Understanding contact centre technology
Today’s customer service environment presents an exciting challenge for both contact centre operators and their many different technology providers.
The contact centre is where it all comes together: from legacy telephony platforms that simply serve calls, next generation Unified Communications solutions that feature the latest open SIP platforms delivering new levels of service support to the enterprise, through to Workforce Optimisation, managing multi-channel interactions, the latest speech-enabled voice self-service applications and powerful desktop integration solutions.
Supporting today’s ambitious customer service goals is a growing challenge – not just for operational managers but also for your organisation’s IT and business management teams. Because no two contact centres are the same, the underlying technology infrastructure and the applications used will invariably be different. So you’ll need the best advice to help you strike the right balance between making the necessary investments to improve customer service and customer retention, while also managing your business’ inevitable pressure on revenues and costs.
The contact centre now sits at the heart of the business, and increasingly we’re finding that responding to customer interactions often requires agents to interact with core enterprise systems such as CRM, ERP or finance applications. Recent research showed that typical UK contact centres regularly ask their agents to use between five and ten different IT applications either during or after a customer call – in addition to standard office applications and web browsers. It’s hardly surprising that agents don’t have enough time to concentrate on essential customer service skills and techniques!
Evolving towards a Unified Communications environment
We’re now seeing more and more organisations migrating from their earlier generation ACD/PBX offerings towards more collaborative, SIP-enabled environments. The result will be a contact infrastructure that potentially provides every agent and expert with full access to all the functionality, information and features needed to support customers during every contact – irrespective of the channel they’re using.
However for many businesses the key technology drivers are still the daily challenge of successfully routing calls to the right agent, effective performance management and optimisation of agent activities, and deploying the correct CRM and automation technologies to ensure that customers are provided with the best possible customer experience.
In all of these areas organisations are looking to secure a demonstrable, sub 12-month ROI on their investment, and that’s increased the emphasis on core technology solutions such as Workforce Management (WFM), speech applications and integrated desktop projects that can deliver bottom line savings through improved optimisation, increased efficiency and higher levels of automation.
- Workforce Management (WFM) and other Workforce Optimisation tools – WFM particularly provides a critical differentiator for organisations looking to optimise the performance of their most expensive asset – their people. Among recent projects we’ve seen an implementation that delivered a WFM ROI within four months from the overtime saving alone, while a major 1,000+ agent WFM solution not only delivered an ROI in eight months, but delivered ongoing savings of £1 million in the following year
- Delivering higher levels of automation with self-service – Speech-enabled solutions are now playing an important role in removing barriers to service. User centric designed speech applications make processes much easier for the customer, and are playing a key role in handling the routine transactional calls – such as Customer Identification and Verification and Account Balance enquiries – that take up so much live agent time. One major bank, for example, now verifies over 75 percent of its calls within the IVR – saving almost 50 seconds a call. It’s results like this that are driving self-service take-up and delivering clear sub -12 month ROIs.
- Organisations can now also take advantage of the latest ‘hybrid agent’ approaches – This effectively shield contact centre agents from the need to handle sensitive customer data and exposure to potential fraud. An example of this is the use of biometric voice verification technology that simplifies the customer ID process, while delivering enhanced levels of accuracy and security.
Integrating the Agent Desktop – there’s increasingly clear evidence that the latest generation of clean and intuitive agent desktops are having a significant impact on agent productivity, with the real benefits coming from giving agents the support and freedom to do their job better. A recent project has already seen a desktop project reducing transaction handling times and helping to increase agent sales rates by almost 50 per cent
- Infrastructure optimisation through Virtualisation – Virtualisation is proving a key approach for any organisation looking to optimise their existing resources, whether it’s IT, telecoms, office space or staff. Contact centres are no different, and many businesses have found that evolving their multiple contact centre infrastructures and PBX/ACD equipment into a single, location-independent site can prove extremely cost and resource-efficient
- Putting Outbound to work – Given that agent costs are estimated to account for between 60 to 70 percent of contact centre costs, it makes sense to make the most of your expensive agent resource. So it’s surprising that so few organisations really put Outbound to work for their business effectively, if at all – particularly as part of a blended programme that can automatically switch inbound activities to outbound when it is most resource efficient. Effective outbound programmes can work to improve customer loyalty and brand differentiation by actually providing your customers with pre-emptive contact and information that they can actually help them. Initially deployed for functions such as service alerts by utilities, collection notifications and telemarketing, outbound is increasingly being used for more interactive applications such as collections with option-to-pay, scheduling and surveys.
- Taking Multi-Channel to the next level – Many businesses have successfully taken the first key step to successful multi-channel operations by opening up their operations on the web. However, most are still some way behind the curve when it comes to offering a fully blended inbound and outbound experience across key channels such as email, SMS, webchat, as well as existing voice and the web. Organisations ignoring this challenge will soon find themselves left behind – particularly when you consider the evolving channel preferences of today’s younger generation.
- Enabling more effective contact centre reporting – During tighter economic conditions it’s even more important for organisations to have a clearer insight into the operational performance of their different business activities. All across the enterprise IT space there’s an ongoing focus on operational reporting, and we’re now seeing an increasing move towards integrating the measurement of contact centre and customer-facing activities into the enterprise mix through increasingly sophisticated contact centre and agent analytics and advanced customer feedback techniques.
- Optimising contact centre performance through effective systems integration and application development – While separate contact centre technology point solutions such as WFM, Self-service and Multi-channel all play a key role in optimising overall performance, the most successful contact centre operators are those that successfully combine their different technology solutions to improve operational activities. Organisations can also now take advantage of the latest generation of web-enabled applications that can be deployed to realise additional business benefits and allow users of traditional ACD solutions to extract the maximum value from their contact centre technology investment.
- With the right systems at the heart of your customer contact strategy, you could get access to next generation applications that deliver short term ROI, such as automation using speech technology, proactive contact and enterprise reporting, to name just a few.
The good news is that with technologies such as Workforce Management, Voice Self-service, Desktop Integration, SIP-based solutions and exciting innovations such as Biometrics to deliver secure and easy to use automated applications, there are still major opportunities for contact centres to generate real bottom line benefits by doing more with less.