2012 - The year the contact center dies

2012 - The year the contact center dies

Summary: This year we’ll see smart devices start to replace the call center as the primary interaction channel.


Commentary - In 2011, we truly became a connected world - a world where it is a rare occurrence to find ourselves cut off from others. This has now extended to every facet of our lives. Mobile phones are predicted by Gartner to overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide. WiFi is so widely available in major metropolitan areas that most tablet users don’t even need a wireless data plan. Tablet sales grew 264 percent in 2011 over the previous year and this year, Yankee Group is predicting the sale of almost 25 million tablets in the US. Mobile devices are showing up in a range of locations and instances - mobile and internet equipped automobiles, Smart meters to provide near instantaneous readings of actual energy usage, WiFi equipped flights and more.

What this all translates to is an increase in the demands consumers and business users are placing on the companies they engage with, both in terms of the interaction channels and availability for accessing customer service. These connected devices are becoming the preferred communication medium for many, and in 2012, we’ll see these smart devices start to replace the call center as the primary interaction channel.

It won’t happen all at once, and not everyone will prefer this channel, but the benefits for both consumers and businesses are compelling enough that both will contribute to a major communication shift. Businesses want to strengthen and improve customer relationships; customers want the most value out of their products and services for the least amount of money. For this to occur in a competitive market, businesses need to not only provide that value, but make it visible to the customer.

Meeting customer needs in 2012
With smartphone traffic on wireless networks expected to increase 700 percent over the next five years (Morgan Stanley, Nov 2010), customers will look to this channel as the primary communications portal for services and method of communication for several reasons.

  • Maximized value – A key benefit of customer service on smart devices is that it offers greater transparency into the value customers are receiving and products/services that are offered. Apps on these devices have the capability to offer tailored plans, products and promotions, based on their data usage, plan features and what they may find valuable based on past behavior and preferences. For example, if a customer has gone over their text messaging limit for a few months, a smart app can make the recommendation that it would be beneficial for the customer to upgrade to unlimited text messaging to get more value for their money. Customers who purchase certain pay-per-view programs could receive a recommendation to upgrade their service to include one or more premium channels. The result is the delivery of relevant and tailored offerings.
  • Information accessibility – It’s not enough just to provide a mobile channel – mobile applications create an opportunity to provide greater access to information customers need. When calling a call center, customers are subject to the agent telling them something or giving them access to certain information. On mobile devices, customers can access billing information directly, troubleshoot and fix issues, view “how to” information on features and services, or ask questions.
  • Powerful search capabilities – Smart devices not only enhance accessibility, but they also improve the method of interaction – particularly when a customer seeks to troubleshoot a problem or find answers to their questions. The benefit of touch, type and talk capabilities that smart devices provide is that customers can use the method that is most convenient for them at that time – and it may be a blended method. To be most effective, the mobile search options need to have a certain level of understanding. Intelligent apps will take what someone speaks or types and translate that to what their intent was based on deep knowledge of the customer. This results in the presentation of the correct answer or a significantly narrowed set of menu options.

Business benefits in 2012
In today’s crowded market, companies are struggling to differentiate themselves from their competitors; in many cases, the playing field is level when it comes to products, services and pricing plans. Increasingly, customer service is becoming a key driver for organizations looking to distinguish themselves by providing unique and effective customer experiences. Smart devices have changed how consumers communicate with one another and the companies with which they do business. Companies that recognize this change and create customer service strategies and tools that leverage these connected devices will have a real opportunity to impact their bottom line and retain and grow their customer base.

  • Customer loyalty - By connecting with customers on the go, companies create a sense of customer loyalty, which translates to retention as customers choose to stay with the company, and ideally grow in what services they use, products they buy and the amount they spend.
  • Call deflection/cost reduction – Calls previously handled by contact center agents are addressed directly by consumers through direct access to information and troubleshooting tools and diagnostics. This will also aid in driving down costs.
  • Consistency across all interaction channels – By keeping information up to date and consistent through a smart mobile app, customers receive the same answer regardless of channel. This enables a deeper understanding of customer relationships (types of products and services they use, current location, past usage, payments, preferences) to deliver a tailored and personalized experience.
In today’s business environment, there’s a heightened need to remain competitive. New and innovative smart devices are hitting the market rapidly and consumers are looking to them as the primary communication hub for all of their services. Blind loyalty cannot be expected as customers know they have choices, and will prefer to do business with those companies who can enhance the user experience and meet their needs when and where they are expecting it. As smart devices – tablets, smartphone and otherwise – gain widespread adoption and providers offer rich service features on the go, call centers will become a secondary mode of communication, no longer preferred by the masses.

Scott Kolman is Senior vice president of marketing at SpeechCycle, a leading provider of customer self-service solutions. For more information about SpeechCycle, visit their website or follow them on Twitter @SpeechCycle.

Topics: Hardware, CXO, Enterprise Software, Laptops, Mobility, Software, Tablets, Wi-Fi

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  • RE: 2012 - The year the contact center dies

    I have never experienced a web portal, mobile app, email interaction, or have an online chat with an agent fully resolve a complex interaction. Calling the call center dead is a bit like saying you will only need the nurse and never the doctor. Interesting article, but title does not do it justice.
  • The year the contact center dies.

    Having effort to contact agents from various centers really get customer pissed off most of the time. Staying on the phone for roughly half an hour (you're lucky enough to get someone on the line) or even an hour or more sometimes, to get the issue fixed. Call centers are that powerful in way that companies relied to them for the benefits of their customers. Thousands of job vacancies have helped many People in different countries. Now if smartphones would be the highest comepetitor of these agents, and it would work out. Companies selling these devices will get richer and richer. If that thing happens many would be jobless. They should set aside the things that could have a big impact towards currently employed agents. These effects will not only strike the lives of the people but as well of the economic growth of ones country. Though they could get percentage of sales from these devices through taxes. Why not leave it to the people and get the taxes from them? Im just a student and i might not have that kind of knowledge like them. But im also considering the lives of others that are dependent on these contact centers. And i hope my opinion will be respected.
  • 2012 - The year the contact center dies

    Interesting article. The use of apps and the impact it will have on contact rates and first call resolution will be interesting to watch and track. However I don't think apps alone will end or close the use of contact centers. If anything it may create a "specialized" department similiar to the email/chat departments that many contact centers now have. As technology changes and advances, the more options customers have to resolve issues, inquire about products and services by whatever device is comfortable and convenient to them, is what's going to keep companies in business and customers loyal to that company. Additionally, the growth of technology also brings about more technicial challenges and issues that will still need that one-on-one contact. So whether the customer wants to hear that voice on the other line, or chat via email or use an app, the company that can offer the customer as many options for immediate action and satisfaction will be the company that keeps the customer. And will call centers have to up the anty to be sure their frontline agents are trained and equipped to handle customers no matter which mode of communication is used? You bet they do.
  • Call centers are not dead but they will change.

    2012 Death of the Call Center, I think probably not. Good article, I agree that apps are a growing interaction channel. However, since the author is a SVP of marketing of a company that provides customer self service the article is a bit bias. Customers are using new interactive support channels like facebook, twitter, and phone apps to get information quickly. Many companies are changing their customer support dynamic to accommodate these customers.
    Apps work well for FAQ's, account information, and billing inquiries. Many of the new interaction channels still require someone on the other end to understand the root problem and answer in a way the customer can understand. Even then sometimes the new mediums just are not enough to solve the problem. Companies can save money by sourcing these interactions overseas where representatives often speak and type excellent English, but because of heavy accents many US based customers were turned off by telephone interaction. Even then you fall into the issue that culturally many overseas interactions are flowcharted and scripted to in essence be a first contact resolve or escalate situation.
    The need for well trained representatives that can communicate over the phone and resolve pressing interactions is not going away any time soon. New interaction tools help customers make decisions on products and offer avenues to resolve problems themselves, but ultimately they are only a tool in the cloud of support many corporations have established to stay connected with their customers.
    The call center days as we know it as an office building where representatives commute to on a daily basis are numbered I agree. They are loud, often cramped, and a high overhead cost to build and maintain. The future of call interactions is small training sites with fewer available seats where new hires train and take the first few weeks or months of calls in a traditional center with knowledgable support teams. Then once they have mastered the in's and out's of product support they transition to working from home in a more virtualized environment. In the case of outsource companies multiple lines of business can run out of a call center a quarter of the size of it's predecessors lowering the overall cost of ownership. In the future I would also think that Skype type interactions will be utilized. Why not guided interactions where customers call a representative and are able to connect to a live meeting type presentation where the sales rep walks though offerings while the customer follows along on their tablet. Again these are all tools that better the end customer interaction, but they are driven by knowledgeable experts of their craft.
  • I can name at least two call centers that will never die....

    Like the others who posted a response, I don't feel that the title of this article, while catchy, is 100% realistic. Even with the advent of multi-media contact options and web, mobile, and voice self-service applications and automation, there will always be those customers and industries that drive a need for a live agent. Automation is not always for everyone...Here are two examples: One of my customers has a Tech Support center, for example, for very complex scientific software. The agents are PHDs who answer questions on the software. The average call time is over 20 minutes. In this case, it's unrealistic for them to automate any calls, because they all fit this model. Another one of my customers is a healthcare company, and their key customers are older (60+) and homebound. Many do not have access to the web, a cell phone or understand "IVR self-service". They simply want to call the support center and speak to a live human being, and with the nature of their business making each customer worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, strategically, it makes sense to keep the support model as-is, and give them the "human touch" they want and deserve! :) While the viewpoints here do describe a good majority.....I know of many very unique and specific areas where these rules and concepts do not apply. Twitter: @NextGenCCGrl :)