Although critical to success for most businesses, the customer service contact centre is undervalued by most business leaders. According to Gartner, this lack of priority is reflected in under-funding of the customer service function and often results in an business's failure to remain competitive.
Gartner Executive Programs (EXP) conducted a worldwide survey of 1 527 CIOs in the fourth quarter of 2008 in which CIOs identified their top business priorities for 2009. The survey showed that attracting and retaining customers had dropped from second to fifth place.
"Although still highly placed, customer service is receiving less emphasis than cost cutting," says Michael Maoz, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "Of course cost cutting is essential in the current economic climate, but knowing how to cut costs without damaging the customer experience is critical, and the role of the contact centre is crucial to this."
Customer service, as delivered through the contact centre, currently suffers from an overall lack of commitment to the customer service representative (CSR) in the form of tools, training and compensation.
Maoz says that companies need to redouble their efforts in this area and extend the customer web site, add multiple communications channels, and plan carefully to improve agent performance through the introduction of new technologies.
Gartner predicts that by 2012, managing web interactions will be a core competency of the contact centre, with customers expecting the contact centre CSR to know their customers' web posts in relevant online communities at the time of a telephone interaction. This will mean that, by 2014, it will be an accepted practice in 30% of contact centres to have two standard monitors on each agent's desktop.
"Contact centres present the best chance to favourably impress customers, and yet organisations continue to drive customers away from interactions with people," says Maoz. "With better processes and tools to support the system, an organisation can demonstrate its competency and its knowledge of the customer's needs."
Gartner has identified four key areas that contact centres need to focus on to create a higher impact at lower costs:
* Personalised customer assistance – In a time of budget freezes, this investment is important because it offers higher revenue and reduced agent churn. Agent attrition is reduced because they have a better feeling of competency and success.
* Better contact centre application design – Younger CSRs expect a more compelling, responsive and intuitive CRM interface to match the experience with the consumer applications that they take for granted. Gartner predicts that consumer applications will extend to the desktop as well as the web site to the point that smaller less-formal customer service centres will be able to look at Web 2.0 technologies that enable common technologies (such as Facebook) to be used as the agent desktop, with the necessary telephony components and business information integrated through such "gadgets".
* Integrating web interactions/functionality into the contact centre – In a few years, customers will expect an organisation to lead them (as required) from self-service on the web by detecting that they need help, then guide them into an assisted chat session and/or co-browsing session (if necessary), then transfer them into a telephone conversation. At the same time, the organisation should be maintaining and transferring the context of each interaction as it evolves.
* Speedy, accurate service interactions – With the rise of multichannel and multimodal interactions, Gartner expects most contact centre managers to consider either a second monitor for each desktop or a wide (landscape) monitor for better, faster navigation by the CSR.