With so much attention being focused on the recession, we risk losing sight of important enterprise goals and what can be achieved even in challenging economic times. Times are tough and could very well be the worst they have been in the United States in the last fifty years—we’ll leave it to the forensic economists to tell us just how bad this economy was, after we survive it. Managers can sit back and wait for the hard times to pass, as many are doing; or they can treat the economic challenges as an opportunity to advance the objectives of their company and, in doing so, build their own careers.
It’s much easier to sell to someone who has already initiated contact with the organization.
This recession could be very good for contact centers, as was the case during the last US economic downturn in 2000. At that time, some of the more innovative managers in sales and marketing departments reached out to their peers in contact centers and asked for their help in the effort to meet revenue generation and customer retention goals. They reasoned that it’s much easier to sell to someone who has already initiated contact with the organization (even if it’s to ask an unrelated question) than to have to first contact someone before trying to sell to them.
Marketing managers also realized that contact center agents were often their last line of defense in retaining customers. Sure, it would be better if their customers were loyal to their brand, but if customers were tempted to wander, marketers didn’t have much to lose by asking their contact center to try to retain them. Neither sales nor marketing anticipated strong results from contact centers, but it seemed worth a try, as their traditional approaches were no longer working all that well.
The last recession gave contact center managers an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to do more than handle customer inquiries, resolve problems and take orders. When empowered, many contact centers proved adept at retaining customers and generating incremental revenue. (Many contact centers have been involved in these activities for years, but have not been recognized for their accomplishments.)
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Customer-Centric Business Trends
While the recession is a top concern for customers and executives, innovation and change continues. The following are the main trends driving change in contact center and service organizations.
- This recession is dramatically impacting the role of contact centers. This is a bottom-line issue. Senior executives and sales and marketing leaders are being compelled to turn to contact center managers for help in achieving enterprise revenue and customer retention goals.
- Customer churn plagues most industries in good times, running between 5 percent and 30 percent, and is a greater issue during recessionary times. It is more challenging to find and more costly to acquire new customers when fewer people are spending money. The contact center plays a crucial role in retaining customers throughout the customer lifecycle, particularly at the pivotal point when a customer is reconsidering the value proposition of the company’s products and services. If agents are well trained, empowered to act, and have the necessary systems and data to determine the right actions, they are able to retain at-risk customers by meeting or exceeding their expectations.
- Internet-based social networking is giving customers a vehicle for spreading good and bad news in the click of the mouse. New communication channels are altering customer expectations about service, even if most companies are not yet responding to the new opportunities. Most customer service departments and contact centers are still supporting their traditional channels, including calls, emails and possibly chat sessions. Customers are making it blatantly clear that social networks—blogs, wikis, twitter, bulletin boards, etc.—are here to stay. It’s time for enterprises to incorporate these unsolicited service channels into their operating procedures. Customers have many choices and are going to do business with companies that deliver products and services that are most appropriate for them.
- Generation Y’ers (people born between 1977 and 1994) and Z’ers (people born after 1995) have an inseparable connection to technology, and this will change the way business is conducted over the next three to five years. Providing an outstanding customer experience is not an option; it is a strategic imperative in an era where most consumers see the majority of products and services as a commodity. The recent presidential election has shown the power of using technology to engage Y’ers and Z’ers. Companies that don’t keep up with the technology needs of their customers and allow them to interact via their channels of choice will lose business to more responsive companies.
- Contact centers are converting to revenue generators. It’s too expensive and a waste of highly valuable resources to use contact centers solely for handling customer problems, resolving inquiries and taking orders. While contact centers will always have to resolve problems and process orders, they are also well positioned to sell and retain customers because customers openly share their needs and wants with agents. This new role goes far beyond traditional up-sell and cross-sell programs, and must be empowered by a new set of analytical solutions. Contact centers will be given sales quotas and will be recognized for contributing to the bottom line, instead of being considered a necessary evil. Contact centers that do not evolve into revenue generators will either be eliminated or outsourced to an offshore location to reduce costs.
- Analytical solutions are bridging the gap between the contact center and sales, marketing, operations and the executive suite. New analytical solutions, such as predictive analytics, speech analytics, real-time analytics, quality monitoring, surveying, performance management, Web analytics and customer value analytics, are increasingly being used in contact centers to help address service and sales needs. Predictive analytics will alter the servicing landscape by delivering to agents in real-time the information needed to optimize service and sales activities. Some of these analytical solutions are already in use in contact centers, while others, like real-time predictive analytics, are emerging but have a long way to go before they become viable in a production environment. These analytical applications not only improve real-time customer service, but also supply data to sales, marketing, operations and the executive suite that can be used to plan for the future.
- Contact centers are becoming the primary source for enterprise customer analytics. This trend is going to upset marketing organizations, who believe they own all strategic customer data and that customer service should only be handling and managing large volumes of transactional activities and data. Really, no one “owns the customer,” but marketing has traditionally been responsible for customer data, most of which has been historical. As contact centers use a growing number of analytical solutions, to enhance service, generate incremental revenue and retain customers, the volume of real-time transactional data and the speed at which it has to be processed will exceed the capabilities and interest of many marketing organizations. Ultimately, marketing will “dump” the oversight of customer analytics on contact centers, which are very adept at processing large volumes of transactions in real time. This will also help to increase the role and contributions of contact centers in the enterprise, as they will now be responsible for ensuring that all departments have the customer data that they need on a timely basis.
Contact centers are evolving to meet the needs of their companies. They are increasingly viewed as essential corporate players, capable of making a major contribution to the bottom line. This is a major shift from current perception of contact centers as expensive cost centers that hurt profitability. The pace of innovation depends on the culture of each company and the willingness of sales and marketing leaders to embrace these changes.