Dec 19 2013

From Contact Center to Customer Engagement Center

Good customer service means doing far more than just answering the phone.

It’s all about engaging with the customer on their terms. And the payoff is well worth it; by truly engaging the customer, a company can permanently impact the customer experience and ultimately, the customer’s lifetime value to the company. But despite its importance, the ICMI survey found that only 25 percent of companies feel that their customers are extremely engaged with their brand.

The solution is multipronged, requiring a combination of revised organization objectives, technology and creative thinking. The first step, Matt Holbrook, a contact center solution architect at CDW, is to rethink the company’s mission statement and then further refine that statement for individual business units, always keeping the customer in mind. He suggests using quality monitoring and management tools to help refine those mission statements and use surveys to gauge interaction across every communication channel the company uses.

“You have to be able to quantitatively identify where the interactions you’re having with your customers are meeting your mission statement and when they aren’t,” he says. “Based on the results, put together a program that provides training and mentoring to staff so it can meet those objectives and transform it into an engagement center.”

There are many enabling technologies to help contact centers become true engagement centers, including customer relationship management or CRM (for a unified view of customer data), social media, analytics and even call recording. For example, a call recording and analytics application could work together to detect stress levels in a caller’s voice. If it detects stress, it notifies the agent and suggests ways that the agent could steer the conversation in a different direction.

“It’s a combination of social media, analytics and modern web-based desktops that provide all of the information an agent needs to really engage the customer. That’s what results in a more direct, high-quality interaction between the company and the customer,” says Peter Milligan, solutions marketing manager of Cisco’s Customer Collaboration group.

Matching Customers with Agents

The other piece of the puzzle is being able to intelligently match the right contact center agent with the right customer and the right channel. It’s not easy, but it pays off.

“There are different skill sets required depending on the channel, and the typical call center agent who is used to interacting via phone might not have the right skills to interact well in a chat session,” says Tim Smith, a senior analyst at Nemertes Research.

Conversely, an agent handling email may not be good at handling voice communications. Some agents may be better sticking with one channel, while others may be adept at handling multiple channels simultaneously (talking to a customer while also interacting with that customer via online chat, for example). The key is being able to accurately identify the skill sets of specific agents and make sure they get the training they need.

The best way to do this is with workforce optimization software such as Cisco Unified Workforce Optimization or Verint Impact 360, which can be incorporated into the contact center. These tools help contact centers identify the right fit for any given interaction.

Creating a true customer engagement center also means incorporating intelligence into the interaction whenever possible. One way to add intelligence to the process is through what Cisco calls precision routing.

“Basically, it turns skills-based routing on its head,” Milligan explains. “Before, when you had an agent who learned a new skill you would have had to add that agent to all of the appropriate skill groups. With precision routing— as an example — you can push training to new agents logging on, followed by a certification exam. If the agent passes the exam, the system will automatically add the agent to the appropriate skills groups without the need for administrative involvement.”

Another way to add intelligence to the contact center is by better identifying who the customer is — where they are calling from, whether they are an existing or new customer, what account information exists for them, etc. With that type of information, agents can avoid annoying customers by asking for information the customer already has entered into the system, or that he expects the agent to know (such as account number, or whether the customer has recently visited the company’s website). And by knowing as much information as possible in advance, agents can be much more effective in suggesting products and services and anticipating questions.

Engaged and Intelligent Customer Service

As technology matures and companies become more tuned into what their customers want, contact centers will become even more engaging and intelligent.

“I can envision a situation where a customer is talking about a product and asks a detailed question that the agent can’t answer. The agent would be able to quickly access some directory tools within their organization and immediately zero in on the person who could answer the question and bring them into the interaction,” Smith says.

It can be done today, although many contact centers aren’t ready to make that leap. By incorporating a presence solution like Cisco Jabber or Microsoft Office Communicator, for example, agents would be able to identify available experts, chat with them, conference them into a customer call or transfer a customer call to them.

Another route might be something like eGain KnowledgeAgent, which adds intranet or extranet access to a company’s knowledgebase to the mix. With this information, contact center agents can provide the specific information a customer requests.

While the call center of yesterday is morphing into the engagement center of today, time and technology will continue to march on. By investing in tools and infrastructure that can grow with the company, the contact center — or whatever it will be called in the future — will be ready, willing and able to serve the customer.