Are Contact Centers Ready for Realtime?

Although realtime technology is still in early development, companies should begin to think about how these solutions could enable more accurate decision making for contact center agents and provide easier access to information for customers.

The urge to squeeze every drop of productivity and efficiency out of technology is something that’s hard-coded into the DNA of most contact centers. But these days, with operations thoroughly professionalized and optimized, where will future improvement come from?

Some companies are looking at realtime data as one possible route to better performance. The streams of data that are available for use at the moment of a customer interaction are varied, often siloed, and potentially powerful. Some vendors are proposing to unite those streams, add sophisticated analysis to understand an interaction’s context, and deliver actionable guidance to the agent desktop.

Why Isn’t Realtime Decisioning Being Adopted in the Contact Center?

This speeded-up delivery of useful information potentially lets centers intervene to affect the outcome of interactions and guide agents towards more opportunistic conversations. But while the technology to perform realtime decisioning (RTD) has arrived, (and is quite exciting), contact centers have so far been slow to adopt it for a variety of reasons. Some are waiting for the technology to mature even further through better multivendor and multisystem integrations. Others are subject to internal political and cultural barriers that make it hard to coordinate the business processes required to act on realtime data. And still more are either confused or unaware of the potential benefits of realtime information, as the suppliers have still to offer effective ROI studies and examples of best practices. Despite these early barriers to adoption, it is likely that RTD will ultimately become a differentiator for enterprises looking to drive collaboration across departments and improve the customer experience.

We are still in the very earliest days of development of RTD solutions and there are few fully productized RTD solutions available. Vendors are approaching the marketplace with the (understandable) biases that come from their existing technology, most commonly workforce optimization or CRM backgrounds. As a result, it can be difficult for companies to know which vendor’s offering presents the best fit for customer service.

Adding RTD Systems to Cross-Channel Analytics and Social and Web Mining Systems

The most sophisticated offerings tackle wider-scale problems of process management, with solutions that scale across hundreds of predictive models and data attributes to present planners with full-bore automation of systems that go well beyond the contact center: multiple channels, points of view, internal departments. They function as adjuncts to CRM and Business Intelligence, and are really designed to unify the many data silos that exist within a company. The downside, of course, is that the more sophisticated the attempt to untie silos, the more a project starts to look like an expensive (and long running) professional services engagement.

Typically, the decisioning engine sits at the intersection of the data analysis resources and the routing infrastructure. This puts the onus on the vendor of the system to either supply or customize the connective tissue between systems that come from many other domains. The high level of required integration may also be holding back adoption in some enterprises.

RTD engines process input from systems as varied as back office applications (billing and fulfillment), CRM and cross-channel analytics (customer data), knowledge management (product usage) and social/Web mining systems. They then pass the output to the contact routing infrastructures, either through agent desktop screen pop-ups or to online systems in self-service situations. Many of the data sources come from systems owned by different internal departments. Organizations must decide which team or department owns the RTD project, and find a way to integrate data from across departments.

RTD Combines WFO, CRM and Customer Analytics

Although most enterprises are not yet ready to deploy it, RTD tools will become an extremely valuable addition to a business' analytic arsenal. Over time, the more successful deployments of RTD will be the ones that combine that workforce optimization (WFO) approach with full-scale enterprise data integration, including back office tools, CRM systems, business intelligence and customer analytics.

As customer care morphs into something more akin to customer experience management, processes will emerge that encourage the use of data from a wider pool of sources inside and outside the contact center. So, realtime decisioning will be a key catalyst in driving integration and collaboration across customer care, marketing, finance, and product development departments.

The rationale for investing in RTD comes from a need to better understand and influence the customer experience across different touch points. Today’s more demanding customers expect realtime updates online (even if they don’t call it that, or even know what that means) and agents need to match and exceed customer knowledge. The barriers to adoption mentioned above will be overcome as vendors realize they have an opportunity to capitalize on the need for realtime information within the enterprise.

As a result, enterprises should start to think about how realtime solutions could enable more accurate decision making for agents and easier access to information for customers. They should also set objectives internally, and start developing an investment roadmap to complete the missing pieces of an RTD solution based on their existing analytics capabilities.