future-proof contact center

5 Ways to Future-Proof Your Contact Center

A perfect storm is brewing in the land of the contact center. You are prepared, aren’t you? 
There is a clear trend to the research and thought leadership published by contact center and customer experience (CX) experts these days: the times they are a’changing – and rapidly.
Now is possibly the last chance you’ll have to prepare yourself for the storm’s break. Here are five points to consider.

1. Recognize the rapidly changing customer environment

Firstly, let’s take a look at today’s customers.

It goes without saying, I hope, that these people are digital natives. They’re online and connected for the greater part of the day, shifting seamlessly between desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone.

‘Demanding’ doesn’t even begin to describe. They expect greater service and product performance. We’re talking amazing post-purchase support alongside convenience and competitive pricing. And to be clear: they deserve these things.

Today’s customers are fickle. They are more informed. Sometimes – and here we have Google to thank – they’re more knowledgeable than the organization’s contact center or sales staff(!).

The key point: we’re talking about people who do not have the patience for typical call and contact centers.

And let’s not forget that they are hugely influential. Individually they may have several thousand followers, friends and professional links – and they’re particularly vocal when it comes to customer service failures.

Few organizations are appropriately prepared for this new customer norm. This is largely because so many still resist change in an environment that demands agility above perhaps any other trait.

But c’mon. You have to realize by now that the customer experience is everything.

Behold the dark clouds gathering!


The new to-do:

  • Take all appropriate steps to ensure that your organization truly understands your customers. Remember to segment, and segment again.
  • Use analytics to dig down into your historical contact center data to uncover significant trends in your measurements.
  • Ensure everybody decision-maker truly understands the rapidly changing CX (It helps to point out the financial implications of these changes.)


2. Envision the customer engagement center of the future

The philosopher Victor Hugo put it perfectly: ‘There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.’ The contemporary customer engagement center is exactly that idea.
And it’s very real. It’s at the heart and soul of the organization’s ability to deliver a breathtaking customer experience. And here’s the thing: it’s being deployed by forward-thinking organizations right now.


What do customers demand and expect?

By 2020, true omnichannel – the ability to deliver a consistent customer experience across every single touchpoint – will be standard. And as for customer demands? Any time. Any Place. Any channel. Any device. Low effort. Fast Response. Availability 24/7, 365 days a year. They will expect self-service portals, sophisticated apps and instant access to online information.

There are also strong indications that customers will become far more vocal and insistent about opt-in and permission-based communication; they’ll bring the same expectations to bear on the disclosure of the profiles you have on them. Legislation will support this trend.

Customers are demanding rewarding conversations with their providers, both in a virtual and a physical sense. And if you want to forge – and keep – high-value customer relationships, you’ll need to meet this demand.

That’s precisely what today’s leading-edge contact center platform will deliver. And a lot more.


The new to-do:

  • Fully investigate the ability of your call center, contact center or customer interaction center to meet customers’ expectations, now and into the next five years. This is a complex process, and it can take some time – so get started!
  • Build accurate financial models to establish the true costs of providing live-agent customer service, on a contact- and channel-type basis.
  • At the same time, model the financial implications of factors such as customer churn, retention, and lifetime value. These should be factored into your total cost of ownership when you’re considering your technology.
  • Craft realistic return-on-investment models to illustrate the risks associated with failing to meet customer expectations. (For example: loss of market share, declining revenues and escalating costs.)


3. Focus on the employee experience

Gone are the days when ‘lowly’ call center agents working in sweat-shops were the industry standard. Gone are the days when hugely complex call center back-end technologies demanded that agents access multiple systems and screens in a maze of alt-tab keystrokes and error-prone cut-and-paste routines.

The total contact center employee experience has changed for the better. Customer engagement technologies are becoming as intuitive as the apps most frontline employees are so familiar with.

The upshot? Far more empathetic contact center personnel, far more rewarding customer conversations, and far better customer experiences. In short, the contact center becomes a significant value center.

In the not-too-distant future, as customer self-service platforms grow ever more sophisticated, mundane interactions will be handled by automated systems. This doesn’t mean robots will replace agents – rather, it means the demands that filter through to agents will become more complex and challenging.


The rise of the super agent

Globally, analysts concur with the prediction that the modern customer interaction center will soon be staffed by so-called super agents. These agents will have the knowledge, experience and skills necessary to resolve issues where automated assistance may have failed.

Super agents will need to be experts with superb communication skills, EQ, empathy, tenacity and resilience, along with the ability to handle high cognitive load. They will also need to be technically adept and capable of reaching out to specialized knowledge workers throughout the organization to support customers quickly.

An important note: agents of this caliber must be empowered to make significant decisions and commitments on behalf of the organization. Strategies, policies, processes, systems and training will need to support this.

It also stands to reason that super agents will be more experienced, more mature, and therefore significantly costlier to the organization, pound for pound. To make the most of them – and ensure they stick around – you’ll need tip-top organizational culture, working environment and technology.

(And trust us, you will want them to stick around.)


The new to-do:

  • Carry out an internal assessment of your agents for attitude, aptitude and the competencies required going forward.
  • Re-evaluate your recruitment, training, coaching, mentoring, career-pathing, quality monitoring and performance management strategies, methods and techniques.
  • Start building a personal growth culture in your operation. Ensure your contact center evolves to become a highly sought-after career opportunity.


4. Design customer-centered, empathy-driven processes

Processes are at the heart and soul of the customer experience. In the majority of cases, customer engagement processes will make or break any sales or service interaction.

Deliberately designed customer experiences will focus on the degree of excellence of the customer’s journey across all touchpoints. These carefully crafted customer journeys will take all physical and emotional factors into account, and will deliver amazing experiences in line with the brand’s promise.

Experience design does not entail simply mapping the ‘as is’ processes and streamlining them. Processes designed from an empathy-driven or customer-centered perspective will immediately highlight high-effort obstacles and constraints.

Experience design must carry your strategy and inform your tactics. It needs to yank down silos so as to involve everyone in the organization, regardless of role.


The new to-do:

  • Ensure that all significant (‘as is’) processes in and through your contact center are mapped and documented in terms of globally recognized standards.
  • Establish cross-functional development and re-engineering teams across all business units, especially those that control points where customers touch the brand. Rework processes from an empathetic, customer-centered
  • Analyze processes for their potential for interaction analytics, automation and added-value offerings as an integral part of the enhanced customer experience.


5. Just let go of the past – and bid it good riddance

You might call yourself a call center, contact center or customer engagement center. Either way the key thing to recognize is that a business capable of addressing the needs, demands and expectations of today and tomorrow’s customers is a far cry from the voice-based call center of yesterday.

Attempts to introduce omnichannel customer engagement are fraught with the challenges of integration. We see far too many isolated systems – particularly ones that just don’t gel with one another.

These problems become far worse when centers try to get in on interaction and data analytics. Poorly integrated systems make the effective use of machine learning and artificial intelligence – the keys to exceptional customer journeys and consequential revenue gains at scale – all but impossible.


What does the modern interaction center look like?

Today, large numbers of customers already channel-hop, engaging with organizations from multiple angles around a single issue. The astute organization will embrace this reality within the framework of the fully integrated, omnichannel customer engagement model.

To be effective, a customer engagement center must provide a seamless, consistent customer experience across every touchpoint. This necessarily means the experience within the enterprise must be as seamless and consistent.

It has become a strategic baseline for most organizations to deploy true CRM: a real-time single view of the customer, including all historical transaction and interaction data across all channels and devices.

Going forward, intelligent skills and resource-based routing systems that remember their customers will be critical to delivering the ultimate experience. Understanding the customer’s intent and steering them to the most appropriate resource will be absolutely fundamental.

Interaction analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence are the keys to getting this all right.


The new to-do:

  • Ensure you have deep knowledge of the organization’s customers
  • Audit your business strategies and tactical requirements. If you haven’t documented these well, now’s the time to do so.
  • Craft the architecture and functional requirements for the customer engagement center for 2020 and beyond.
  • Engage with technology providers to find out how well they deal with omnichannel customer conversations. Look for business intelligence, operational savings, and just plain better customer experiences.
  • Explore new customer engagement platforms. Evaluate your findings in terms of business objectives and both customer and agent experience.

As you might have gathered, a lot of work is required to break into the new way of doing things. That’s because contact centers traditionally have a huge amount of inertia to deal with. Whatever you do, combat the roots of that inertia at every opportunity.

Because it really is sink-or-swim time.

Click to read more advice about the customer experience.