The Dirty Dishes of Contact Centers

We've all done it. You know you should wash that plate, but you leave it in the sink. Later, it's joined by another plate and some silverware too. You really don't have time right now, so yet another bowl and a glass fall on top. Before you know it, there's a stack of dirty dishes that's too intimidating to clean up.

Contact centers today are suffering from the same fate. Customer service was once only about phone calls. Then handling emails became the first dirty dish in the sink. Slowly the mess piled up. Outbound calls. Web self-service. Chat. Mobile. Twitter and Facebook. Over time, as contact centers added support for channel after channel, they filled their sink with dirty dishes: a set of independently operated infrastructure silos and support organizations that are no match for the omnichannel expectations of today's digital customers.

How can you clean up your support for these communication channels when you've got a dirty stack of technology staring back at you?

Stop Stacking Dirty Dishes

Your first priority should be to stop adding new dirty dishes to the stack.

For contact centers keenly focused on operational efficiency metrics such as average handle time, this is easier said than done. That's because customer service managers are understandably reluctant to make dramatic changes that might affect their numbers. Instead, most favor quick fixes that temporarily handle new customer communication channels. However, tactical implementations of one-off solutions, with no long-term plan or guiding principles, only make your overall technology stack even more unwieldy.

This channel-centric approach is doomed to failure, especially as communication technologies continue to evolve. As popularity increases for wearable devices, in-car telematics, and the Internet of Things, customer service organizations will have to evolve again...and preferably without adding another dish to the sink.

So now the problem isn't getting worse. But how do you make it better?

Wash One Dish at a Time

When you need to transform a dirty stack of dishes into a clean house, you can't clean them all simultaneously. You go through the stack, one dish at a time, until you're done.

Likewise, most customer service leaders recognize that they need to transform their contact centers to support all these channels. Yet few, if any, contact centers plan to do it all at once. That sort of all-encompassing digital transformation would crush most annual budgets. We've all learned our lessons from the lengthy CRM and ERP deployments of the 90s, where implementations took years to complete yet failed to meet new requirements added along the way.

So rather than bet everything on one massive project, customer service organizations run smaller initiatives to replace existing systems or to meet requirements for new communication channels. In many cases, they can leave legacy systems in place and build around them, making adjustments along the way, until they build enough infrastructure to finally replace those systems entirely. As long as these incremental improvements have an end goal in mind —rather than one-off quick fixes, which add to the dirty technology stack—the slow and steady replacement strategy will transition a contact center from a mess of separate products into a unified infrastructure.

A sink doesn't stay clean forever. Just as surely as people need to eat, people need to contact customer service. How can you prevent yourself from falling into the same trap in the future?

Change Your Dishwashing Strategy

These two pieces of advice—don't add one-off solutions, but don't fix everything at once—may seem to contradict each other, but there's a way to break out of the cycle. You need a dishwasher: a broader, more effective strategy to replace that dirty technology stack, and handle new dirty dishes as they come.

In the long run, you want a way to systematically handle the increasing number of customer channels as your contact center ecosystem evolves. Then, each channel can be part of a customer-centric solution, rather than a distraction for another development silo.

Your strategy should include three components:

  • A Unified Platform: Use technology from the same development environment for these separate channels, so your systems can work together.
  • Design Once, Deploy Anywhere: Define models for your expected customer interactions first, before translating those models into deployments to individual channels.
  • Case Management: Track all the information for each customer inquiry in one place, regardless of how they communicate with you, so you can maintain a single conversation across channels.

With this approach in place, your customer service organization can meet the omnichannel expectations of today's digital customers, without a dirty stack of technology holding you back.