Moving the Contact Center from a Cost Burden to a Strategic Asset

It’s remarkable that in today’s high-tech customer service environment, one company has managed to turn “press zero to talk to a human” into not just a selling point, but a major advertising campaign. You’ve probably seen the Citibank commercial in which the poor guy is on the phone trying to get through to a live person and at the same time is attempting to cook dinner on the stove about ten feet away. When the stove catches on fire, he refuses to hang up the phone and continues to plod through the seemingly endless maze of telephone prompts. Not wanting to risk losing the progress he’s made, he then extends a broom over to the stove in attempt to extinguish the flame and the broom catches on fire. His next attempt involves spraying a bottle of champagne on the flame as complete mayhem erupts.

Like all good comedy, it’s the underlying real-world truth of the dilemma that makes it so humorous. In an industry that makes use of some of the most advanced communications technology, businesses are discovering that many contact centers continue to operate at suboptimal levels. Until recently, most service-oriented contact centers have concentrated primarily on managing incoming interactions, with the main focus on improving speed and efficiency.

While “speed of answer” remains a core quality metric for many organizations, answering the phone quickly is only part of the equation. If the agent answering the phone lacks the necessary knowledge and skill level to solve the customer’s issue, then the only thing the company has accomplished is upsetting its customer 20 seconds sooner. Efficiency is still critical, but as a singular goal is not effective at leveraging the intimacy of regular customer interaction to proactively add value to customer relationships and build loyalty.

While some great leaps in efficiency and quality have been made over the past decade, contact centers are still in the early stages of evolution. One of the biggest changes in recent years is a shift in priorities. Rather than focusing on reducing costs and making communication more efficient, contact centers are implementing technology to help them increase revenue and win customer loyalty. At the same time, there’s been a change in the view of customer service from a detached business function to an integrated set of business processes. As a result, organizations have sought to elevate customer service from an isolated part of the business to a strategic enterprise asset.

Optimizing effectiveness
The effectiveness of an interaction is essentially determined by its outcome. Generally, contact center managers assess the desired outcomes as quality, customer satisfaction and value-creation. These objectives can be further refined by considering the needs and expectations of customers and the needs and expectations of the organization. While the operational imperatives of each organization are different, the fundamental objectives of managing contact center performance remain the same: optimize the effectiveness of each interaction with the customer, and optimize the efficiency of those interactions. Interestingly, these two objectives are strongly entwined. That is, often, solutions and strategies for improving the effectiveness of interactions also directly improve the efficiency of processing interactions, and vice-versa.

While contact centers have become more sophisticated, there are still significant opportunities to optimize the use of resources, transform the customer experience, add value and multiply returns. Many simple technology solutions have been available to contact centers for years, but have simply not been applied in a way that maximizes their capabilities.

Wes Hayden is president/CEO of Daly City, CA-based contact center solutions provider Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories.

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