The Contact Center is Not Dead, Just Evolving! Why This is Good for Customer Service


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Consumer preference for customer service has changed. The demise of the traditional contact center and the rise of the multi-channel “command center” signal a shift commandeered by consumers toward providing true customer satisfaction. So when advocates for the traditional contact center decry that automated chat bots and contact forms are killing the contact center, they fail to see the bigger picture. Companies that offer self-service tools are simply offering more options for customers to seek help in the channel of their preference. In fact, self-service tools help rather than hurt contact centers, and when they work seamlessly together, they can transform the customer service experience for a company.

Let’s face it, the typical modern customer neither needs nor wants to phone into a contact center to ask every question, now that today’s technology allows him to do it himself. Technology empowers the customer to self-serve from a variety of sources, accessing information through mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, as well as social media, online forums and websites. As more and more customers choose self-service, companies are adapting their approach to customer service to accommodate these preferences. Kate Leggett’s Forrester report “Understand Communication Channel Needs to Craft your Customer Service Strategy” presents an overall increase since 2009 in self-service options. Among such self-service options as Help sections or FAQs on a company website, online forums or customer communities and Virtual Agents, VAs showed the most significant increase1.

Contact Center as Command Center

The typical modern customer neither needs nor wants to phone into a contact center to ask every question

As a result, the traditional contact center isn’t dead, but the concept has rapidly evolved into a “command center” built on managing customer interactions across multiple channels. The command center is a result of consumer demand for real-time support though the channel of their choice, but it does not mean that companies should dump traditional phone support and deploy an army of avatars exclusively on self-service channels. Rather, customers are using self-service tools as their ‘first contact point’ with businesses for straightforward inquires that do not require a live support agent. The reborn command center is expected to support those demands, whether they come through self-service, live chat or a phone call.

The debate needs to shift to: how can companies respond to their customers’ needs through the channel of their choice and support them throughout the entire customer journey? Customers will always need a live individual for complicated issues, but they do not need one to ask store hours when they can simply find that information online. Therefore, the conversation also needs to involve how all elements of the command center must integrate and work together in order to play to each other’s strengths to increase customer satisfaction.

Benefits of “Right-Channeling”

With respect to catering to customers’ needs, self-service helps contact centers to “right-channel” customers. Right-channeling, or allowing customers to self-serve via their preferred channels, helps reduce overall call volume. A reduction in call volume does not mean the lack of business for contact centers; rather it means that the company is providing the most efficient channel to get answers to simple questions online and preserving the time and energy of live customer service representatives (CSRs) to offer a premium level of service for resolving complex issues. Essentially, CSRs will be able to facilitate a more personalized interaction with the customer to create a more meaningful relationship.

There is nothing more frustrating than going through a phone menu after attempting to self-serve

Right-channeling also reduces customer hold time. The logic is simple enough: fewer people calling into the center equals fewer people on hold. Statistics show that 80% of people are put on hold, with an average of 10 to 20 minutes of hold time per week2. Interestingly enough, 66% of customers say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good customer service3. A consistently long hold time is not a great way to value a customer’s time. Contact centers can reduce this point of frustration for customers by working with self-service technology to right-channel customers.

A further benefit to right-channeling customers is that they can integrate with contact center systems and remove old-school interactive voice response (IVR) systems. There is nothing more frustrating than going through a phone menu after attempting to self-serve, since the customer has to start the transaction from scratch. By removing old IVR barriers that were originally intended to deflect calls, customers no longer need to endure “IVR hell.” Instead, implementing self-service tools like virtual agents provides a smoother transition from self-service to live assistance, where the live rep has a record of the virtual agent conversation to understand where the customer is in the information-gathering process and respond with the best answer.

Virtual Agents Can Help CSR

Virtual agents can also be a great asset to a CSR by providing a more consistent and efficient contact center experience. They can increase customer satisfaction because the virtual agent and CSR can work from the same knowledge base and will provide the same answer via virtual agent, email response or live call. VA technology also helps eliminate the need for CSRs to transfer calls. Traditionally, CSRs specializing in one department would transfer customers with questions not specific to their department, where the customer would most likely be put on hold again, with no guarantee that the issue would be resolved by the next representative. Now CSRs can type their questions into a Virtual Agent “Ask” feature, receive the right answer on the spot and resolve the customer issue then and there.

With 73% of customers still using the phone for support, self-service and contact centers have the opportunity to make a formidable team capable of tackling any issue when paired together. Instead of shying away from self-service, contact centers should embrace self-service and use it as an advantage to boost customer satisfaction and ultimately improve customer loyalty.

End Notes:
1. Leggett, Kate. “Understand Communication Channel Need to Craft your Customer Service Strategy”. Forrester Research Inc. March 11th, 2013.
2. Levinson, Stuart. “Solving the Customer Service Gap Through Mobile Innovation.” April 11th, 2013. May 21st, 2013.
3. Leggett, Kate. “Navigate the Future of Customer Service”. Forrester Research Inc. February 1st, 2013.

David Lloyd
David Lloyd is CEO of IntelliResponse, a leading enterprise virtual agent software provider. Formerly CTO & VP Client Services, David has led IntelliResponse's expansion into social and mobile, and the transformation of its analytics towards customer intelligence. He previously directed technology strategy for several marketing and customer service companies.


  1. Thanks for this insightful article, David. Really appreciate it. I think we ought to be rejoicing that the contact center industry is not stuck in the past, and that it continues to evolve rapidly. Is it good for customer service? Absolutely. It’s amazing that we now have social, the cloud and even virtual agents to support the existing systems.

    Customers have more options than ever. This enables your business to meet them right where they are. As a matter of fact, the changes help the business differentiate itself from the rest, enabling it to focus only on value – what can the business do what others cannot. It’s fine to create a ‘self-service’ culture but we need the right call center tools to make it happen. Customers want to know that you are only committed to building loyalty.


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