Today’s IP-enabled, multichannel contact centers help organizations maintain strong customer relationships.
For many organizations, the contact center is where the rubber meets the road. It often represents the first interaction customers have with the company, and the success or failure of that initial experience can set the stage for all subsequent interactions.
The nature of that experience has changed dramatically in recent years. While the telephone remains a primary means of contacting a company, customers in growing numbers want to do business by email, chat, texting, and mobile and social applications. Indeed, the growth of these consumer channels has led to the death of the “call center” and the rise of the “contact center,” which does much more than handle voice calls.
Voice over IP (VoIP) technology, has made this transformation possible. Thanks to VoIP, contact centers have come a long way from simply routing calls to the agent group with the right skill sets and maybe adding a “screen pop” with data about the customer. With a fully integrated IP contact center, organizations can provide a consistent, high-quality customer experience regardless of how the customer chooses to interact.
Customers utilizing the web to research a product can “click to talk” and be connected to an agent who is familiar with that product and looking at the same screen. Supervisors can not only monitor calls but can initiate online chat sessions with agents to offer advice while the agents are on the phone with customers. Many organizations are also looking to add new contact center services such as video and mobile solutions.
From ‘Interaction’ to ‘Experience’
VoIP makes this possible by converging voice and video onto the data network. As such, any application can theoretically be integrated into the voice infrastructure, providing a platform to support sophisticated, multi-channel communications.
The 21st –century contact center is more than a collection of communications channels, however. The technology is evolving toward a contextual understanding of customer interactions. Instead of handling individual transactions, organizations can create the ability to manage the overall customer experience.
In the past, a financial institution might simply route loan-related calls to a certain type of agent. Today, that financial institution can understand that the customer has three types of loans and called twice last week, and route the call to a particular agent who can best handle the call based upon those attributes. An organization can also know that a customer started on a web site and then called in and manage the customer’s experience accordingly.
Getting to this nirvana is not as simple as plugging in a contact center solution. There’s not one technology that can transform a traditional contact center into a full-blown customer experience management solution — it takes a whole set of tools. Organizations should begin by defining the experience that they want their customers to have as they interact with the contact center and how the contact center is going to create and manage that experience. Once that’s defined, it’s essential to choose the right contact center solution to lay the foundation and then add the necessary building blocks on top of it.
The converged voice, data and video network underlying VoIP technology offers a number of other compelling benefits in the contact center. It minimizes the total cost of telephone services, reduces network management costs and creates the ability to build geographically dispersed contact centers that satisfy “follow-the-sun” business-hour coverage and assure business continuity.
VoIP also enables the development of the virtual contact center model, in which calls are routed to agents working at home or to their counterparts working in the traditional contact center environment. The technology is absolutely transparent to the customer. Leveraging a home-based workforce not only drives down the real-estate costs of brick-and-mortar operations, but allows organizations to break down the geographical boundaries of their labor pools and opens the door to an untapped pool of highly skilled candidates. It also provides for business continuity in the event of disaster or weather-related travel restrictions.
A contact center has a number of layers, from the core customer interaction management to the agent experience, the supervisor experience and the manager’s experience. These interfaces must be easy to use in order for the customer interaction to be successful. Reporting and analytics are also critical decision-making tools that help managers optimize the customer experience, maximize agent efficiency and keep costs low.
Building a multichannel contact center requires analysis, planning and significant expertise. But by facilitating multimedia communications, providing customers with a better experience and improving information flow, IP-based contact centers provide organizations with a powerful edge in their quest to provide better customer service and cement customer satisfaction.