Enter the Intelligent Contact Center Era

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During the past decade we have all seen call centers undergo some significant transitions, namely from a cost center to a profit center and from a call center to a multichannel contact center. While these evolutions have been significant, what is happening right now is even bigger. Enter the era of the intelligent contact center, one that brings enterprise, Fortune 500-class analysis, automation, and compliance capabilities into the contact center, elevating the once second-class customer service function to the level of a true companywide asset.

In an August 2016 Aberdeen report, analyst Omer Minkara wrote, "The contact center is the nerve center of the business. Much like how a brain functions, it collects and interprets numerous signals. This provides contact centers with a wealth of structured and unstructured data related to customer behavior, changes in marketplace dynamics, and internal efficiency indicators. It is how a company uses this information that determines success or failure. Intelligent contact centers differentiate themselves from others by mastering the art and science of data-driven customer interactions."

The contact center, which started out as a mere tactical support arm, can finally have a seat at the boardroom table, alongside all of the other critical enterprise functions, such as sales, marketing, finance, product development, and HR. The contact center must, however, find better ways to analyze and leverage the massive amounts of data it receives to really see improvements in revenue, customer satisfaction, and more.

Up until now, contact centers relied on manual data aggregation and analysis largely using very complex Excel spreadsheets. This has been extremely arduous, time-consuming, and ineffective. There is simply too much data, and the information is not normalized and very difficult to combine and make sense of. Unfortunately, the extreme efforts employed to derive real intelligence from all of this disparate data often proves futile.

New Level of Data Analysis

New enterprise-class business intelligence and compliance solutions are now available for the contact center to elevate its data analysis and data utilization capabilities to that of an intelligent contact center. In turn, the age-old customer interaction function will start being viewed as a real enterprise-wide asset, offering and leveraging business intelligence the organization cannot acquire anywhere else. We are not just talking about agent performance and first call resolution metrics. We mean real, big-picture, moving-the-needle intelligence that will increase customer lifetime value, something about which your CEO will actually care very much.

Suppose you are a consumer product company employing various telemarketing agencies/BPOs to help sell your products. A key metric to measure success across these outsourcing partners is likely sales conversion percentage related to the number of calls made. In today's standard contact center, you might rely on your outsourcer's PBX and desktop analytics data to help uncover the number of new orders placed compared to the number of calls received. Let's suppose this data, once analyzed, gave outsourcing partner (A) a sales closure percentage of 49 percent. Based on this metric, you would be very pleased with its performance and might even reward it. However, once viewed through the lens of an intelligent contact center, this data might show something quite different. An intelligent contact center would be able to aggregate this data with other enterprise data streams to vastly enrich the intelligence it offers.

Let's say you were able to aggregate not only outsourcing partner (A)'s PBX and desktop analytics data but also combine it with any charge-backs from the outsourcer's merchant account as well as your own product delivery metrics. With these two additional data streams, outsourcer (A)'s performance might look substantially different. The aggregation and analysis of all four of these data streams now tells you the outsourcer does indeed have a 49 percent sales closure percentage BUT also a 65 percent product return rate, which in turn dramatically lowers its sales closure rate to just 17 percent. With this enriched intelligence, your response to its performance would likely not be as glowing as before.

Let's take another example. For this one we will assume a collections agency uses dunning letters of various colors, envelopes, and content to collect on its clients' outstanding accounts. If the company knew which dunning letter generated the most call-backs and collected revenue, it would continue using that letter alone and stop using the other letters. In the standard contact center environment, the company might rely on ACD, PBX, and call recording data to understand which letter each caller received. Let's suppose this combination of limited structured and unstructured data yielded only incomplete metrics on dunning letter success rates. Perhaps the company learned that four callers received collection letter A and six callers received collection letter B. Without an easy way for callers to identify which letter they received, this data would be subjective at best. It would, however, possibly lead to the collections firm ramping up its use of letters A and B.

Now let's view this same example through the lens of an intelligent contact center that marries a specific phone number assigned to each piece along with more data streams to tell an even clearer, more precise story. The firm now combines its ACD, PBX, and call recording data with overall collection rates, phone number and identification codes associated with each type of dunning letter, and even the list of which letters were sent to which individuals. It turns out dunning letters A and B are actually the lowest performing. Letter C is responsible for more than 74 percent of all call-backs. With this intelligence, the company would scale back on A and B and increase its use of C, thereby likely increasing its overall collection rate, which significantly enhances its bottom line.

Casting a Wider Compliance Safety Net

Aside from mass encryption and security measures, it can be challenging for contact centers to be sure they aren't violating regulations, such as the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Along with PCI's 12 data control objectives, companies typically employ pause/resume technology along with their call recording system to mask or mute the portions of customer calls in which sensitive customer information is provided. Another compliance measure might be to periodically review each agent's screen activity during calls to validate they are following necessary protocols to protect sensitive customer data. But, these measures in total still leave room for potential compliance violations. There are simply too many variables.

The intelligent contact center would be able to aggregate both inbound and outbound calls on several dimensions, starting all the way back at the carrier level (not further down once the call already reached the ACD, PBX and IVR level) to provide agents with a secondary layer of protection. Based on numerous variables related to each caller, callers could be intelligently routed to specific agents or groups of agents who are most trained on compliance measures. Perhaps you have a special team that handles all payment calls. The system would anticipate which callers are likely to make payments based on CRM, payment, and customer account data and automatically route those calls to those payment specialists.

Outbound calling would also have an additional layer of compliance protection. Under TCPA regulations, agents cannot dial mobile phone numbers, must adhere to strict time zone regulations, and must avoid over-calling. These stipulations, on top of already rigid PCI and HIPAA rules, make it harder to maintain compliance. Fortunately, the intelligent contact center would be armed with new capabilities for protecting agents from committing violations (even accidentally). Each outbound call would be run through a filter to make sure it is not a mobile number, that the time zone is OK to call at that moment, and that the number has not been dialed too many times already. If a number violates any of these rules, it would be automatically blocked from being called. Think about how valuable this single capability would be on its own. With the intelligent contact center, you would not only have this level of protection, but it would also apply across all of your contact center sites, at-home agents, and even across all of your contact center outsourcing partners.

Any Data, Any Source

According to Aberdeen, 58 percent of businesses use at least eight channels to interact with buyers. This is just the start of the enormous amount of data a contact center could leverage to generate a new level of key performance indicators (KPIs). Think beyond standard contact center data and consider ANY data source from within your own organization, overlay data from external sources like Google Analytics and social media, or from any of your outsourcing partners. The intelligent contact center can synthesize all of this data to provide KPIs we've never even considered. This could usher in a new kind of predictive analytics that could help your business cater to the very unique needs of each individual caller in a way that would maximize satisfaction and your revenue.

According to Aberdeen, there are three main categories of performance benefits that intelligent contact centers enjoy: superior customer experience results, operational efficiencies, and financial performance. The report projects that intelligent contact centers on average enjoy 7.1 percent higher company revenue and 5.9 percent higher customer retention. These numbers and the new level of sophistication intelligent contact centers can bring with them should keep the contact center at the boardroom level for decades to come.

It is now up to us, the contact center community, to start embracing the possibilities of the intelligent contact center.

Phil Grudzinski is president of NobelBiz, which provides a suite of modular, intelligent contact center solutions.