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The Future of Contact Center Technology Lies Not in the Technology Itself

By Lara Ponomareff, Practice Leader, CEB


Lara Ponomareff, Practice Leader, CEB

Social, mobile, .speech analytics, omni-channel, and the Cloud. Today’s contact center technology landscape is full of new, sophisticated solutions that seem to offer endless possibilities and potential for engaging with customers.

There are also hot discussion topics in the contact center space. When I speak with service leaders around the world, they often bring up the latest technology they heard about from their peers or at a conference, wantingan opinion on its effectiveness.

One of my first questions is often, “What is your goal with X technology?” Their response is quite revealing in itself, as many find they haven’t fully considered the answer to this question and are often just focused on the staying ahead of the curve.

At the end of the day, advances in technology should help to achieve the larger goals of a contact center: to improve the customer experience (and therefore customer loyalty) while also maintaining cost efficiencies (through cheaper service channels, streamlined data, etc.).

That is a noble and powerful objective for these technologies, but one that is not always achieved. I’ve seen instances of technology investments that seemed like a good idea at the time, but actually ended up hurting the customer experience and costing the company more.

Where It All Falls Apart

Web chat is a prime example. While it is often cited as a way to provide real-time support for customers in a channel they prefer at a lower cost for the company, many actually find the opposite to be true. I’ve heard companies launch and then quickly pull web chat once they realize the lower customer satisfaction scores and rising costs.

This led CEB to explore what exactly was behind the prob­lem. A deeper look shows that not all issues are well addressed in web chat – highly technical issues or transactions containing sensi­tive information, for example. Unfortunately, customers don’t know that andthey steer toward to prominent web chat button only to be disappointed.

Here’s how it plays out: After several minutes of back-and-forth to diagnose the issue, the rep recommends the customer call in. Now the customer has to talk with a live rep and must pick up the phone to do so.

That’s a call the customer didn’t want to have to make – and a call the company doesn’t want to take. Our research finds that when a customer has to switch service channels, they are 10 percent more likely to be disloyal.

And, web chat is only one example of many. I’ve seen cases where companies are so overwhelmed by the waves of analytics data, confused by the low usage of an app that was meant to save customers timeor surprised by the backlash from their social media efforts that they are essentially stunned to inaction or pull back from these technologies all together.

The Importance of Customer Effort

What is at the root of these customer behaviors? In short, customer effort – what customers feel they have to do in order to resolve their issue, solve a problem or complete a transaction. We find that reducing customer effort is the single most valuable thing a service organization can do to contribute to the customer’s experience and overall loyalty. In fact, 96 percent of customers with high-effort service interactions are more likely to be disloyal, as compared to just nine percent with low-effort interactions. Switching channels, having to repeat oneself, and being forced to deal with frustrating policies and processes are just some of the drivers of customer effort that service organizations often unintentionally have in place. When customers are forced to endure these high-effort interactions, they are frustrated and more disloyal as a result.

It’s About Your Customers and Your Talent

While new technologies have great potential for customer service, they can only be fully reached if two things are true:

a) They are designed and implemented with the customer – specifically customer effort – in mind; and

b) The company creates processes and even a culture that fully enable the technology to reach its objectives

It is these often forgotten or de-prioritized steps that can separate a successful technology launch from an unsuccessful one. Let’s take each in turn.

Uncovering what customers actually want is a tricky task. For example, customers may say they want a mobile app, but when it is developed they never download and use it. In fact, CEB found that while customers might tell you they want more choices and options, when actually faced with more choice they quickly become overwhelmed and frustrated. In fact, our data finds that 84 percent of customers say they would prefer fast and easy resolution over being in the service channel of their choice. What customers want instead is guidance – someone to help them to and through the fastest and easiest way to solve their problem.

Given this, many companies are taking time to map out the impact of a new technology on their customer – even if it isn’t considered customer-facing. They watch customers interact with the technology to learn how it impacts their behaviors and workflows, and where the technology confuses or frustrates them. With this feedback in hand, they can either delay a new technology launch or they configure the technology to better meet the true needs of the customer.

While this is an important step, it isn’t the only one. A technology that brings simplicity and ease to customers is only as good as the processes and people behind it. Whether it is building a sustainable knowledge management system or an agile social media strategy, companies are heavily investing in their talent management to successfully implement change management, upskilling and incentives to adopt these new technologies. This includes identifying and removing any barriers to adopting new employee behaviors. Oddly enough, successfully adopting these new technologies requires a huge focus on your people.

At the end of the day, you must ask yourself two important questions: Does the technology make your customers’ lives easier? And, is it fully supported by the processes and culture of your organization? Your focus should be less about the technology itself and more about the customer. Only then will you be on your way to delivering the level of service that secures their loyalty. And in the end, isn’t that all what we’re striving for?

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