Cloud, big data, analytics, multichannel. These terms are being bandied about lately in the contact center market, but some companies and, in particular, C-level executives, are still sketchy about what they are and why they matter. At the recent 2014 International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) conference, a panel of industry experts broke down why these emerging technologies work and spelled out how contact centers can build a business case for them.
It Still Begins with the Customer Service Representative
Before considering new technology, you have to take into account how your agents will interact with it and, in turn, how this might affect their interactions with customers. A successful contact center still begins with agent hiring and training, available tools, performance, and how agents relate to customers, said Art Schoeller, principal analyst at Forrester Research.
"In this new age in terms of customers who have self-served first and are now escalating in some type of form—social, email, Web chat, or voice—I need even better agents," Schoeller said. "I need to soften up on handle time to really engage the customers in those magic moments. These are the connected dots of where we are now."
Schoeller pointed to Forrester research which found that 35 percent of surveyed customers were looking to invest in better multichannel technology. Additionally, 27 percent of those surveyed are hiring agents who are "multichannel skilled." With this in mind, Schoeller predicts that segmentation by channel is going to go away.
"That stresses a lot of us, but we want agents who are able to deal with the channels and also deal with a wide range of problems and deal with customers in a more behavioral type of approach."
Climbing on the Cloud and Getting on Board with Big Data
Investing in true multichannel routing technologies can help companies, Schoeller said, as well as knowledge management that can present "a consistent story to customers across channels." Companies can also add in the use of better analytics that can drill down a comprehensive interaction, "not transactional data that we get from our systems of record or CRM," he said.
"It is those granular, atomic pieces," Schoeller said. "Customers might start on the Web in Web chat and then call and talk to an agent. That's all one transaction but within that, there's all these different interactions going on. This is where structured and unstructured analytics comes in, to optimize operations and provide feedback to the agents."
Marty Beard, president and CEO of LiveOps, said that from a software provider point of view, he can see where people are spending their money in contact center technology. One thing that's certain about the future, Beard said, is that, "It's absolutely going to be in the cloud."
"Look at cloud growth rates—for us this has been a fifty percent to fifty-five percent growing space," Beard said. "Our bookings have been up 100 percent year-over-year. It's nothing fancy or beyond 'I think I can save money by going to the cloud.'"
Beard believes that a contributing factor to cloud growth is from on-premises vendors seeking to renew maintenance contracts. Companies may think, "It's expensive, it's hard to work with them, and maybe I should look at this cloud thing," Beard says.
Aaron Fulkerson, CEO of MindTouch, also feels that cloud technology adoption in the call center is a major trend, as is the use of big data. He says that what's really important to his customers is to provide a foundation of Web-based, multichannel product information and customer success information about their products and services and then mine insights.
"It's about, 'Is this customer about to churn out? Is this customer a potential promoter?' We can achieve that today; this isn't some kind of fantasy. It's just that there are not many vendors doing this," Fulkerson says. "Increasingly that's what we're going to be seeing, applying big data to drive customer success."
Summing up, Ann Ruckstuhl, chief marketing officer at LiveOps, says that technology is about "knowing, serving, and don't waste my time. This whole velocity and accuracy of information comes down to those three very basic, simple things."