Thirty years ago, the customer service department was typically a binary play, handling posted letters or complaint forms and telephone calls. Twenty years ago, that world started to evolve, with dedicated call centres set up in response to the huge growth in personal telephony catalysed by the anytime, anywhere capabilities of the consumer mobile phone. In the last decade, those call centres have once again had that binary look to them, with emails or webforms complementing phone calls as routes into customer service teams. And now? Well, now we’re seeing a new era, with call centres morphing into contact centres, and that binary channel simplicity being replaced by multiple channel complexity.
To chart that ‘call to contact’ journey, let’s keep the alliteration going with a run through ‘the 5Cs’ – the causal mix of considerations, catalysts and contexts that have fuelled this latest chapter in customer service.
Channels – We’ve already touched on it: today we have multiple channels back to a retailer or service provider. Developments in communications technology, the universality of consumer apps, the pervasive influence of social media, they’ve all helped to create this ‘omnichannel’ world where there are many different touchpoints between company and customer, and many different ways of opening a dialogue or buying products: from SMS to chat bots, from WhatsApp to Facebook, from ecommerce sites to in-app purchasing.
Organisations are trying hard to be across all those channels, to provide a proper customer service response regardless of route in; but with the back-end management of each channel often having to be handled separately, there’s a limit on how flexible and efficient the contact experience can be. The need now is to move away from that siloed operation: to take all the channels and ‘multiplex’ them into one channel for the customer. Any contact is a single, seamless experience regardless of how it starts and where it finishes: the web chat that can be turned into a phone call at a click, an AI chat bot that can intelligently hand off to a specialised agent, a messaging stream that can turn into a live video call. It’s an uber-simple and satisfyingly seamless exercise for the customer; but for the organisation, this drive to make ‘omni’ optimal demands a major rethink of both call centre infrastructure and process.
Customer experience (CX) – Perhaps the single biggest driver of the contact centre approach is the fact that customers are just more demanding. The always-on world is changing us at a psychological level: on-demand access to things like bank accounts or the ability to buy things immediately or post up photos and garner likes in real-time, they’ve all helped create this intensity around instant gratification, and also of entitlement that ‘we will get the outcome we want – and quickly’.
This dialling up of the CX has huge ramifications: if customers want immediate acknowledgement and first-time resolution; if they just want to look online and buy with minimal clicks; if they no longer want to be passed round agents or to have to repeat themselves time and again; if they want at any time to escalate or alter how a contact is going; if they want to be free to start a contact from anywhere; if they want satisfaction without ever having to interact with a human, or conversely get the answers they need from actually talking rather than typing; if they want all of this, then organisations need to start seriously thinking about how to give it to them.
Cloud – Cloud computing was the final death knell for proximity – you definitely don’t need to be in the same building as your servers anymore. It has brought other freedoms too – of scale and agility, all helping power unprecedented innovation, accelerating refresh and supporting expansion. As on-premises call centres move inexorably towards end-of-life, as the world around demands a greater flex and responsiveness than organisations can achieve with their current call centre provision, at least speedily and cost-effectively, then it’s only natural that IT leaders look to the cloud to help them respond to the omnichannel challenge.
Covid – In the days and weeks that followed the ‘Closed’ sign going up in March 2020, businesses moved heaven and earth to keep things going. Some adapted more easily than others, their success correlating largely to the modernity of their infrastructure, but everyone did get there. Phoning the bank, ringing to reinsure the dog, emailing for that holiday cancellation, everything dealt with as normal, albeit with the customary apology for slightly longer hold times or the baby crying in the background.
One of the most significant takeouts from Covid was that such distributed working was possible, even for something so inherently centralised as a call centre. More importantly, it awakened a desire in the workforce – and acceptance by leadership – for hybrid working. In the world of call centres, suddenly ‘centre’ seems like a real misnomer: a hundred agents in a hundred home offices delivering a decent service proved that workers and systems don’t have to be collocated anymore.
Culturally and operationally, it feels like we have turned a corner: a virtual contact centre where some or all of the agents can work at home – but still have their performance measured – would be a welcome successor to the era of wallboard scrutiny and stringent rules. It would also allow an organisation to fish in a far bigger geographic pool talent-wise, as the UK continues to wrestle with its labour shortages.
- Change – Transitioning from old-style call centres to modern-day, post-pandemic contact centres doesn’t happen without leadership greenlighting the investment. The progressive companies out there know that to stay competitive, attractive, responsive, and respectful of customers, even super-entitled, ‘I want it now’ types, the need for change has to be acknowledged, and the plan for change enthusiastically adopted. The resultant strategy will be built around the technology that best serves, which is the cue for research, due diligence and supplier conversations. Dedicated enterprise solutions, reengineered for omnichannel and the frictionless handing-off of chat to call, or message to video, or bot to human, are finding a natural home amongst those with very large and large customer agent populations. But for those down a level, but still keen to embrace that optimal approach to omnichannel contact, the cost and complexity of enterprise is a big barrier to betterment. Those organisations need another option. Redcentric has just launched its hosted ‘Omnichannel contact centre for Microsoft Teams’ solution as one such option. Designed for those with agent populations of up to 200 and keen to leverage existing Teams investments, it offers multiple channels (voice, web chat, email, social media, WhatsApp and SMS) through which customers can communicate and transact. Users can design the flow of customer interactions within a channel and across different channels to optimise customer service and resource allocation; they can integrate with other third-party applications e.g. ecommerce, payment or CRM solutions; and they can operate for the long-term with a flexible, scalable and robust hybrid working environment for staff, without compromising delivery to customers.
Now ‘the 5Cs’ have got us to this point, best seize the moment: redcentricplc.com/managed-services/communications/omni-channel