A new contact centre revolution

Published by Rodolphe Wilhelm, 22 Apr 2015

We are now witnessing another contact centre revolution that will be as transformative as any previous one

Over the last few decades we have lived through several revolutions in the contact centre. First we moved from paper to digital in the early 1990s, and then around the turn of the century we added email, web chat and other channels to voice – turning the old call centre into today’s contact centre.

Now we are witnessing another contact centre revolution, which will be as transformative as any previous one – if not more so – and most of us in the industry are little prepared for it.

This revolution is different

Previous revolutions were driven mainly by the appearance on the market of transformative new B2B technologies.

Businesses jumped on board the first digital revolution because it allowed them to do the same things they had always done – take and make calls, manage orders and payments, dispatch product – only much faster and more cost-effectively. This was enabled by cheap and powerful hardware and software, which gave managers new capabilities such as CRM, digital order processing, and of course IVR for call queues, routing and self-help options.

But if you think about it, until recently not much really changed for consumers. Even when they began to adopt the internet in large numbers the fledgling ISPs’ TV ads still had you ring a freephone number so that AOL, or whoever, could post you a CD-Rom!

This contact centre revolution is different. While it is partly driven by the availability of new B2B technologies – particularly the cloud – this time there are two additional factors to take into account. The first, and most important, is the massive change in consumer behaviour brought about by their use of digital mobile devices. The second is the need for businesses to adapt to today’s post – Great Recession economy by doing more with less.

Our customers have all gone digital

Take a look at the diagram below from the Merchants 2015 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report. It shows that while we have all been talking about multi-channel since at least the early 2000’s, it is only in the last few years that it has become a significant reality.

Chart

But even these figures do not tell the full story. For example, social media is already the first choice channel of communication for Generation Y consumers. As people in this age group account for around 20% of consumer spending, few companies will be able to survive and grow without catering for them. And yet, according to the Merchants report, 57% of contact centres still have no social media capability!

The real game changer here is not the multiplication of channels but the need to integrate channels so that customers can move between them at will and expect to receive the same level of service. Today’s revolution is omni-channel.

The three business factors driving this revolution

The boom times of the late nineties and early noughties are long gone. Even companies that aren’t strapped for cash are reducing capital expenditure on technology in favour of operational expenditure. There are three reasons for this.

Firstly, operational expenditure can more easily be linked directly to results, allowing every business unit to become a profit centre that contributes to the bottom line. This includes IT and the contact centre, which under the old model could only ever be cost or admin centres.

Secondly, both technology generally, and businesses’ operational requirements specifically, are changing too quickly, which means hardware and software can be out of date or no longer ‘fit for purpose’ within months of being purchased.

Finally, to meet the demands of omni-channel customers, there is a need today for everything to be joined up. This means breaking down the barriers between business units, business functions, data silos and communication channels. Only in this way can companies present a cohesive face to customers as they switch from voice to email to web chat to social media even during the course of a single transaction.

What does this all mean?

Clearly it is now crucial to have a single view of each customer, and for agents to have access to that information no matter what channel is being used. Whilst there exist many technology solutions that allow you to achieve that goal cost-effectively, the traditional model of buying hardware and software no longer cuts the mustard. In the past it was less necessary for all your systems to seamlessly join up. And from an economic point of view it was fine to expect them to last for a three to five year business cycle and pay for themselves over that period.

Today you need to adopt solutions that are integrated, scalable, modifiable (or even droppable) and which generate a return every single minute that they are used, and which preferably cost nothing when not being used. Cloud services such as SaaS, IaaS and PaaS, because they are deliverable on a pay-as-you-go basis, and because they provide you with detailed analytics that enable almost real-time performance measurement, can deliver the tools and benefits your business needs to emerge as a winner in the omni-channel revolution.