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10 Things to Consider for a Better Contact Center

By Rob Maynard, IT Architect, Cisco


Rob Maynard, IT Architect, Cisco

The contact center is the front line for handling customer inquiries. Corporations, large and small, understand that it’s important to respond to inquiries quickly and effectively. A lot of money is budgeted for customer care departments to meet this growing need and respond via one or more customer contact channels. As evidenced by many stories in the news recently, one small, wrong move and your company could end up on the wrong side of a social media story gone viral. How many times have you heard of someone tweeting about being stuck in a plane on the runway for a few hours? It can make the nightly news and stir up bad publicity for the airline, potentially resulting in customer service headaches for months or years to come.

Many variables affect a contact center ecosystem including the underlying technology, staffing resources, real estate, etc. If your corporate contact center infrastructure is transforming or needs to transform, here are ten top issues you should consider:

1. Call recording: Was one of your agents rude to a customer and you don’t have the evidence? Do important calls go uncaptured because your agents rely on a manual system of pushing a button on a desktop application? Are you required to record all incoming customer calls? Do you suspect that someone in your contact center is passing along insider stock tips or sensitive corporate information?

Call recording is a requirement of many contact centers due to government regulations or corporate compliance. Whether or not it’s required, call recording is a powerful tool that has multiple business uses including training agents, scoring agents, and identifying key areas for improvement. Carefully consider the benefits of call recording to help increase customer satisfaction and bottom-line profits. Evaluate the market and determine which solution may be right for you. Costs vary greatly, and your requirements will determine how much money you invest in a solution.

2. Outsourcing: Do you need to reduce overhead costs? Do you wish you had a contact center staff but can’t afford it?

Outsourcing has been around for decades. Various forms exist, from using a hosting provider for the contact center infrastructure to hiring temporary agents to handle increased call volumes during the holiday season. It is important to do an ROI study when considering outsourcing. Outsourcing doesn’t always mean cost savings. Outsourcing can lead to customer dissatisfaction and lost business. Some big name corporations who outsourced later turned to insourcing because of customer complaints.

3. Mobile agents: Mobile agents are a great way to expand your contact center without expanding your real estate costs. Using a home phone, cellular phone, or softphone with a broadband VPN connection, you can place an agent virtually anywhere you want. Many contact center vendors have this mobile feature capability built into their products.

Numerous companies use mobile agent(s) as a reward for good employees who do not require full-time supervision. Others that are “going green” use the technology to help their employees save gas and the environment at the same time. Consider mobile agent technology no matter what contact center model your company operates.

4. Redundancy: Mother Nature is unpredictable. A snowstorm or hurricane can bring a company to its knees and cause major loss of revenue. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy brought entire regions of the northeast United States to a standstill.

Redundancy (geographical especially) is critical to keeping your contact center up and running at all times and your profits from screeching to a halt. Many contact center vendors provide this important element with their product(s).

“In the constantly changing and challenging world of customer support, it is crucial to respond quickly to demands and needs of your clients”

If you do not already have redundancy in your contact center design, you should talk with your contact center vendor or vendor partner about how you can bulletproof your system. Develop a business contingency plan to mitigate weather and unforeseen events that could bring your system to a standstill. You’ll sleep better at night without worrying about company dollars going down the drain.

5. Work Force Management (WFM): Are there scheduling problems or training issues in your contact center? Do you have quality issues with agents not being able to respond to a customer’s needs? Is your contact center management staff attempting to figure out [concerned about?] how many agents you will need for a new product release or peak holiday purchasing?

Talk with a Work Force Management vendor or vendor partner about how WFM can help you address these situations and many more. WFM is a valuable tool when used correctly. It might improve your contact center efficiency and help you retain employees.

6. Benchmarking: How does your contact center stack up against the competition? What market trends are occurring? Where are contact centers heading? What best practices are being used within the industry? If you want answers to these questions, you need to think about reputable industry sources to turn to about benchmarking.

The International Contact Center Benchmarking Consortium (ICCBC.org) provides thorough data and trends analysis. Data published by IBBC and other sources

can help you discover where you stand within the industry and how you can improve performance or validate current processes. The International Customer Management Institute (ICMI. com) also provides a wealth of knowledge and contact center information. Improving contact center performance could be a critical factor in determining business profit or loss.

7. Call routing: Are your incoming calls being correctly routed to the correct resource? Can you route calls to other call centers in your organization to handle overflow during busy hours or contingency situations?

Calls not routed correctly and callers being bounced around multiple times can lead to customer dissatisfaction and open the door for competitors to steal your business. Contact center technology has grown leaps and bounds in the past decade. Routing voice and data over IP has become the best practice for corporations. Call routing should be evaluated closely. It can help with many situations including call flow improvement, business continuity, staffing and planning, etc.

8. Omni-channel: Are your target markets able to reach you on a channel other than voice? Are you getting all the customer contacts and sales that you can muster? Do you need more than one contact channel? Does your company use social media to respond to customers? Could video help you make more sales?

The demographics of each contact center vary. Knowing your customers is essential to increasing sales and revenue. Voice, email, customer chat, social media, video, visual IVRs, and self-service are all powerful customer channel options that have to be carefully thought out. If your main customer demographic is teenagers who play video games, you might want to think about text messaging as a customer channel. If you’re the airline in the example I mentioned above, you want to be able to monitor and respond to customers quickly and mitigate the situation as best you can. The faster you can respond, the less chance there is for the situation to go downhill. If seniors are a big part of your market, you might want to ensure that they can call you via a voice channel. Knowing your customers and the channels they use can define corporate success or failure.

9. The right staff: Is agent turnover high in your contact center? Are you running a sweatshop? Do you allow flex hours?

Let’s face it. The people who answer incoming customer calls are very important to your organization. Turnover is rampant in many contact centers. Not having the proper staffing and knowledge can result in lost sales and a negative impression of your company. Flexible work schedules, agent sales incentive programs, and a comfortable work environment will go a long way to boost employee satisfaction. Keeping your employees happy will result in lower turnover, greater agent retention, higher customer satisfaction, and potentially more profits.

10. Speech self-service technology: Do you want to reduce agent headcount and overhead? Are your customers open to self-service alternatives?

Speech self-service is a very effective tool for allowing your customers to obtain the information they need without speaking to an agent. It can also reduce hold times and increase customer satisfaction. Many corporations (airlines, finance, and utilities) employ this technology.

The market is booming with newly developed speech technology. The capability to deliver an effective speech platform for your customers increases every day. Major companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Nuance, and IBM all are investing heavily in this area to drive the speech-enabled market forward.

While not a comprehensive list of everything that should be considered when transforming your contact center, these ten items can help to increase the effectiveness of how your contact center serves your customer base and how your company stacks up against the competition. The list can help facilitate discussions from the executive offices down to the contact center agents at the frontline. In the constantly changing and challenging world of customer support, it is crucial to respond quickly to demands and needs of your clients. Companies that do not adjust to market trends are in danger of losing customers and revenue.

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