From Contact Center to Next-Generation Engagement Center

It's no secret that the way businesses and customers communicate in today's hyper-accessible Information Age is rapidly changing. Consumers are getting smarter and, in some respects, getting smarter faster than the companies that are trying to serve them. This is evident in the accelerated use of social media and collaboration tools in our daily activities, both personally and professionally.

This shift has brought noticeable challenges for the contact center, and many companies are still grappling with how to adjust. Part of the problem lies in the lack of true departmental integration companies currently have, which they need to overcome to if they are to create a free-flowing customer information exchange. Companies must update and break down the silos in their operations and, more than ever, examine the state of their current company-customer relationships to stay competitive.

Reinventing company-customer relationships

As communication channels expand to include the latest digital tools, customers are raising their expectations of businesses and calling for more direct interaction, easier contact, and customized communication. There is a growing demand for companies to establish a deeper knowledge about consumers' habits and histories to better engage them at an individual level at specific interaction points. This requires recording of preferences, habits, complaints, and problems across multiple platforms and consolidating that data into a comprehensive customer profile. To successfully attain and use this profile that customers have come to expect, businesses must implement a next-generation customer contact solution.

Establish next-generation customer contact

First-generation call centers were a one-to-one model. A customer called and got an agent. Later, the contact center created an opportunity for a one-to-several solution, where customers could be routed to other agents in other parts of the enterprise. But now unified next-generation communications expands on this by adding email and chat, making possible a one-to-all model that can reach the entire enterprise.

By connecting the customer and the company in new ways and removing silos between the enterprise and the contact center, unified communications becomes a central pillar of the next-generation organization. By unifying multiple channels into a single platform while maintaining access to a database full of knowledge, businesses can incorporate social networking within a customer-centric communications model. The expanding popularity of social media platforms has created a new opportunity businesses must embrace to engage customers in the way they want to be engaged. Next-generation contact centers are outfitted with tools to narrow any potential communications gap.

As a result, the contact center, and the enterprise as a whole, experience greater efficiency and real-time agility. This model streamlines the processing of unstructured data (e.g., social) acquired from interactions within the contact center. The large volumes of data are sorted and structured into business intelligence, providing the organization with critical knowledge in real time. The information will then be readily available to service customers beyond the contact center and throughout the entire organization.

Expand customer service across the enterprise

In an expanded and open collaboration environment, the dialogue and exchange of information with the customer are optimized, more agile, and efficient. Unified communications give the contact center real-time access to specialists in the company, which enables first-call resolution. Adoption of the next generation of unified communications and collaboration tools will be intrinsically linked, therefore, to business success, and will be a decisive factor in customer satisfaction and loyalty. When information is released on a unified platform, it provides multiple benefits, such as reducing problem-solving cycle time, decreasing operational costs, and improving overall agent productivity and efficiency.

The benefits go beyond customer retention to include customer acquisition. Today's socially empowered consumer is far more influential than ever before, so businesses that are able to generate satisfied customers are essentially creating an army of independent advocates. Recommendations from satisfied customers carry more weight than any advertisement ever could. A company that can respond to its customers' needs across the enterprise will be able to engage in a broader range of social business for years to come.

Social business and the road ahead

Social business is about intrinsically connecting social ideas and practices into each area of a company's business operations. It is primarily the social empowerment of employees, by letting them use tools like information acquisition in real time; crowdsourced, contextual intelligence; and knowledge sharing that they use in their personal lives in ways to more easily create deeper customer engagement. The line that once separated businesses from social enterprises is not as clear as it once was, and social communication must now be embedded within the approach to the new company-customer relationship. The demand for this shift is clear; Gartner has projected that by 2014, social media will serve as another communication channel that will require a monitoring and response system.

Creating a social business can be difficult if you don't know where to begin. Instituting the social business process within the contact center can allow businesses to initiate change in an area that is already full of multichannel customer communication. As success is generated, the social communication process can begin to extend into the broader enterprise.

The net results of these steps leave businesses with a process for profound reinvention of company-customer communication. The next-generation contact center enables the reinvention of the customer relationship, and creates a first step toward integrating social business practices throughout the enterprise.


Mike Sheridan is executive vice president of worldwide sales at Aspect, a technology company that builds better customer relationships by bringing customer contact to key enterprise functions.

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