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Contact Centre – The customer service frontier

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At the forefront of most organisations’ customer service or relationship operations is their contact centres. Since attaining popularity in the 80s and 90s, the contact centre has undergone rapid and dramatic change. The provision of outsourced contact centres has been crucial in keeping organisations up-date with the latest technologies, staffing procedures and customer service methodologies.

Customer service outsourcing or BPO traditionally involved transferring front-office (ie customer facing) activities and functions such as help desk, contact centre, CRM and service centres. A significant percentage of this work used to involve handling phone calls and voice applications such as IVR, predictive dialling, and speech recognition.  In the mid-late 90s electronic channels such as email and web chat, became popular and what were once referred to as call centres became customer contact centres, handling a variety of customer communication channels.

New Customer Communication channels

In recent years, Social Media has become an important customer communication channel, where contact centres need to extend their range of services and employ trained agents that can manage interactions via social media as well as phone calls, emails and online chat.

In a recent article Mike Adams of Peakbound, provider of contact services for the financial services industry, commented, “The rapidly evolving area of social media and growing tendency towards immediacy (partly driven by Gen Y) means that we are seeing a rapid development in channels which historically played only a minor role in Contact Centres.  Today, channels such as SMS, Facebook, Twitter, email, web chat and so on are, in some way, demanding greater strategic focus from leaders of contact centres.”[1]

BPO providers of contact centres services were very quick in developing solutions around social media for their existing clients. Most of the initial service offerings and solutions that emerged involved scanning and monitoring social media channels for customer complaints as a way of engaging dissatisfied customers. It was a vehicle for managing brand and corporate reputation.

Agents within the contact centreare armed with a range of tools for monitoring tweets and posts, where they can investigate, analyse and respond to claims and complaints. This reactive use of social media can place significant strain on customer service teams, however, as trying to prioritise the various comments being posted is a significant challenge.

More recently strategies and solutions have emerged that are more pro-active.  Where organisations are looking to engage in relevant conversations across different online venues such as blogs, social networks such as Twitter or Facebook, and other public and private Web communities and sites.

Most major BPO providers now have some form of service offering in this area.

Mobility

Consumers are increasingly, accessing services via apps on their mobile phones and devices. These applications typically offer intuitive visual interfaces and contextual information that allows customers to quickly accomplish specific tasks such as paying bills or finding a store location[2]. Most banks now have apps that their customers can download to manage their accounts and pay bills.

If there’s an issue these applications can connect the customer to a telephone agent if required.

Contact centre software providers have introduced a range of applications allowing customers to connect with agents via their smartphones – solutions such as Genesys Mobile Engagement, Nice Systems Mobile Reach and Jacada Mobile Agent.

According to Daniel Hong from Ovum, the main benefits of connecting on-device applications to a contact centre agent include[3]:

  • Reduced call-handling times. If the agent is aware of what the customer was trying to accomplish while using the on-device application, and has access to relevant data from the appropriate systems, they can better address the needs of that customer.
  • Better records, leading to reduced call volumes. If an enterprise understands when customers typically reach out to the contact centre after accessing an on-device application, it can leverage that knowledge to improve the application and add relevant new features in future.
    • Improved customer satisfaction. Enabling the customer to access information and conduct a range of transactions on their smartphone while on the go and on their own timetable provides a sense of empowerment. The capacity for initiating and managingsmart, connected interactions will help improve customer satisfaction.

Knowledge Management

One of the biggest challenges in running a contact centre is ensuring customers receive the right information at the right time. Knowledge Management (KM) has a number of practical tools and strategies for meeting this challenge and call centre managers have much to gain by engaging KM principles.

Knowledge management leverages the knowledge resources of an organisation, including management systems, procedures and processes, the experience of staff and management, to achieve a range of goals.

With the increasing complexity of the contact centre environment and the ever increasing demands being placed on contact centre management, the adoption of knowledge management tools and methods is becoming more and more popular.

SaaS/Cloud

According to Forrester Research, SaaS is entering the mainstream as 23 percent of companies are using SaaS for CRM, eight percent plan to add it this year, and most existing users plan to expand usage.

Traditional contact centre and telephony applications can now be delivered via the cloud. This means reduced costs in infrastructure as well as greater flexibility to scale capacity to meet workflows and demand. These applications can be updated dynamically, meaning that agents always have the most up-to-date customer information to hand. And because contact centre staff can access the cloud wherever they are in the world, this provides greater scope for home-working, as well as dealing with more unforeseen circumstances.[4]

Outsourcing your contact centre

The contact centre is a complex and dynamic environment combining, people, processes and technology. It’s hard for organisations to manage all the infrastructure, expertise and resources required to operate ‘state-of-the-art’ contact centre facilities. And it’s particularly a challenge to do this in a cost-effective manner that delivers value to shareholders, staff and to the customer.

Contact centres will continue to be a significant area for BPO and outsourcing, though the activities being outsourced will involve less voice or telephone calls and more interactions via mobile apps and social media.

[1] http://admablog.com/2011/10/12/emerging-trends-in-contact-centres/

[2] http://ovum.com/2012/01/03/bringing-the-contact-center-to-the-smartphone/

[3] http://ovum.com/2012/01/03/bringing-the-contact-center-to-the-smartphone/

[4] http://www.callcentrehelper.com/how-cloud-computing-is-affecting-call-centres-10947.htm
April 17, 2013
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