Distributed Customer Service Teams Provide a Solution for Cross-Channel Challenges

Regardless of whether consumers are reaching out to customer support representatives through chat, phone, email, or social media, one thing is true across the board: They want a quick yet thorough response. In a traditional contact center, however, representatives often juggle multiple channels, sometimes handling requests on channels they're not proficient with or comfortable using while aiming to resolve a designated number of tickets in the allotted time. To avoid sacrificing the quality of customer support, some organizations are turning to a new call center model—one in which both the work and the workforce are distributed. 
"We are seeing an increase in distributed contact centers because organizations are starting to realize that agents have different skills, and the way to maximize their effectiveness is to play to their strengths," Scott Sachs, president of SJS Solutions, a contact center consulting firm, says. "Someone with poor verbal skills may be great on the chat channel but not as impressive on the phone...and not everyone has multitasking skills," he explains. 
Rather than expecting agents to be equally fluent and efficient across all channels and routing calls to the next available agent regardless of his or her area of expertise, many companies have made the shift to skills-based routing. Established call center technology providers including Genesys, Avaya, and Liveperson as well as newcomers such Talkdesk provide skill-based routing infrastructure because in a digital environment, sophisticated routing is now "a requirement," Alon Waks, vice presidents and head of product marketing at LivePerson, says. "You lose the benefits of digital by blending the channels that agents are responsible for. When you have someone doing only chat, they can be chatting with three customers at once. When you have them doing chat and voice, both channels suffer, because voice requires full attention," he explains. 
There are circumstances when some blending is required, Waks adds, but those are typically rare situations. When Home Depot was handling a spike in customer calls and messages following a massive data breach, the situation required all hands on deck, and called for agents to engage in channel-to-channel toggling. "Organizations should save blending for situations of extremely high customer demand," he recommends. 
In a contact center ecosystem where the workload is distributed by channel, geographic distribution of the workforce is becoming common as well. Gone are the days of the outsourcing boom, when companies were more concerned with the price of labor than with the number of customers that were severing ties with their business due to poor customer service. Because of the high expectations of the modern consumers, businesses are now reluctant to outsource and are turning to home-grown talent, which, thanks to cloud technology, can be from anywhere in the country. In a virtual, distributed setting, agents are operating autonomously and with a relative amount of independence, which leaves organizations with "little reason to keep them all sitting in the same room. They're already working on separate things, and the technology is taking care of much of the routing and organization, so they can be pretty much anywhere in the country," Waks points out. That, he adds, opens the door to another level of routing. 
Demographic-based routing is fairly experimental, but has already demonstrated massive potential. With contact center agents spread out nationwide, callers can be routed to an agent in their area that may better understand that customer's specific needs than an agent living across the country would. Similar life stages will play a role too. "It all comes down to determining who is the best possible person to connect that customer with at that moment, and that could be skill-based, demographic-based, location-based, or it could simply be an agent that that customer has already developed a relationship with," Waks says. 
Despite the promise of distributed contact centers, there are possible drawbacks as well. Smooth channel transitions, for example, are a concern, Sachs points out. If a customer bounces from channel to channel, continuity may be lost and redundancies may arise, especially if representatives are using separate separate technologies for different channels. To combat the issues, Sachs says organizations need dependable, scalable cloud contact center solutions that automate many of the transitions while providing flexibility based on demand.  For a "truly" functional distributed contact center, there must also be a solid CRM system to maintain and manage the customer journey, and a knowledge management system that arms agents with the information they need to quickly and effectively handle customer issues, he adds. "There are lots of these pieces required for a distributed contact center to work, but when it works, it works well," Sachs says.
From a more broad contact center perspective, the primary issue associated with distributed centers—a disjointed customer journey—plagues traditional,centralized support centers as well, Sachs and Waks agree. As more vendors offer new solutions, however, the reward of decentralized support teams may soon outweigh the risk.     

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