While multimedia contact has been touted as the next big thing in the contact centre industry for some time, in reality the uptake of such channels by customers has been well below expected levels.

However, according to recent research by ContactBabel, commissioned by Avaya and Spescom, multimedia contact can effectively be used alongside traditional voice-based technology not only to save money, but also to improve customer service and open up access into new customer segments.
Perhaps where many organisations have gone wrong has been in assuming that these additional contact channels would eventually replace traditional voice interactions.  It is important to bear in mind that while there are many multimedia channels, the most effective way to use them is to implement services that will augment the facilities of voice contact.
A large proportion of new communication technology relies on multimedia, such as mobile phones with text messages and video calling, and smartphones that include Instant Messaging (IM) services. This means that many people from the so-called Generation Y variety, who have grown up with multimedia communications, now expect these channels to be available at all times and demand that these types of services are accessible to them in all aspects of life.
This makes it vital for contact centres to find the right mix of multimedia services to offer, as Generation Y is now moving into the business world and will dictate how it runs and operates.
"Many call centres do not have the proper procedures in place to deal with multimedia contact.  But more and more people want to communicate via other channels, especially e-mail," says Paul Fick, MD of Spescom DataFusion. "The problem lies in the fact that currently, when you send a query to an organisation via email, or even for that matter through other multimedia channels that may be in place, it can take days to get a response, because measurement and management of service levels are not in place."
This leads to low levels of customer service and satisfaction, which ultimately can frustrate and alienate these customers. In order to improve, all points of customer contact need to be handled in one central location.
Since the contact centre already has the necessary capabilities in place, it makes sense that multimedia should be integrated into contact centres, ensuring that all remote customer interaction is managed in one place — with one integrated system — helping to measure and guarantee service levels. If email, for example, is effectively managed, it can assist in dealing with complex queries that may be difficult to answer over the phone, and can also cut down the number of real-time calls an agents need to deal with.
"The ContactBabel study highlights several ways in which to optimise the cost saving potential of email through formalising handling processes," says Fick, "These include automated email classification, routing based on business criteria and agent capabilities, rapid response using a knowledge base, service level tracking and reporting, and the use of e-mail templates or standard greetings."
Another way in which contact centres can reduce costs through multimedia is to harness the power of self-service tools, such as IVR or web services. Many systems, according to the report, still use self-service in the form of traditional touch-tone IVR instead of speech recognition. This limits its functionality and does not allow for caller identity verification.
Even tools such as Short Messaging Service (SMS) can have their place in a multimedia contact centre, as they are ideal for automated information requests and as a bulk marketing tool. Therefore business needs to consider how this can fit into the overall multimedia communication strategy.