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Karen Schwartz Predicting The Call Center of the Future

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By Karen D. Schwartz

More Technology, More Contact Channels or More of the Same?

If you do a search on “contact center of the future”, you’ll find plenty of predictions for what the contact center will look and function like in 10 or 20 years. Most of the predictions run along the same lines—that contact centers will have sophisticated technology like universal queuing, multi-channel integration, speech analytics, load balancing across channels, expert agents, geographically dispersed call center representatives, sentiment analysis, and take full advantage of whatever social media is most prevalent at the time.

Although that is by far the prevalent view, not all agree. Some, like Michael Barbagallo, president and principal analyst of Shenandoah Analytics in Bluemont, VA., believe that the contact center as we know it today may not exist in the future.

The reason, he says, is the push—pull of the profit equation. For many years, the contact center was seen as a necessary evil for companies. It wasn’t designed to be profitable, just to provide customer service. But the drive to rework the contact center as a profit center, as many companies are doing today, may just drive it out of business altogether.

If the goal is profit, that means doing whatever it takes to make money—not only selling more, but decreasing internal costs. Add to that the fact that software technologies like expert systems and unified communications have made their way inside the four walls of the corporation, softening the boundaries between the contact center and the corporation—and the fact that corporations already have experts in most of the areas customers call about and that consumers are getting more comfortable with self-service—and you have a situation ripe for that “Aha” moment.

That may lead more companies going the specialist route. One scenario is that specific employees within departments like billing, website management and inventory will be designated to take calls pertaining to those areas. A question on billing, for example, would go directly to the person in the billing department designated to handle them. Many contact center thought leaders are now wrestling with whether such decentralization is really just a reallocation of resources and trying to understand the impact to cost and customer service from such a move.

That being said, nobody—including Barbagallo—believes that technology will ever get to the point where it will completely overtake human interaction. Even with increased self-service, auto-respondents and virtual avatars, some skeleton of the contact center is likely to remain, in some form, if for no other reason than to handle queries from customers who are simply more comfortable with personal interaction.

So which direction will most call center or contact centers go? Will they employ the latest technologies to enable them to become more responsive and intelligent? Will they rely on the ubiquity of self-service options to handle most queries and bring everything else back in house? Only one thing is certain: change is inevitable, one way or the other. Several contact center theories and change practices are being contemplated by several B2B and B2C brand names. Expect a few new practices to be implemented, and the media (including CRMsearch.com) to place close attention. The rest of us will clearly learn, and possibly benefit, from the actions and results of the pioneers. End

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Author  Author: Karen Schwartz
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Guest Nash Holston
  I'm glad to see you emphasize more self service systems in the call center of the future. When customers have issues or problems they want answers and resolutions from their vendors fast. An increasing number of customers prefer to get their answers 24 by 7 and without having to make a call, get put on hold, get transferred and then either leave a message or talk to an unempowered call center agent. These customers are online, normally well connected among social networks, and prefer to find their information by searching FAQs, forums and knowledgebases. Companies that implement self-service software systems are giving these customers what they want, deflecting calls to the call center and lowering their customer support costs. Companies that continue to ignore self service systems are certain to steadily lose customers to more forward thinking competitors.
 

 

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One scenario for the future is that specific employees within departments like billing, website management and inventory will be designated to take calls pertaining to those areas. Many contact center thought leaders are now wrestling with whether such decentralization is really just a reallocation of resources and trying to understand the impact to cost and customer service from such a move.

 

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