Contact Center Transformation: The Next Act
The contact center world is in the early days of a true metamorphosis, one that is going to impact all aspects of these service departments: people, process and technology. Driven by elevated customer and employee expectations, technical innovation, increasing globalization and scale, operational opportunities and the cloud, contact center executives are rethinking their strategies and reimagining the future of these essential customer-facing departments. DMG expects contact centers to undergo wholesale changes that position them to deliver a proactive and personalized service experience to an increasingly demanding customer base.
It’s Time to Transform
Contact centers need to undergo the following transformations to position themselves to enhance the brand they represent:
- From cost center to profit center – Sales and collections departments are profit centers, as their primary function is revenue generation. Customer service departments, even if they do not perform up-sell and cross-sell, should also be viewed as profit centers, as an essential aspect of their job is to build strong and “sticky” customer relationships.
- From phone center to omni-channel contact center – While a surprisingly large number of contact centers continue to support only voice interactions (which means they are still call centers), the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital channels (minimally, email and chat). Unfortunately, too many contact centers added new channels without integrating them with each other or the existing voice-based activities. This means each channel is independent, so an agent that helps a customer in one channel cannot see what was done in another channel, obscuring the visibility into the customer journey and overall brand relationship. This approach makes it difficult for customers who want to use their preferred channel and also pivot easily from one channel to another, if necessary (e.g., if they need to escalate to a live agent). It also makes it difficult, time consuming and costly for agents who must ask customers to repeat their entire story. Contact centers should be fully integrated omni-channel (voice and digital) servicing environments, where agents have a single desktop and customer relationship management (CRM) system to handle all inquiries and can pivot between channels as often as needed.
- From the title of agent to influencer or customer relationship advocate (CRA) – Agents perform an essential and often challenging function for their brand – they are the primary representatives of their company to the market. It’s a challenging job as customers are not always kind, and agents may not have access to all of the information they need due to system or operational limitations. Companies need to approach every contact as a “gift” when a customer or prospect reaches out to them. The customer-facing resources in contact centers need intelligent automation and tools to deliver an outstanding and personalized experience to every individual in every interaction, and they deserve a title that better reflects their importance and contribution to the brand.
- From blame point to chief customer officer – Contact centers clean up mistakes and problems originating “upstream” and “downstream” in companies. Because they must resolve a wide variety of issues, contact center employees know more about a company than the staff in almost any other department. An outstanding contact center leader will spend a significant portion of their day working with other departments to address issues identified by customers or contact center analytics. As a result, these leaders know a great deal about what customers think about the company and what it will take to enhance their perception of the brand. For these reasons, a contact center leader is well positioned to become a chief customer officer in their company.
- From basic systems to artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled applications – Many contact centers are still using outdated servicing and CRM systems and applications as their primary information sources. Instead, contact center influencers need AI-enabled solutions that give them a view into each customer’s issue or predict the customer’s intention in contacting their brand. These solutions should proactively deliver all relevant data and next-best-action recommendations to resolve the current situation and “influence” the customer in a positive manner to enhance the relationship.
Contact centers have operated in similar ways for most of the 45+ years they have been in existence. Undoubtedly, there are major differences between companies, but the general approaches have been comparable. It’s well past time for change and transformation. Companies have to make enhancements and investments, at least as a starting point, or find themselves with unhappy (and fewer) customers and challenged to find the best candidates to staff their contact centers. While the required changes are significant and costly, they will position companies to fulfill their promise of delivering an outstanding customer experience, something most companies struggle to achieve today.