Contact centres: Right-channeling and 2014's other biggest trends

30th Jan 2014

Often overlooked by marketing departments, the call centre came into the spotlight in 2013 as a valuable channel for driving customer loyalty. A critical component in improving the customer experience and informing CRM processes, the call centre of 2014 is moving to the front line, fostering relationships and gathering valuable data from key customers.

As advancements in call centre technologies transform the call centre from a cost centre to a profit centre, business leaders will increasingly take notice of the value call centres contribute not only to the bottom line but also to the loyalty-generating customer experience.

To kick off 2014, call centres will continue to make customer care and loyalty a top priority by embracing multichannel approaches as well as real time analytics tools to make insights actionable. The focus will shift away from strict cost-cutting and towards techniques and technologies that demonstrably improve the customer experience. Below are Spoken’s top predictions for enterprise call centres in the coming year:

1. Right-channeling takes centre stage

In the age of smartphones, tablets and social media, consumers are increasingly turning to multiple channels beyond the telephone to communicate with brands. While voice is still the most popular channel for customer service, non-voice channels are gaining popularity.

In fact, Forrester Research estimates that 33%  of consumers prefer online customer service rather than calling a live person. Embracing the telephone and beyond, the next generation of call centres is embracing "right channeling" and empowering consumers to use the channel(s) of their choice, such as mobile, online or tablets, for customer service communications.

In 2014, a multichannel contact centre providing consistent service across channels will become the cornerstone for modern companies’ customer service success. In the coming months, we’ll continue to see contact centres strategise infrastructure needs to incorporate chat, social media, SMS, smartphone apps and web functionalities into their platforms. All of these will contribute to providing a consistent, personalised customer experience.

2. Green light the virtual workforce

The work-from-home model suffered severe blows in 2013 after several big players, such as Yahoo!, banned employees from working remotely. But for contact centres, the remote workforce model has proven quite attractive: it cultivates happier agents, which translate into better customer service. In terms of operational implementation, the most common model for initial deployment is a hybrid one, in which a staff of full-time agents work at the brick-and-mortar facility, while a team of at-home agents fills peak hours and graveyard shifts.

The work-from-home model has significant benefits: it allows enterprises to hone in on cost efficiencies and provide quality customer service rather than focusing on the high overhead costs required to support a brick-and-mortar call centre. Additionally, the ability to recruit qualified talent regardless of geography leads to higher agent retention rates. According to IT consulting giant ICD, nearly 310,000 home-based agents will be working in the US by 2013, up from 112,000 in 2007. In the coming year, call centres will continue to adopt the remote model as business leaders see the cost savings, increased productivity and increased agent retention attached to it - not to mention the improved customer service provided by a happier workforce.

3. Turning data into real-time action

Managing and analysing the big data deluge is a challenge that jumped front and centre in 2013. No longer an issue of simply capturing and storing the data, this year we saw much debate over the considerable challenge of how to use big data to inform specific action and improve business processes. According to a recent survey conducted by the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI), 48%  of contact centres collect and report on data that they don't ever use.

For the majority of call centres, post call performance metrics are still the primary use of Big Data - which proves useless for agents dealing with callers in real-time. Flying blind, agents struggle to provide effective customer service without access to up-to-the-minute information on the specific customer’s account. As the new hub for customer interaction data, enterprise contact centres are starting to embrace real-time analytics tools that uncover and analyse consumer context and sentiment, enabling agile agent response and more effective customer service. In 2014, contact centres will shift away from dependence on post-call analytics towards real-time tools and metrics that provide immediately actionable data to impact outcomes of live calls.

The call centre is no longer just a cost centre. As the front line tool for improving the customer experience and increasing customer loyalty, business leaders are increasingly turning to the call centre to gain insights into customer needs and to provide benchmarks for continued customer loyalty. Transforming call centres into customer loyalty engines that support a positive and seamless customer experience will be the biggest challenge for enterprises in 2014. The coming year will bring with it increased visibility into both agent and consumer behaviour, giving supervisors, agents and line of business owners the tools they need to improve the customer experience and generate loyal customers. As consumer demands and expectations heighten, advancements in call centre technologies will give enterprises the competitive edge they need to break through the noise.

Howard Lee is the CEO of Spoken, provider of Cloud-based platform for contact centres. 

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