The business case is very simple: without digital technology you can’t thrive, writes Richard Melrose, technology director at Merchants.
The boardroom discussion about updating contact centre technology very often misses the point as there shouldn’t really be any question of whether or not you need to update your technology with digital channels. The challenge is when and how, especially as time to market is critical due to customer expectations coupled with the agility of new competitors.
The Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report shows very clearly that voice interactions in contact centres will be superseded by digital interactions within two years. What it doesn’t say is that embracing digital technology can be a lot easier and less costly than one immediately supposes. It’s just a matter of looking at the business case from a profoundly practical point of view.
Traditionally, it seems that realising value from technology investment in the contact centre is an extremely complex process. That’s because, conventionally, one thinks of realising value in terms of a financial return on investment, underpinned by a highly complex business case outlining investment costs being offset by an increasing customer base or additional spend per existing customer over typically a five year period.

Uncertainty is the clue
However, there is no way to be certain about just how many more customers the new digital technology will enable you to reach within a specific timeframe. At whatever point you invest in digital capabilities, for example, you will be starting from a zero base and without knowing precisely how many digital customers you will have on day one, day 30, or day 365 and what additional value digital interactions will deliver versus todays voice interactions, other than cost reductions in contact centre resources. So, quantifying your return on investment is often a guessing game.
This uncertainty switches you into a better line of thought – because what you do know absolutely is that if you don’t acquire digital technology, you can’t reach digitally-focused customers. You also know that that the market is both huge and growing rapidly and that it will determine your future. Our newer customers are Gen Y who simply don’t use voice communications as a much of course and they will choose not to deal with your organisation if they cannot communicate with you though their preferred communication media.
There, in a nutshell, is your business case: It is as much based on what will happen if you don’t go digital versus what will happen if you do?

Do you really need contact centre assets?
While you are thinking in upside down terms about new digital technologies for your contact centre, it’s worth defining what sort of experience you want your customers to have rather than specifically about how to build the new technology you need to deliver the experience.
That’s because you might not need to invest in your own technology at all. You can get it, on demand, from an outsourcer or a cloud contact technology provider- and quickly move from traditional capex to a newer opex model, saving yourself money, reducing risk around uncertainty and giving yourself agility, flexibility and scalability to meet this new challenge.
To some extent, the decision to outsource will be influenced by the nature of your operations.
If you are a large corporate running your own contact centres, then you are likely to be constrained by legacy technology and contact centre assets you need to sweat. You can, of course, still sweat them but migrating older technologies into the digital world is hazardous, especially as those systems were not built with digital in mind and most vendor investment budgets are geared on new technologies designs and building from the ground upwards to serve address these newer digital demands.
If you’re a start up, then going to an outsourcer or to the cloud appears to be a no brainer. Why shoulder the capex burden and commercial risk of both new technology and the staff required to build and support this when your funds can probably stretch only to a small contact centres that aren’t going to give you the necessary scale, especially with less certainty about how many customers you can attract and at what speed.
It is far easier and more financially responsible to experiment with your future by exploiting a cloud or BPO provider’s technologies and making it their responsibility to track and invest in the evolution of technology. This is further justified by an ability to sign into shorter tenure contracts based on defined service levels and having the ability to change quickly, as your customers do, if you fall short of their expectations.
There is also the option now for newer organisations to choose to leave out certain types of contact technologies. There are some banks that don’t accept contact by voice because they pitch their offerings at digitally based customers. New types of businesses, like Uber, don’t take voice calls either and insist on automated payment. So, they now choose not to spend thought or money on non-digital contact centre technologies and are happy to leave the traditional voice customers to traditional providers.
It’s not an option, however, for contact centres that have been in existence for decades.

Shortening time to value
For those who do have good reasons to start up their own contact centre or those who have been in the business for decades and are grappling with adding technologies, it’s worth bearing in mind that it is no longer possible to simply upgrade discrete parts of your technology at five year intervals, as has been the norm. Technology is evolving so fast, especially in the cloud digital arena, with most top tier vendors releasing early versions and smaller, emerging vendors taking advantage with their fit for purpose solutions.
We believe that the rate of change of newer technology will be a lot faster and therefore the investment period for those building their own solutions will be so much shorter, perhaps even as low as two years and that places a mostly unsustainable burden on your product development processes.
If you factor into that thought the fact that your existing contact centre technology is linked into your other corporate systems, including your customer relationship management platforms, financial systems, as well as business intelligence and analytics solutions, you begin to appreciate the complexity of the costs you will incur in updating your contact centre technologies.
Then, there’s the need for all your existing solutions to fit into overarching governance and compliance systems and frameworks. Unpicking just one thread in your contact centre opens gaping holes in the entire fabric of your organisational technology landscape.
In that context, the idea of outsourcing and/or moving to the cloud becomes very seductive indeed.

The people question
There are those who would argue that the challenge of recruiting, training, and remunerating contact centre agents capable of driving customer experience with new technologies makes calculating the costs of bringing on new technologies even more difficult.
Actually, the human resource issue is comparatively simple. Customers make contact via the technology of their choice. So, the generation that has always used the phone will continue to do so. Long-standing contact centres are more than capable of managing those contacts.
The younger generation that prefers to make contact digitally is also the generation from which contact centres recruit their new agents. They already understand the language and methodologies of digital communication. They don’t need to be trained in those. Given the appropriate technology tools, they can get on with the job of driving customer experience.
What contact centres will have to figure out and cost for, of course, are the metrics by which the effectiveness of this new breed of contact centre agents can be measured.
The underlying principle on which one should base decisions about moving to new digital technology, including how to manage relevant staff, is simply to choose that which will enable your organisation to thrive. So, think strategically first. The tactics of technology will then naturally fall into place.