The contact centre makeover



By Stephen Lewis and Lee Martin.

Contact centres have traditionally been viewed as a convenient way to deliver customer service at a lower cost structure than face to face channels, with increasing use of automation technology, economies of scale and outsourcing to realise further cost savings. Viewed primarily as a cost of doing business, very few organisations have yet realised the potential of their contact centre as a strategic asset to drive revenue growth and customer engagement.

The environment all businesses operate in is changing more rapidly today than at any time in modern history. Advances in technology and communications, in particular the explosive growth in the use of the internet, social media and mobile data, and access to information 24/7, has given rise to a more empowered customer.

These ‘always-connected’ consumers have much higher expectations of the service they receive and the traditional purchasing model has evolved into multi-channel engagement where great products and prices are hygiene factors and customer experience has become the battleground for differentiation. To be successful organisations need their contact centres to evolve to play a key role in this multi-channel engagement.

Whether these changes are evolutionary or revolutionary, they present significant challenges for any business. Moving from a reactive, telephone-dominated model measured on transaction metrics and handling time to a multi-channel engagement model measured on customer value metrics requires changes in mind-set, processes and technology. New channels and sources of data have to be integrated into the desktop platform, agents require training to develop new skills, workforce planning needs updating for new types of proactive and reactive contact and information on every interaction customers have with the brand needs to be available at agents’ fingertips.

It’s not all bad news though. Changing customer demands also provides an opportunity for those companies that move quickly to meet them. Social media and digital channels have rapidly become key marketing tools for engaging customers for many organisations, but rarely have companies integrated them into their contact centre environment. Instead responsibility often sits in the marketing team or a separate digital team.

This leaves the customer with a choice of channels to engage through but the experiences are clunky, fragmented and inconsistent. Customers expect that they’ll be recognised whichever channel they choose, along with their previous interaction history including complaints, purchases and favourite products. The organisation that can provide this seamless service will stand out, adding value for customers through reduced customer effort, resulting in repeat purchase, increased loyalty and brand advocacy.

However, delivering great customer experience through multi-channel engagement isn’t only about a single customer view and an integrated desktop environment in the call centre. To add value to the brand, the contact centre needs to be truly customer centric. Technology is a necessary enabler but it needs to be used to enhance customers’ experience of the brand by better meeting their needs. This requires a deep understanding of the customer journey to provide the right products, services and support at the right time and in the right place. Getting this right means making the organisation easy to do business with.

The objective should be reducing customer effort by reducing waiting times, automating low-value tasks, proactively addressing common issues and removing barriers to purchase that normally result in abandonment half way through the purchase journey. Designing processes using this outside-in view of the customer experience should be invisible to the customer but can reap significant rewards for the organisation.

Salmat recently worked with a Telco to improve the processes for customers purchasing a new mobile phone via multiple channels. The Telco found that customers were abandoning their website purchase after a couple of minutes and calling the contact centre to make inquiries instead. Adding a live web chat as consumers browsed through the products on the website gave them the ability to ask questions and seek clarification and significantly reduced secondary calls. This resulted not only in reduced call centre demand, it also significantly improved customer experience with more transactions completed online and fewer calls; a much lower level of overall customer effort.

The contact centre of the future needs to be the hub for customer engagement across multiple channels, leveraging the unique qualities of each to deliver a seamless customer experience whilst at the same time creating greater efficiency for the organisation by providing effective self-service options and reducing multiple contacts.

Moving the traditional contact centre from a cost centre to a strategic asset is not an easy transformation, but organisations that invest to build a single platform infrastructure and put the customer at the centre of their contact strategy can reap long term dividends of customer satisfaction, loyalty and sales.

Stephen Lewis, Executive General Manager, Salmat and Lee Martin, Senior Business Consultant, Salmat

July 30, 2013

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