing, client-side and server-side authentication and encrypted data storage, as well as compliance with key industry regulations (HIPAA, PCI, etc.).
The bottom line is that multichannel customer service systems are mission-critical and failure is not a great option in today's era of viral publicity for system downtime or malfunction. By choosing solutions that incorporate these IT-friendly attributes, IT professionals and business managers in customer-facing organizations can effectively meet the business need for innovation, while addressing IT needs for risk mitigation, flexible deployment options, RAS, TCO, and security. With this careful balance, organizations can avoid risking their most important assets: their customers and their reputation.
Anand Subramaniam is the VP of global marketing for eGain, a provider of multichannel customer service and KM software. Prior to eGain, Anand held executive and other key positions in corporate and product marketing, product management, and technical and pre-sales functions at companies such as Oracle, Intel, Autodesk and IBM-Lotus, as well as startups.