We Can't Rewind, We've Gone Too Far
When I was growing up I watched films like Blade Runner,
in which videophones seemed to be another looming technology and inevitable communication channel to look forward to. Although CRM delivered through contact centers usually means voice interactions (with increasing Web-based/chat exchanges), eventually there will be a place for video in customer interactions.
Factors restraining the growth of video as an interaction venue include lack of critical mass. Fax machines' value, for example, was severely restricted by the paucity of machines when they were brought to market. The technology was sound, but of little use--there was no one to which a fax could be sent. In the same way the minimal penetration of video-enabled telephones severely restricts two-way video communications--in the call center or in the consumer marketplace.
This situation has slowly begun to change, driven principally by the mobile handset market. Because American mobile phone users are typically bound by two-year contracts, only at the expiration of these contracts do consumers feel free to upgrade to the latest handsets. Since most midpriced mobile phones are now video-enabled, this means that within five years, many, if not most, consumers will possess the ability to use video communications.
Outside North America the situation is different--most consumers in Europe and parts of Asia already own video-enabled phones. In those markets, where the carrier networks deliver superior bandwidth, it isn't just the mobile phone market that is marching toward video. Telecoms like NTT, Orange, and France Telecom are promoting videophones evocative of Blade Runner's for home usage. When these carriers successfully create demand for videophones, companies will likely quickly follow suit and provide video-enabled contact interactions. In this model customers don't interact with the contact center using devices that they own, but instead, they travel to a central location to use a shared video-enabled mechanism.
Companies looking to make video work for them should focus their initial efforts in areas where technological adoption issues are essentially irrelevant. Think about these areas as ones that consolidate or centralize interactions.
Widespread use of video-enabled telephones as a contact center channel in North America sits at least five years in the future, but the following models for two vertical markets hold promise. Both retail banking and retail consumer electronics rely heavily on contact centers and face-to-face interactions. Banks provide teller-based services for average transactions, such as deposits and withdrawals, but also have specialized staff in branches that handle intricate interactions, such as loan or mortgage questions and application assistance. As a cost-savings measure, banks could consolidate staff from branches with lower usage into a centralized contact center.
Customers would use a kiosk located in the branch to access the expertise of these centralized employees. The bank benefits from both lower costs and consistent service provided across branches.
Retailers could create a contact center using specialists in audio equipment, cameras, HDTV, et cetera; using a touch-screen kiosk located in the store, consumers could indicate which product area they are interested in discussing and be connected--via video--to a suitable specialist, one who answers in-depth questions. This service could be used as a competitive differentiator for the retailer. Most mass-market consumer electronics retailers hire generalists--workers who tend not to possess a deep pool of knowledge about any particular product area. Video-enabled consolidation could well solve this customer-unfriendly state of affairs.
Ian Jacobs is a strategic analyst at Frost & Sullivan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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