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Contact Center Shopping List for 2012

Contact Center Shopping List for 2012

Despite economic challenges, work must go on for customer service departments and contact centers. These organizations need to plan investments to improve their performance in the upcoming year. There is no choice. Every year, contact center leaders are asked to “do more with less,” and it’s technology and applications, supported by industry best practices, that enable them to achieve important enterprise goals.

The pace of technical innovation during the past few years has been outstanding. Contact center managers have so many new and improved solutions from which to choose, that it’s hard to prioritize. We caution managers to concentrate more on getting the functionality they need and less on the delivery model – premise-based/licensed, cloud-based/software-as-a-service (SaaS), hosted or managed service. The vast majority of contact center technologies and applications are now available in a delivery mechanism that fits almost any circumstance and preference, even though not all vendors offer every type.

Here are the hot investment areas for 2012:

  1. Social Media – You may want to ignore it, but it’s not going away. Within 5 to 8 years, DMG expects more than half of customer interactions to arrive at companies via social media. While few organizations have yet to figure out how to use the social channel to provide customer service, it’s time to try. (If you want assistance on this topic, take a look at DMG’s new worldwide Benchmark Study on using social media to deliver customer service . This will help identify the actions your organization needs to take and the investments required to help your company use social media to deliver an outstanding customer experience. Please keep in mind, though, that it will take years and many initiatives and investments to build out this channel.
  2. Analytics – There has been tremendous innovation in the area of analytics in the last few years, and it’s time to take a look at these new capabilities. Analytics is no longer just “reporting on steroids”, but instead, these high-value solutions can generate insights that can improve the performance of your contact center as well as other parts of your organization. The challenge is that there are so many different types of analytics applications, and the vendors are not doing a great job of differentiating among them. Some of these high-value analytics solutions are: speech analytics, text analytics, desktop analytics, cross-channel analytics, self-service analytics, predictive analytics, and performance management. Then, of course, there are the traditional analytically-oriented applications, such as workforce management and quality assurance, which have been used for many years, but are being improved with the incorporation of new analytical capabilities. Enterprises should determine which of these solutions will add the greatest value to their bottom line, and start to invest. At this point, all of these capabilities are so new that they can be used to gain a strategic advantage. However, DMG cautions that enterprises must be willing to invest in professional services along with the new applications, if they want to realize the benefits on a timely basis.
  3. Back-Office – The “wall” separating front and back-office operating groups is starting to come down. This does not mean that these groups should merge – they should not. But it’s time for them to do a better job of working together to achieve enterprise goals. Workforce optimization suites are now available that are dedicated to improving the performance of back-office employees (similar in concept to the solutions used to optimize staff performance in contact centers for the past 10 years). The market is seeing a variety of new tools to enable front-office (contact center) staff to help out the back office during times of slow call volume, which are inevitable even in the best-managed groups, due to variability of call arrival rates. We’re also seeing the emergence of unified communications, presence and real-time guidance tools that enable companies to identify and involve back-office or other relevant resources in servicing customers and delivering an outstanding customer experience.

The concepts upon which CRM is based are very much alive and always will be. The issue is that vendors took the phrase and turned it into an application that was impossible to build and utilize effectively. In the contact center alone, there can be over 40 different applications, and new ones emerge all the time. It’s hard enough to get different departments within the same company to agree to use the same phone or email system, let alone to find consensus for a “servicing” solution that makes or breaks their department’s performance (and bonuses).

Impact on Organizations

The worldwide economic crisis is expected to be felt strongly by public and private institutions alike in 2012. Investment dollars will be limited, and the pressure to reduce operating costs will be strong. As contact centers remain people-intensive organizations, they will be under great pressure to do more than their fair share to improve their company’s expense line. The three categories mentioned above – social media, analytics and back-office – are areas where the right investments will play an important role in helping managers achieve even the most aggressive goals.

DMG wishes you and your organization great success in the upcoming year.

Ask the Experts

Do you have any suggestions on what we should do with an agent’s idle time? How do we make sure we’re being efficient but not overloading the agents?

Even in the best-managed and busiest contact centers, where workforce management solutions are used to optimize agent schedules, there will always be unexpected downtime without calls. Using this idle time productively will improve agent satisfaction while reducing operating costs.

The time can be used for quality assurance review sessions, to deliver targeted training and coaching or to involve agents in handling back-office work. Specific examples of ways to use idle time are to have agents handle emails, faxes, paper correspondence (that still exists) and social media interactions; conduct outbound surveys, welcome calls or account retention calls; or process applications or purchase orders, open new accounts, handle returned material authorizations or work with accounts receivable.

If the process is managed well and expectations are clearly communicated and understood by agents — which includes making sure the phone staff realizes that at times they will have to drop what they are doing and return to handling calls — it is a good idea to involve contact center employees in non-call-related activities, as it gives them a break from what is often a very intense and challenging job.

To make this process work, the fill-in tasks should meet several guidelines.

  1. Agents need to be able to start and stop the non-phone tasks at will.
  2. Each job should take no more than five to 10 minutes to complete.
  3. Agents need to remain in their seats at all times. This enables them to receive calls when the volume picks up.
  4. Agents should be able to accomplish the task without assistance.
  5. Agents should not require a significant amount of training to do the non-phone tasks.

DMG Consulting LLC is a leading independent research, advisory and consulting firm specializing in unified communications, contact centers, back-office and real-time analytics. Learn more at