Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Different. The Future for Contact Centers.


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Here’s a shock

I presented a keynote speech at the Call Centre Association Conference in Edinburgh recently and the figure quoted above is an excerpt from my presentation. The statistic comes from RightNow Technologies and shows that even in these difficult trading conditions many customers are still prepared to pay more for a differentiated customer experience.

The theme of the conference was ‘Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Different,‘ none of which are words you would traditionally associate with the contact centre, which has been largely a commoditized industry delivering commoditized customer experiences with a focus on cost reduction rather than customer retention.

So, I was delighted to see that a message I have been pushing for a while now is gaining traction within the industry; that the time is long overdue for the evolution of the contact centre so that it becomes an integral part of your customer experience and a primary means to deliver your brand.

Research in the US by Purdue University found that 92% of consumers formed their impression of a brand primarily on the basis of their experience of the contact centre/center so why would anyone want to offshore it? For this reason, many organizations who compete on the basis of their brand experience are bringing back their contact centers on-shore again.

As you know, if you don’t design your customer experience, you are delivering one by default anyway. And for too long now, what the customer experiences when they contact a call centre/center has, for the vast majority of organizations, damaged their brand and eroded customer loyalty. The danger of the recession is that management teams will be imposing across the board budget cuts which will place even greater pressure on contact centres/centers (that’s English and US spelling, in case you wonder what’s going on) to do more with less and focus on efficiency at the expense of effectiveness.

If you are a price led brand, like Ryan Air, for example, that is absolutely fine. But if you are competing on the basis of the experience, across the board cuts simply show that management has no idea of how and where they create the most value for their customers. The solution is to divert resources away from where they add less value to where they add most. Budget cuts should come mainly from those areas where the customer does not benefit at all and that is usually in your internal processes and head office functions rather than the front-line.

At the CCA, I also spoke about First Direct. Now First Direct is an old story that people in the business are a bit tired of hearing about but their being given the top contact centre in the UK award just a week ago by CCF shows that their success is no ‘flash in the pan’ but a result of a sustained focus over many years. It’s perhaps no coincidence that a brand with no physical presence – no branches – learnt first and fast that the only medium they had when they launched- the contact centre- was one through which they had to deliver a first class customer experience.

What contact centres have to learn how to do now is deliver differentiated customer experiences – higher value for more profitable customers, and the ability to channel less profitable customers to lower value IVR and other channels so that once again, resources are deployed and costs trimmed intelligently to provide the greatest value for the most valuable customers.

I talked today about some examples of a beautifully-crafted customer experience that will be familiar to readers of this blog, as they have featured here before: Virgin, The Geek Squad, Progressive Insurance. All three succeeded in carving out a distinctive, highly-valued, customer experience by being bold, being brave and being different and have enjoyed profitable growth as a result.

A downturn is a time when such words can be unpopular. Organizations see ‘bold, brave, different’ as risky. And these are risk-averse times, when organizations are pulling in their horns, trimming costs, laying off the customer service people. How wrong can you be. Michael Porter, the guru of strategy says that it is even more important to focus on your strategy in a down turn.

Take another look at the slide that opens this post. In a sea of over-supply, the riskiest thing you can do is stay anonymous and mediocre with an indifferent contact centre experience. The brands that evolve their contact centres now, while they still can, will be the ones that survive and thrive.

I posed a number of question to the audience and the results were fascinating, whilst over 50% believed that their primary purpose is to deliver a great customer experience, only 30% or so felt that their processes supported that and only 25% measured the experience in favor/favour of efficiency.

Smith+co has teamed up with Cincom, the US firm that specializes in agent unified desktops, to offer a new consulting and software product called ‘CEM+Synchrony’ which will provide agents with the right information, tools and measures to enable the contact center to deliver a great customer experience and at the same time enhance the agent experience. This is truly a win/win because a system of this kind produces cost efficiencies whilst enhancing the customer experience.

You can download a pdf of my presentation from here: cca-speech and a copy of the Evolution In The Contact Center paper here Customer Experience Management In The Contact Center: The Next Frontier – Cincom, with insights from Shaun Smith

Shaun Smith
Shaun Smith is the founder of Smith+Co the leading UK based Customer Experience consultancy. Shaun speaks and consults internationally on the subject of the brand purpose and customer experience. Shaun's latest book 'On Purpose- delivering a branded customer experience people love' was co-written with Andy Milligan.


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