Despite a downward curve in the economy, and perhaps spurred by recent legislation to reward companies that outsource onshore versus offshore, the US contact center industry continued to grow in 2012. New technology and customer channels continue to dominate the contact center landscape. Traditional channels like phone, chat and email continue to grow; and new channels like social media are becoming increasingly relevant. At the same time, customers have become more demanding, expecting an even higher level of personal service. Many companies are responding by placing a greater emphasis on their contact centers as a cost-effective and productive vehicle to service their global customers.
Communicating With Customers
With the advent of social media, there are more ways than ever to communicate with customers. The contact center is often the first point of contact, but companies learn quickly that tight integration with other parts of the organization is also required to allow for a consistent customer experience.
Typically, an organization’s business model puts priority on external sales and marketing, while the contact center is viewed as a service necessity (and in many cases is seen as only a cost center). However, with the right amount of planning and focus, the contact center can actually become a profit center—through up-sell opportunities, customer retention programs, and improved customer loyalty.
To be competitive in the marketplace, companies must begin to view their contact centers as an opportunity to drive sales, market new products, gather information and improve customer relationships. There is a lot of noise today about customer service becoming the new marketing—which is another way to say that the data that runs through the contact center is now the best way to understand customer needs and expectations.
More Access, More Questions
As customers are given access to more self-service options and online support, they become better informed. At the same time, the support provided by the contact center begins to shift to more in-depth questions and resolutions. Call volumes may actually increase and talk-time may rise as a result of the new access that the Internet provides. Without access to a strong knowledge-base system and detailed training curriculums, contact center employees become even more challenged as they attempt to resolve customer issues. As customers continue to evolve, so too must the customer contact channels.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) initiatives are being developed and implemented in most large and medium-sized companies. The initiatives often bring changes in technology, but fail to address the larger needs in the areas of process reengineering and organizational improvements. That’s likely why 52% of CRM software customers are willing to switch applications within the first six months of their deployment, according to a recent Nucleus report.
As companies seek to transform their contact centers from mediocre to exceptional, many questions need to be considered. Consider using this list as a catalyst for understanding where your organization stands in transforming your center into a loyalty-driven customer experience. As we look to 2013 and beyond, perhaps this is an excellent time to schedule a trip to Starbucks on a Thursday afternoon for a time of true self-evaluation. It is also a good idea to ask the same questions to members of your management team. The answers may surprise you.
Key Questions to Consider:
- Does the contact center organization have a clear vision and mission statement that supports your company’s sales and service strategies? Consider testing your supervisors and agents to understand if they really know the “why” of what they do.
- Do all employees who support the customer touch-points have access to the same customer data (a 360-degree view of the customer)?
- Does the contact center have a culture where employees feel important and understand their value to the company?
- Does the contact center have a recognition program in place that supports the culture?
- Does the call center have “fun” included in their objectives?
- Is turnover in the contact center tracked and managed?
- Is there a comprehensive quality program in place that recognizes superior customer service?
- Do all employees who support customer touch-points have access to information about every product or promotion offered by the company (including special offers unique to certain geographical areas or customer segments?)
- Do you have a robust knowledge management program that supports the contact center and other parts of the organization?
- Are there processes in place to allow the company to constantly evaluate how problems are being resolved, re-prioritized and adjusted in real-time so that agents are always using the quickest and most relevant resolution paths?
- Do customers receive the same level of service and information whether by telephone, chat, e-mail, Web, mail, social media, etc?
- When answering a call, can the agent determine the value of the customer and their loyalty level in order to provide the right experience based on the “value” of the customer?
- Can all employees who interact with customers see real-time history so that immediate recommendations or solutions are provided without requiring the customer to “re-tell” what has already happened?
- Do you have a communications process that ensures that all customer communications make it to the agent-level so they can address questions without confusion (e.g. advertisements, changes on websites, direct mail, e-mail, bill-tags, etc)?
- Are service level agreements in place with all departments to limit surprises and hold people accountable?
Asking the tough questions is never easy. But seeking change is the first step toward success. As Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Those words are at least twice as true in the contact center space.