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Will Convergence of Clicks and Bricks be the Death of the Contact Center?

Will Convergence of Clicks and Bricks be the Death of the Contact Center? 

We hear everywhere that online shopping is going to eliminate the need for shopping centers, department stores and retail chains, along with their contact centers. It’s well known that the volume of online shopping is growing rapidly, at the same time as some retail stores and chains are going bankrupt and closing. What isn’t well appreciated is that retailers who adapt to the changing market – in other words, respond appropriately to the digital transformation – are doing just fine. And in these companies, the contact center is making an important, and often
growing, contribution to their success.

Let’s use Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods as an example, as grocery is one of the more challenging retail activities in which to succeed because the margins are very low, even at the higher end of the market. This acquisition is not going to result in the closing of Whole Foods, but instead it is driving a change in their business model, which sorely needed a shake-up. This is a clear case of online shopping helping to expand the use of contact centers, as Amazon understands that customers want to have a choice in how they buy. It also means that the days
of voice-only contact centers are long past (for most organizations), and going forward, service organizations will have to meet and interact with customers in their preferred channel.

Retailers who can re-imagine and think “out of the box” (to use an old but very appropriate term) may do better in a world where online shopping merges with brick and mortar. It’s a mistake to think that shoppers will choose and stick exclusively with one purchasing or communication channel. Successful companies must be agile, flexible and responsive to changing customer needs. Companies that are stuck in past, whether due to unrealistic boards, large real estate holdings, outdated management philosophies, inflexible systems, etc., are going to lose, as they cannot sit back and wait for the “good old days” of retail to return. The digital transformation is not a passing fad – it is the new reality.

Let’s tie this back to contact centers. They have a lot in common with reticent retailers who continue to be forced out of business because they are not adapting quickly enough to new market opportunities. Relationships with customers are changing, and contact centers are not immune. Consumers, and even B2B partners, want the flexibility of interacting in their channel of choice, which changes frequently based on many factors. The preferred channel today is selfservice – as long as it works well. It’s hard for many old-time executives to accept this, but in order to succeed, companies and their service organizations are going to have to incorporate this new market reality into their business models.

There is more to the story than the change in self-service solutions. Companies that are open to change are building and staffing next-gen contact centers that are closely aligned with the shopper experience and consumer preferences. Adaptable companies are making major investments in their online, mobile and voice self-service solutions to reduce their dependence on live agents, and at the same time they are investing in employees who are comfortable carrying on a “conversation” with their customers in whatever channel they want to use, and sometimes in multiple channels at the same time. Contact centers are no longer an independent sales (or service) channel, but instead an integral component of a much bigger enterprise strategy. It goes without saying that the new-gen contact centers need to be open to whatever business strategy comes their way. So, to answer the question asked in the title to this column, the convergence of digital with brick-and-mortar channels is not the death of the contact center. It’s a wake-up call for some, and a great opportunity for all contact centers to establish themselves as essential contributors to the new retail experience.

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 www.dmgconsult.com.

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