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The tech and tools to keep your contact centre at the cutting-edge

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7th Oct 2013

Cloud Computing and social platforms may be the IT trends dominating the contact centre landscape, but there are a host of other technologies that are helping businesses drive value from their call centres.

While Cloud-based infrastructure is the fastest growing area in the call centre industry - doubling in size over the next two years according to DMG - and social media is being wrestled from the hands of the marketing department to support customers over new channels, contact centre managers are also at varying stages along the adoption curve of a number of other disruptive technologies.

MyCustomer.com spoke with some of the leading experts in the contact centre industry to discuss what technologies you would find within leading-edge call centres of today – and that could be commonplace in the service centres of tomorrow.

Speech analytics

The vast majority of information that flows through a contact centre is unstructured and therefore goes to waste, but speech analytics takes a captured call and structures it so that it can be used.

“Because of the business model and the operating environment, in most environments the agents rush through the call, even when the customer gives them really valuable information,” says Donna Fluss, principal of DMG Consulting. “Even if the agent really cares, by the time they get to the hundredth call of the day, how are they going to remember what is happening? As a result, all of this information about the customer normally gets wasted.”

By capturing and analysing this previously untapped information, speech analytics can help businesses in a variety of ways.

  • Drive productivity improvements in the contact centre - “The information from speech analytics can identify the reasons for repeat calls,” says Fluss. “You can identify when there are procedures of policies that are inappropriate. You can identify when agents are doing well or not. One of the primary uses of speech analytics is just to tell managers why people are calling.”
  • Drive improvements in the customer experience - “Speech analytics can also evaluate customer satisfaction with company procedures and policies and can rapidly highlight any performance issues.”
  • Identify revenue opportunities - “A customer may call and ask for a credit line increase so that they can put a down payment on a house, although to give them $10,000 at a 21% rate is not a bad thing to do for the bank, in reality and on a long-term basis you should be giving them an investment instrument. Speech analytics can identify those opportunities.”
  • Deliver customer insights - “Marketing groups invest in focus groups to hear what customers say, but the most natural way to hear from them is when they are in their own living rooms or wherever they happen to be when they call, and that is why speech analytics is so powerful from a marketing standpoint.”

Real-time decisioning and monitoring tools

Speech analytics has been around for many years and is becoming increasingly common in contact centres, but at the other end of the adoption cycle is a far more sophisticated version.

“It is one thing to collect all the call recordings and evaluate them post conversation, which can be done typically on a next-day basis and enables you to find your trends. But with real-time speech analytics the application is making assessments during the conversation, perhaps for instance identifying positive or negative ‘energy in a call and notifying supervisor in real-time,” says Fluss. 

While Fluss estimates there are perhaps only some 10-20 implementations of this in the market presently today, she believes it is something that will emerge strongly over time, as businesses appreciate the benefits of allowing call centre managers to solve issues before they escalate, and immediately respond and adapt to changing conditions.

Art Schoeller, principal analyst at Forrester, also notes that the technology has implications for fraud management. “Real-time monitoring tools mean that you can look at the activity on the agent’s desktop and you can flag up that it’s a great place to cross-sell another product, or a great place in terms of trouble shooting and analysis to ask the customer a specific question. But also, in the fraud category, you can highlight if it looks like the pattern of a conversation that appears fraudulent.”

He adds: “Overall 29% of contact centres are now listening to audio to identify spoken patterns between the agents and customers and for root cause analysis, although of course this 29% aren’t all doing this in real-time.”

Voice biometrics

While voice biometrics (or voice printing) has been around for some time, and adoption remains fairly low, it has some compelling applications for those business willing to tackle the tricky launch process.

“Voice biometrics is useful to mitigate and minimise fraud, but actually its primary use is for verification, where it can dramatically reduce the time of the verification process,” explains Fluss. “It allows organisations to eliminate having to ask callers for their name, social security number and address, when sometimes all they might be phoning for is to ask what the operating hours are, for instance. It can save a tremendous amount of time – anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds per call because some of the verification processes are really involved. So there is real payback. There aren’t a lot of implementations at present – it is not complicated to implement, but it is to roll out – but some organisations are doing a good job with it.”

Video

Contact centres are increasingly capitalising on video to support the service experience, and Forrester research has indicated that almost a fifth of call centre managers are planning to introduce or upgrade video support over the next two years. Video can be used in a variety of ways in the service environment, including how-to videos, video check-in and virtual receptionist, to reduce contact centre costs, convert prospects into buyers and engage existing customers.  

“Video is increasing in popularity and organisations must now consider it as part of the bigger picture of web customer service,” says Gartner analyst analyst Johan Jacobs. He points to the example of Virgin Mobile TV in Australia, which is using video tutorials of 2-3 minutes to take customers through the entire set-up process step-by-step, reducing support calls by 4%. Samsung are also leveraging video for customer tutorials but more intelligently always filming the process rather than actors’ faces so that the voice-over can be changed to suit the market language.

The vendor space is also maturing, with providers such as xtranormal, SundaySky, nimblefish and Whisbi having all emerged onto the scene to offer video chat solutions, software to make how-to videos and video receptionist and conference virtual assistant technology. 

“The world is changing - it is not just one channel and it is about everybody using all their senses,” says Anne Marie Forsyth, chief executive of the Contact Centre Association (CCA). “Young people in particular are now using YouTube as their search engine, they are always looking for a visual to know how to do something so we are moving into a very visual generation.

“NHS 24 is a good example of it being deployed, and they have been using video a lot for diagnosis and saving time in travel. They have been using it in quite an innovative fashion. And I predict that we will start to see video being used more and more.”

Nevertheless, there are still some obstacles to video that need to be overcome. The bandwidth required to support a video app is still very high, while videos also grow old quickly. Furthermore, video is not searchable, and so organisations are struggling to monitor video feedback across social channels.

“Although there is lots of discussion about video, at the moment there is more talk than action,” notes Fluss.

Mobile and mobile apps

With smartphone adoption soaring, mobile integration is emerging as a priority for an increasing number of contact centres, with Forrester reporting that 68% of call centre decision makers suggesting that mobile is important for the long-term success of their customer relationships.

As smartphones are expected to overtake PCs as the primary source of access to the internet by 2015 for US consumers, businesses have been exploring how the devices can support and improve the contact centre experience. This has resulted in the emergence of a number of mobile customer service products hitting the market recently, including Mobile Engagement by Genesys, Mobile Reach by NICE and Interaction Mobilizer by Interactive Intelligence.

Meanwhile, with so many using smartphones and studies showing that many users spend more time using their mobile apps than their mobile internet browsers, there is growing interest in customer service apps.

Air Asia has had some great success with its service app implementation, giving customers the ability to ask questions through their smartphone. The iPhone app has reportedly generated two million downloads, making it the number one selling app in the iPhone App store for Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia and the introduction of the app is said to have resulted in a 40% reduction in contact centre costs.

“Apps are massive,” says Paul Smedley, executive director of the Professional Planning Forum (PPF). “Apps make interfacing easier and quicker than on the website. I use National Rail enquiries with my favourite journeys on it and it has got real-time train information. It allows you to personalise your experience on the mobile phone and they design it so that you don’t need big screens. It is a good way forward because more and more consumers have got their phones with them all the time.”

Desktop analytics

Initially conceived as an application to keep track of everything taking place on employee desktops, desktop analytics has now evolved into a suite of applications that promises to have major implications for both front- and back-office servicing environments.

Designed to analyse and report on employee desktop activity, and improve productivity and quality, desktop analytics consists of five main capabilities: employee activity tracking and process analytics (to identify agent issues), system performance analytics (to identify system issues that hamper staff), employee guidance (providing step-by-step instructions to agents), process automation (collating data and functionality from multiple applications in new user interfaces) and workflow (automating the movement of data between employees, groups and systems).

At its most basic, it allows contact centres to monitor systems and agents, identifying quickly when there are problems, such as under-performing staff, and giving agents or back-office employees the information they need in a format that speeds up processing, accuracy and turnaround time.

Furthermore, it can cost-effectively improve a businesses’ service infrastructure without requiring changes in other systems, such as CRM, supply chain or back office. “There are a lot of partially failed Siebel implementation in the marketplace and a surprising number of organisations are using desktop analytics because it is a non-programming way of accessing the information – you can actually create a composite super screen for your staff so that they don’t have to go into multiple systems,” explains Fluss.

“It also has some great process automation capabilities. For instance, it is really good at automating my cut and paste – I was at a site recently and they didn’t have spell check in their CRM applications so they would write what was needed, cut and paste into Word, do a spell check, and then bring it back into the CRM application so they could include it in their email – all while the customer was on the line! And that is a great way DA could work.”

She adds: “Desktop analytics is an emerging area. Very few companies are doing this right now, but there is a lot of thought going into it.”

WebRTC

Potentially opening up new ways of communicating which would have major significance for contact centres, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding WebRTC at present.

“WebRTC is an API that is currently going through standardisation with the W3C to provide standard means of voice, video and peer-to-peer communication from a web browser without the need for plugins,” explains Tim Pickard, chief strategist at NewVoiceMedia. “There are currently competing versions of WebRTC; the strongest contender being implemented in Google Chrome and Firefox, with an alternative being presented by Microsoft, CU-RTC-Web. WebRTC could therefore enable agents to seamlessly move between channels and adopt a video contact centre.”

Reflecting the rapidly increasing interest in WebRTC, October saw Oracle unveil a WebRTC session controller. Nonetheless, there are still obstacles for the industry to overcome before WebRTC applications are successfully delivered, including different WebRTC implementations in different browsers, the lack of compressed voice codecs, and the fact there is presently no standard video codec across all browsers.

Pickard adds: “It’s still early days, but we’re following it closely, making sure we can support it when it becomes more widely available and experimenting with the best way to provide value to consumers.”

New agent interfaces

With mobile, social and Big Data all increasingly combining in modern contact centres, the challenge is to bring these information sources together in a way that doesn’t overload agents with information. Intelligent agent desktops have an important role to play here, particularly if they’re user-configurable and allow customer service operations to create and customise their own ‘smart’ agent desktops using a code-free, drag and drop approach.

“If you think about how Tony Stark accessed key information in the latest Iron Man movie, he wasn’t using a keyboard and a mouse. He was facing an enemy whose reach knew no bounds, so he had to get the answers he needed quickly. That’s why he was using powerful touchscreens, voice control and gesture swipes,” says Paul White, CEO of mplsystems. “Obviously, things aren’t quite as frenzied in the contact centre, but the sort of technologies we saw in Iron Man are all real, and are increasingly relevant for the tasks we’re asking our agents to achieve.

“With the kind of touchscreen interface now available with Microsoft Windows 8, for example, agents can benefit from a really simple, intuitive way of dealing with interactions that are becoming more and more complex. It’s a technology we’re already piloting, and we’re convinced that the touchscreen-powered interface will encourage a new style of visual workflow in the contact centre – one that ensures that all the information needed to complete an interaction, and any recommendations as to the next appropriate action, are only a swipe away.”

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