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Contact Center Investments: Strategies for the Recovery

Contact Center Investments: Strategies for the Recovery

Contact Center Investments: Strategies for the Recovery

9/26/2002
By Donna Fluss
ICCM Weekly

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We all know that 2002 was a bad year for IT investments due to the sluggish economy. The very painful recession resulted in the loss of more than 1.2 million IT jobs, according to industry sources. While it’s hard to accept, in general, economic slowdowns eventually bring about positive results. Companies that use this time to “return to basics” and strengthen their products and services will emerge from the recession stronger and better positioned to take advantage of the recovery.

Amid all of the vendor hype and promises, it’s easy to forget that technology is only a facilitator of process; the right process has to be there in the first place for the technology to do its job. If there is any doubt, consider the Internet. The “net” didn’t bring about a new economy, allow companies to fire all sales people, close down call centers or eliminate marketers, as was first promised. After the initial excitement and the ensuing dot.com frenzy died down, the Internet began to assume its proper role as a very powerful channel for doing business.

Contact centers make the point. Sure, it takes “switching” equipment whether TDM-based (Time Domain Multiplexing) or IP-based (Internet Protocol) to deliver calls or transactions to the enterprise. But it’s the pre-established process for determining what happens to the calls or transactions, once they arrive, that makes the difference in service quality.

During the past few years of the CRM era, too many companies over-invested in new applications. A by-product of this period of technology-centricity, which promised to address almost all aspects of customer relationships, is that enterprises neglected their customers. The primary purpose of all profit-oriented enterprises (whether B2B or B2C or B2E) should be to increase sales revenue and profitability by selling products and services people want and need. The priority isn’t for enterprise to apply technology to “manage” customers (who really don’t want to be managed) nor is it to invest in technology that decreases the cost of sales and support.

To manage costs, enterprises need tools, automation, and technology (hardware and software) to improve the delivery of products and services. Automation that facilitates the basics and improves process sells whether the economy is good or bad. There is a good reason why contact center quality assurance (QA) and work force management (WFM) software sold in 2002, in spite of the economy, when the majority of other CRM software categories (with the exception of Business Intelligence software) struggled to sell. Although QA and WFM software didn’t jump off the shelves in 2002, enterprises with constrained budgets nevertheless invested in these contact center management tools to reduce costs and improve their operations and process.

QA and WFM solutions are regarded primarily as productivity tools, but a few innovative companies have recognized that both QA and WFM can also be used to garner insights about the enterprise’s operational environment. These products allow companies to use this data to make operational and process improvements at the same time as they improve service quality and decrease delivery costs. (The third category of successful software is Business Intelligence which, when you cut through the hype, is basically reporting software.)

2002 is not over yet and even financially constrained, overburdened and overworked contact centers should use what remains of the year to engage in a strategic contact center assessment to review and restructure their operations and processes and make improvements. Contact centers should:

  1. Review existing processes and procedures and identify, eliminate or replace outdated procedures that frustrate customers and representatives,
  2. Implement new processes to improve service quality,
  3. Identify training opportunities and retrain representatives,
  4. Identify systems that are not functioning optimally and make system fixes,
  5. Leverage technology investments made in previous years,
  6. Find ways to migrate from a cost center to a profit center.

Recommendations should be solicited from agents, supervisors, team leaders, QA specialists, WFM analysts and even from customers. Input and suggestions should also come from the data derived from QA and WFM initiatives.

Sure, it’s been a bad year for most technology investments but that doesn’t mean that it has to be a bad year for customer service – customers should not be driven away due to tight budgets. Innovative contact center managers are using this time, when new system investments are on hold, to return to the basics and re-engineer their operating environments to deliver better service.

Contact centers that take advantage of the economic slowdown to streamline and optimize their operations are primed to make new investments once the economy picks up. When the economy recovers and IT budgets loosen up, expect to see immediate and significant investments in contact center infrastructure, speech technologies, and web self-service applications.

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