The 2015 Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report shows that contact centre operators and owners understand that their existing technology capabilities are inadequate for meeting the expectations of, particularly, a progressively younger market raised on social media and comfortable with all things digital.However, Darren Arnold, strategy director at Merchants, Southern Africa’s largest contact centre and business process outsource (BPO) provider with some 4 000 seats under management for local and international clients, believes that future-proofing contact centres does not lie in technology alone.

“In the modern world of business, technology is a given. Continuously upgrading it to keep pace with the evolution of connectivity devices and trends is also a given. In the same way as cars need wheels and doors, so contact centres need technology-enabled omni-channel capabilities. Customers may not know the terminology but they instinctively expect the capabilities.

“In that context, the current debate about whether a contact centre should have multi- rather than omni-channel capabilities is profoundly irrelevant.

“The real focus for contact centre operators should be on making the customer’s contact process seamless and easy. We need to ensure that each customer has a seamless experience of the organisation, no matter what the customer’s choice of channel and regardless of whether the customer chooses to switch channel. That’s not about technology. That’s about organisational intent. It’s about how the organisation structures itself and what it does to ensure that the customer sees the ideal organisation from every conceivable angle.

“This is a strategic problem. Acquiring the technology is tactical. Unless you get the strategy right, your tactics will simply cost you money and reputation.”

Actionable Intelligence is more important than ever

A major strategic shift being triggered by the fact that customers are now firmly in control of channel choices is the need to understand when they are becoming dissatisfied and taking action to prevent their leaving.

Although industry emphasis in recent years has moved from providing superior customer satisfaction to improving customer experience and to minimising customer effort, the underlying requirement remains customer retention.

“Clearly, you need technology to help you meet the customer’s expectations with as little effort on his part as possible,” Arnold says. “The flip side of that process is understanding not just his expectations but how well you are delivering on them, so that you can anticipate the point at which you begin to fail him.

“Achieving this insight means being able to turn big data, via analytics, into actionable intelligence on which you can act sensibly to, at worst, reignite customer loyalty or, at best, prevent the dissatisfaction in the first place.

“You need to have technology that enables all your employees to have all information about each client, so that wherever and however the customer touches the organisation, the response to him is fully informed and empowered to give him what he needs.”

Seeing all the variables

By implication, all organisational systems must be integrated so that propensity modelling and predictive segmentation can be done, enabling algorithms to be built into the customer relationship management application that continuously prompt contact centre agents and other customer facing employees to offer new or refined products and services. This capability enables the organisation to keep providing customers with a constantly relevant experience through differentiated and personalised offerings.

Segmenting according to the predicted life time value or profitability of a customer also enables the organisation to focus its sales and marketing efforts to better effect for both the organisation and the customer.

According to the Benchmarking Report, however, 40% of the 900 global respondents have no analytics capability at all and 30% address churn as a standalone issue rather than seeing it as an indication of the effectiveness of the total organisation.

“This lack of insight by organisations into how their overall performance stacks up against customer satisfaction is partly a consequence of relying on technology to solve isolated problems and not looking at technology as part of the bigger strategic picture,” Arnold says. “It also arises from the relegation of responsibility for customer satisfaction to the contact centre alone.

“The trend towards an omni-channel environment, however, is making operators and owners aware that the contact centre is now only one part of a much larger, enterprise wide customer journey.”

For many owners and operators, this realisation is making cloud or hosted services for contact centres an extremely attractive option. Seen until now mainly as a way of cutting costs, the cloud is today being appreciated for conferring a high order of operational flexibility, enabling organisations to scale quickly and easily to an omni-channel environment.

Taking stock, again

“However, even the cloud calls for a strategic rather than a tactical approach of simply adding channels when you need to,” Arnold says. “You still have to consider the fact that a contact centre agent, for instance, who is extremely skilled in the voice context may not be as effective with written communications on platforms like Web chat.

“How do you reasonably enable agents to handle multiple channels, covering multiple types of queries, and measure and reward their capabilities across those channels and queries in an equitable way? Can you expect them to represent the brand in the ideal way in all customer contact scenarios? How do you train them to do so and what does this mean for your recruitment processes and practices?

“How do you measure response times and customer satisfaction in a multi-channel environment in which customers make contact only when their efforts at self-help have proved fruitless, their queries are, consequently, complex, and their irritation levels are high?

“Technology doesn’t hold all of the answers to these questions. It is the reason for many of the challenges, because it introduces contact centre and customer satisfaction scenarios with which the contact centre industry has never had to grapple with before.

“As always, the solutions to the problems are embedded in the problems and are already emerging, certainly in the contact centres we operate. They’re reinforcing what we’ve known for some time: that the contact centre industry is at a point in its evolution where owners and operators need to rethink why they have contact centres and what their customer experience goals are. In the light of their redefinition of purpose, they must redefine their processes and methodologies. They must stop trying to transfer voice methodologies into the digital world and instead take on a digital mind-set. Their technology decisions will then follow automatically and, because they will be properly aligned with the organisation’s purpose, will be true enablers of strategy.”