Contact Center Shift from Cost Center to Profit Center

New Thinking and Technologies to Advance the Contact Center Mission

Many companies still think of the contact center as a necessary evil. That's unfortunate as they are missing the the opportunity for the contact center to achieve its true mission, and for the company to achieve improved growth.

Traditionally, of course, the contact center was just that—a way to centralize calls to reduce costs. The problem is that being stuck with this philosophy limits both the contact center potential and your investment ROI. Like the technology that powers the contact center, the thinking behind the contact center must evolve. For one thing, social media of all types is forcing significant changes—changes driven by customers and facilitated by the contact center. Getting with the program is a matter of survival.

But it goes beyond that. Think of the contact center not as an expense you have to bear to do business, but as a profit center. But do it smartly; instead of charging back sales related calls to the sales cost center, marketing-related calls to the marketing cost center, and the like, think more broadly.

Think of it as Contact Center 2.0. Your first mission, of course, is to deal with whatever issue is concerning the customer, whether it’s a sale, a complaint, a problem or a return. Here’s the key: Once you have done that, you’ve got a satisfied customer who is probably more amenable to a soft sale.

That means you have to maximize the time you have with your customers while communicating with them. But how do you do that? How do you know what to offer the customer and when they are ready to listen?

Contact Center Technology Can Help

Smart agent desktops are often a first step. These add-on contact center systems aim to bring intelligence into the give-and-take between the call center agent and the customer in order to maximize the mutual experience, both in terms of customer satisfaction and company profits. They collect customer data and follow business process rules set by the company for using that data.

Smart agent desktops have been around for many years, but have recently gotten much smarter, according to Richard Snow, a vice president and research director at Ventana Research. The most innovative smart agent desktops deliver highly relevant and personalized Next Best Offer or Next Best Action prompts—something that can have extremely positive implications if implemented and used correctly.

Basically, the technology collects all information about a customer, including the actions taken during every interaction, including current interactions, by both the caller and the agent. Based on that information, it will suggest to the agent in real time the best response to resolve a thorny issue or the most relevant sales pitch to promote an upsell or cross sale. Smart agent applications become even smarter when integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) software systems and customer analytics programs.

Here’s another idea: incorporating natural language search engines to enhance the customer experience. These technologies, from companies like InQuira, Exalead and Numero, capture customers’ questions from all contact center channels, synthesize the data, analyze it, apply business rules, create queries for each content source that will be searched, and then find answers from those content sources.

And a third: real-time speech analytics. This technology, from companies like Nexidia, Envision, NICE Systems and Utopy, is growing by leaps and bounds. It aggregates the unstructured data that comprises the customer’s voice calls. It then analyzes that data to determine where the contact center can improve the customer experience and the way calls are handled.

Cool stuff. So why aren’t more contact centers using these software technologies? Much of it has to do with awareness. I’m not faulting just contact centers here; the vendors are not doing a great job of promoting the technology either. Better education by the software suppliers, particularly in the form of real-world case studies and ROI business cases, would go a long way in advancing call center software technologies.

The other reason is cost, but that’s shortsighted. Competition is fierce, many solutions are independently proven, and technologies like these bring contact centers squarely into the present. Cost is only a barrier until payback and ROI are justifiably calculated.