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Contact centres: Room for innovation

In a world exploding with more ways of connecting and communicating, contact centres are spoilt for choice in terms of their ability to add more channels and more convenience to the customers they serve.

But outside of the technology, one constant remains: delivering a satisfying customer experience is still more about the agent than the technology.

And, perhaps surprisingly, voice remains the top method of making successful contact.

DebitSuccess group IT manager Steve Holmes says the organisation has a substantial inbound and outbound contact centre.

“We’re in the business of customer retention; should anything go awry with payments, we intervene and assist with recovering failed payments,” he says.

While many organisations look to technology solutions to take calls away from contact centre agents (such as Interactive Voice Response), Holmes points out that ‘nobody likes IVR’.

“That’s totally a cost play. There is no real consideration for customer service and no-one could argue it improves service beyond traffic direction,” he says.

Holmes’ approach to technology in the contact centre is an interesting one: he views it as secondary to the activities carried out by people, for people.

“The biggest focus for us is making sure that we are connecting with the customer with one call. To do that means bringing information to bear [such as details of accounts and payments] to resolve queries or issues on the spot.”

Plenty of room for innovation

While agreeing that for certain contact centres, voice will always be king, Miles Valentine, regional president of contact centre solutions provider Zeacom says there is an abundance of opportunity for innovation in many others.

“You have to look at the detail; what is the centre offering or doing? There will certainly always be a place for the voice call, but the operator [of the contact centre] is well aware that getting to a live person costs money.”

Valentine says that where the issues being handled are complex, voice will always be best.

“But this by no means precludes the introduction of other modes of communication and technology support.”

He says there is plenty of room for improvement for most contact centres, which to date haven’t yet taken full advantage of modernisation.

“There is an enormously long tail between the reality of what most [contact centres] are offering and the of technology that is available today,” he says.

“According to Frost & Sullivan, as much as 80% of the industry only has voice connectivity. The majority are simply not that innovative right now.”

This has to be seen in the context of generational change, where new customers are expecting to be able to connect using their preferred mode of communication – SMS, web self-service, email, even video.

"Contact centres are woefully under- providing when all they offer is a voice line; no other forms of media means the customer has no option but to dial in and wait to be answered.”

The reality, says Valentine, is that innovation in contact centres is hard to find.

“It is perhaps an indictment on the industry,” he notes. However, it also opens the door for potential innovators to take the lead.

“There are strong ROI propositions around web self-service, knowledge-bases, business process automation and the introduction of structured workflows.”

‘Advanced’ options: integrated business processes

Valentine has raised the option of integrating workflows into the contact centre. The logic is sound: when contact is initiated, it should activate a process which is visible and therefore traceable, and which provides the ability to monitor the progress of the customer interaction.

Colin Steeples, general manager of Amtel, says this differs from a situation where contact occurs in isolation from the rest of the business.

“If the agent needs to perform any actions, such as accessing account details and making amendments, separate processes must be initiated, with data entry and likely ‘handovers’ of information and/or tasks.

"Immediately, this presents the possibility of errors. It is also inefficient and lacks ‘start to finish’ traceability,” he says.

When such contact triggers a workflow which can be integrated into the back office, it immediately provides visibility.

In addition, with a unified communications component (presence), the system can see who is available with the right skills to address the caller’s request and route the call appropriately.

“The full progress of the call and its resolution is made visible to the business.

"All metrics related to the instant of initiation through to the point of resolution are tracked, made available for analysis and provide opportunity for improvement.

"For businesses looking to boost the performance of their contact centre, process integration is the one area where the biggest gains can be made,” he says.

Even those contact centre managers who can see the potential of such solutions should have one big initial question to ask: What does it cost? Valentine has soothing words.

“The good news is that business process automation doesn’t require big costs. Measureable benefits can accrue even from small incremental improvements to existing processes and this functionality is within reach of small to medium businesses.”

In addition, technologies such as voice recognition for the identification of ‘catchphrases’, which can themselves trigger business processes (such as retention initiatives, should a customer say ‘I want to close my account), and the increased prevalence of mobility and smartphone apps, are presenting new ways for contact centres to interact with clients.

However, the savvy contact centre owner will always fall back on his or her knowledge of the organisation with which they work before deciding to add any new technologies which may – or may not – challenge the superiority of voice.