In Today's Contact Centers, Knowledge Is Power

In the early 1960s, philosopher Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase "The medium is the message" to argue that the channel of communication is just as important as the content it conveys. Now, 50 years later, organizations across the world are finding out just what he meant, as customers place extreme importance on the media they use to contact and interact with them.

Forrester Research has found that 95 percent of customers use more than one channel to communicate with organizations. They don't just want one option for their queries or feedback, they want to be able to get in touch any way that suits them, whether that be voice, video, chat, email, or social media.

Organizations that are rising to this challenge effectively are using cloud technologies to deliver seamless communication across every channel. That doesn't just lead to an enhanced customer experience, it can also transform performance, as the data their contact centers harvest leads to better understanding and precision.

Analytics will change everything.

With an intelligent contact center, organizations can use analytics to understand customers individually, building up a full picture of their needs and desires. The results could transform customer service. For example, a credit union discovered an issue with its ATM policy when searching for calls in which the customer asked to speak to a supervisor. As a result, it adjusted the policy and recouped more than $1 billion in lost revenue.

Research conducted by contact center solutions experts Calabrio shows that 34 percent of contact center agents feel the lack of customer data available to them at the time of a customer's request means they're unable to fully deal with the query. But with access to better data and support, agents can handle requests efficiently and keep customers satisfied.

Analytics solutions can also help contact centers increase operational efficiency by identifying trends and bottlenecks, from lethargic systems to cumbersome processes. Managers can then seize opportunities to streamline workflows and extract insights that drive better, faster service.

Yet many organizations are dragging their feet. Currently, the average contact center only analyses 2 percent of all customer interaction data. Traditional contact center metrics are limited to average handling time and script adherence, neither of which accurately reflects the quality of the customer service provided. By harnessing modern analytics, contact centers can put those metrics into perspective by combining them with customer evaluation scores. Add that to an analytics solution that integrates performance with sales and marketing systems and organizations will be able to see the real impact of improved customer service on the bottom line.

Intelligence in the data center can also help to mitigate risk. Advanced speech analytics can enable managers to pick up on any high-risk words being used by agents. They can then quickly address these issues to minimize any risk of regulatory fines or litigation.

Advanced, multichannel voice of the customer analytics will also enable agents to deliver a predictive and proactive service, which could help to resolve issues quicker and bring down service costs. The impact on any business is compelling: the Aberdeen Group found that deploying analytics that integrates with sales CRM and other systems can lead to an average of 32 percent revenue growth.

So where to next?

Before analytics and intelligent reporting can truly transform the contact center, there needs to be a shift in thinking. Many of today's data centers are siloed, with specific purposes or business units managed as separate areas rather than collectively. This fractured approach hinders any opportunity for optimization.

The contact center of tomorrow will be configured differently, with artificial intelligence and machine learning enabling the data center to assess performance and optimize delivery. As George Weiss, Gartner's vice president, says: "The goal should be to architect platforms and services that monitor and analyze system behaviors, resulting in continually optimized outcomes to predefined goals and service levels."

Workforce management (WFM) will also play a key role, as contact centers move to more efficient ways of planning the workload. Manual management of staffing is time-intensive and can often miss the complexities of a multichannel environment. But with WFM in place, managers can run forecasts and schedules more frequently to create greater accuracy.

A good WFM solution also enables the automation of key tasks, while delivering improved reporting and analysis to give managers a full view of the workload and address any concerns. Managers can then report any insights back to agents to help them deliver a consistent and outstanding customer experience every time.

Contact centers are already moving beyond an integrated service, offering a multichannel experience to customers, and are now developing true omnichannel experiences with anytime, anywhere access across any device. It's time to move to a new model for the contact center, where customers can contact you via any medium, and where you harness data to enable end-to-end performance management and an enhanced customer experience.

Peter Quinlan is vice president of unified communications and collaboration product management at Tata Communications. He has extensive experience in sales, channel management, business development, and managed services across Asia-Pacific.