Sam Darwish is a serial entrepreneur who recently launched ServiceDemand. Sam has years of experience in sales, operations and startups.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the way we work can turn on a dime. And that couldn’t be more true for the contact center industry.
When many people hear the term “contact center,” they picture a building with rows upon rows of service agents sitting at their desk with a headset and computer. However, with the variables we have had this year, businesses have had to shift to enabling more work-from-home agents.
Businesses have also had to deal with changes in demand. Some industries, like financial services, have seen sharp increases in call volumes and have added new support lines to keep up. The travel industry saw a massive spike at the beginning of the pandemic as customers changed or canceled travel plans, and then their volume significantly dropped.
What is a contact center and why does it matter?
If you aren’t exactly sure what a contact center is, think of it as a touch point between a customer and a business. If you had to cancel a flight in the last few months, you probably didn’t call a support representative’s direct line. You dialed a toll-free number, started a live chat online or sent an email. The airline more than likely used contact center technology to figure out how to route you to someone who could assist you.
There are a few benefits to using a contact center solution:
- Improved first-call resolution. Customers don’t like to call multiple times for the same issue. A contact center will route the call to the most qualified person and provide them with the insight and tools they need to solve the problem the first time.
- Measurable customer service metrics. Contact centers track everything. How long did a customer wait on hold? How quickly was a call handled? Businesses can get a detailed picture of how well they are performing to determine if they need additional (or fewer) resources or whether they need to coach and train their current resources.
- Reviewable interactions. Calls can be recorded. Messaging conversations have transcripts. Supervisors or owners can review each interaction to enhance conflict resolution or improve agent performance.
- Advanced service options. Contact centers can allow businesses to use self-help capabilities to enable customers to solve simple tasks without involving a live agent. They can also modernize customer service by offering additional contact options besides voice.
How digital enablement is driving customer service
That last point is an interesting one. I have worked in the contact center industry for over 20 years, and I have seen them evolve from voice-only to offering new channels such as text messaging, live chat and social media. You may hear the term “omnichannel” when describing a contact center. Omnichannel doesn’t just mean offering every channel to customers; it means taking all of the channels you provide and presenting them in a single, consolidated view for your agents.
This evolution of offering text-based channels (SMS, live chat, email, etc.) for customer service is called “digital enablement” or “digital transformation.” The logic behind it is simple: The younger you are, the more you communicate using messaging. Voice is often an afterthought for millennials and younger generations. When it comes to contacting a business, voice is a channel they typically use only when other methods fail or are not available.
Features like voice and chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) help enable automation and self-service capabilities. Bots have advanced over the years. While they were once considered an annoyance, more people have a favorable opinion of them now. With AI, the bot can recognize customer intent and provide quick responses to common queries. For businesses, any task that can be addressed without a live person saves them money.
Is your contact center solution flexible and responsive?
I’ve recently been working with a company that offers communications solutions that allowed me to reinvent the way customers communicated with us. They can collaborate and interact with us through omnichannel experiences, with messaging, voice and video collaboration and customer engagement offerings.
My company provides business process outsourcing — the human capital for customer engagement. Just a few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to provide support for those displaced by a recent disaster. They needed a single number they could use to help them find a place to stay as they traveled from one state to another.
There was a very tight window for this project. With other solutions, deployment can take weeks, even months. If I had waited that long, the business need would have long since passed. With the communications tool we picked, I was able to get a solution in place in a matter of hours. Being able to respond to my needs quickly is critical because emergencies like the one we encountered happen quite often.
While voice is still dominant, preferences are changing. Web chat is growing in popularity, and social media has become a must-have. Beyond that, who knows?
There are plenty of contact center providers out there, and for the most part, they all offer the same basic features. If you are looking to implement a new contact center or switch to another one, here are a few questions to consider:
- Can it help you solve the business problems you have today?
- Is it flexible enough to adapt to changing work styles and time-sensitive opportunities?
- Will it evolve over time to help your business keep up with the latest trends in customer service?
If the solution you are looking at can answer all of those questions with a “yes,” your customers will thank you.
Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?