• June 1, 2016
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Inbound and Outbound Converge in the New Contact Center

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As proactive contact becomes an integral part of customer care, the lines between outbound and inbound customer communications in the contact center are blurring, and this convergence is only going to intensify.

Currently, 70 percent of U.S contact centers use some form of call blending, involving the same agents in both inbound and outbound activity, according to research that ContactBabel presented in its “Inner Circle Guide to Outbound and Call Blending.”

There is “widespread acknowledgement that inbound and outbound activities are not mutually exclusive. One impacts on the other,” says Steve Morrell, principal analyst at ContactBabel.

And while the largest share of outbound contact (44 percent) involves sales-related activities, proactive customer service calls, such as notifying customers of deliveries or shipping delays, is a growing area. It currently makes up about 21 percent of outbound volume. Debt collection makes up 6 percent of outbound activity, and customer satisfaction surveys account for just 4 percent of the total volume.

Outbound activity is also being driven by an increase in the number of firms that offer customers the option to request a callback when agents are unavailable or hold times are expected to be high. Currently, 22 percent of firms offer this option, and when it is available, more than half of customers choose it, the research found.

The same blurring of the lines is occurring in the channels used, with 83 percent of U.S. contact centers asking their agents to interact over multiple media formats. It is likely that a multichannel approach, in which the company sends an email or text message first, waits to see whether the customer reads it and responds, and then follows up with a voice call, will become popular, the report concludes.

Both of these trends will force contact centers to change how they view their agents. “As outbound work becomes more about customer service and consultative selling rather than the old-fashioned cold-calling model, the agents’ interpersonal skills will become even more important,” Morrell says.

Luckily, technology is helping here, with contact management systems evolving to the point where they can tell the agent about customer purchase histories, personality profiles, and even preferences for the method and time of contact. Additionally, “the personalization of outbound customer contact will be supported through the use of dynamic scripting,” Morrell says.

Customer segmentation, personality matching, and an analysis of call outcomes will also become much more important, the research suggests.

And just as call duration and average handling times have fallen by the wayside as metrics for inbound calls, replaced by metrics that focus on customer satisfaction and first-contact resolution, ContactBabel expects the same to happen with outbound calls.

An additional benefit of call blending is that contact centers in the United States are seeing “considerable decreases” in agent attrition, something that has been historically very high across the industry, the report notes. It was even higher in call centers that only perform outbound activities, where the pressure to perform is much greater.

In addition to benefiting agents, call blending should be to the customer’s advantage as well. Morrell points out that customers could benefit from the right kind of communications, delivered at the right time and over the right channel. “Outbound communications can become welcomed as adding to the customer experience,” he says. “In effect, the business provides customers with information or an opportunity to communicate before they realize they even need it.” 

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