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5 ways to a customer-centric contact center

By Prem Uppaluru

President & Chief Executive Officer, Transera

During his opening keynote at the recent Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff made a compelling observation. "While much has been made about the 'Internet of things,'" he said, "Behind every device is a customer, and companies that fail to recognize this do so at their own peril."

Benioff reinforced his mantra that every company is a customer company. "If you don’t become a customer company, someone else will take your place." Benioff closed his remarks by challenging the room to welcome all of their customers to the Internet of Customers.

"Behind every tweet that happens on Twitter, behind every post that happens on Facebook, behind every one of our devices and wearables, every one of our mobile devices, don't forget, there's a customer," Benioff said. "In the world of the Internet of things ... it's really an Internet of customers. We need to reassess how we connect with our customers in a whole new way."

Nowhere is this truer than in a contact center, which for most companies is the central point from which all customer interactions are managed. Your contact center is often the first introduction a customer has with your company. It’s where sales are closed, problems are resolved and relationships and loyalty are either forged or lost. Your contact center can also be a customer’s “final straw” with your company. A 2011 RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report showed that 89 percent of consumers switched to a competitor following a single poor customer experience, further proof that every interaction counts.

The best companies know this, which is why so many are making significant investments in technology to improve their engagement with customers and the overall customer experience. In fact, the global customer experience management (CEM) market is expected to grow by over $4 billion within the next five years (Markets & Markets, 2012).


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But if managing customer interactions is so critical to success that the industry has built a library’s worth of best practices and an entire sub-industry of technologies and software to support them, why do companies fail so miserably at it? And what can they do to resolve this?    

Here are five ways companies can make their contact centers more customer-centric and turn those interactions into real business value.

1.) Look at the Customer Holistically

In the world of contact centers, there is no better way to kill the customer experience than to silo customer information. However, customers engage with companies through a variety of different channels, and each channel typically involves a different set of systems and technologies. This only serves to limit a contact center’s view of the customer to specific interactions instead of providing a deeperunderstanding of the entire customer journey. From the customer’s perspective, interactions across the contact center are viewed as one experience, not multiple distinct interactions…ensure it is seamless and that you have a complete view.

2.) Use Big Data Analytics to Your Advantage

While Big Data is a term that is a bit overused these days, for a contact center, data is power and used correctly, it will have a huge long-term impact on the business and the customer experience. By making sense of all of a company’s customer information in all its historical and real-time detail, Big Data allows contact centers to put a business focus on managing interactions more than ever before and to make intelligent, data-supported decisions using months and years worth of detailed data, not just high-level summaries or snap-shots of specific time periods. By leveraging the power of Big Data across all data sources, the data itself will make recommendations for call routing, customer-agent matches, scripts, andcross-selling, as well as help improve efficiency overall. Used correctly, Big Data equals big opportunities.

3.) Stitch It All Together

Virtually all interactions between a customer and the contact center touch multiple systems across the enterprise, and each of these systems collects, stores and manages its own data. Recent research by the Aberdeen Group showed that 60 percent of all contact centers are using at least seven channels to engage their customers. As companies continue using Big Data in customer engagement activities, they need to establish a unified view of customer interactions across these disparatesystems. Companies that build and maintain such a unified view understand their customer care program results better, know what they are like to do business with, and as a result, delight their customers by delivering timely and personalized sales, service and support. Stitching all of this information together is no easy feat, but in order to deliver a truly personalized and differentiated service, we have to connect these data dots and analyze who it is that’s in front of us at any giving moment.

4.) Invest in Your Agents

Just like customers are real people, so are agents. Each year, organizations spend roughly $112billion on call center labor and software, yet half of the 270 billion customer service calls go unresolved. Let’s face it — reaching a live person is rare. That person on the other end actually knowing what they’re talking about is even more unlikely. There is no getting around it: Your contact center agents ultimately have the biggest impact on the customer experience. Beyond ensuring your agents are well trained and have the proper tools, organizations should also have a deep understanding of their agents, their capabilities, their strengths and weaknesses, and use that information to connect the right customer with the right agent for best results.

5.) Make Each Customer Front and Center

While advancements in technology, including cloud, are ultimately a good thing, it’s imperative that we not become so technology-centric that we lose sight of the individuals who are using these tools as a means to reach out to and engage with us. A 2013 study from the Economist Intelligence Unit, "Voice of the customer: Whose job is it, anyway?" claims that over the next three years, global organizations will make understanding and interacting with their customers their number-one priority.

Of those surveyed, only 56 percent believe their companies clearly understand their customers, and just six in 10 viewed their companies as customer-centric. Just over half reported a clear understanding of customers' tastes and needs. At the end of the day, we’re in the business of serving customers, or better put, individual people. These are the same people who will ultimately determine whether we succeed — or fail miserably.

In conclusion, many contact centers today still interact with customers with little understanding of the business value these individuals represent to the larger company. Most are too focused on operational efficiencies and not nearly enough on the overall customer experience. The problem with this approach is that a contact center focused solely on operational efficiency starts to function much like a twentieth century assembly line. Since worth is determined by a worker’s productivity and compliance, there is little to no incentive to go beyond the ask.

Companies who want to compete in what Benioff is calling the Internet of Customers must be able to bridge the gap in their contact centers between operation efficiencies and customer experience. Customer-centric enterprises like Apple, Amazon and Zappos have reaped the benefits of this approach for a long time. The lesson here is clear: differentiate yourself based on the experience you deliver to customers, not on the products you sell.

Transera offers cloud-based software solutions for contact centers. Photo by Highways Agency.

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