Innovation in the Contact Center

All businesses want to be more innovative. But what does that really mean?One could define innovation as the development of new ideas that result in the creation of a new process or service. It can also refer to the addition of new contact center technology and other solutions to generate value, whether that is defined as better customer service or saving money. A recent survey found that nearly 90% of companies believe that innovation should be a priority. This is driven not just by an internal desire for improvement, but the threat of outside competition.

The contact center is certainly no exception. As contact centers evolve from call centers, the challenges posed by globalization, technological and knowledge revolutions and other issues have forced innovation to become an important element in strategic planning. Unfortunately, some contact centers still choose to delay or forego such endeavors, having grown too accustomed to routine, or out of concern that change might “rock the boat,” or because they associate innovation with investment, and are fearful of the cost.

However, companies must recognize that new processes, new business systems and new methods of management could have a significant impact on productivity and growth. The alternative is stagnation and, eventually, extinction.

Five Places to Explore Innovation

The natural tendency is to focus first on technology, and certainly this is not an area that should be overlooked. But innovation also encompasses better processes and better strategy. Here are five areas where innovation can achieve results in the contact center.

1.Customer Experience

Review your processes and services delivery from the customer perspective. A recent industry survey found that call volume could be reduced by as much as 30% by introducing techniques that make customer service proactive, rather than reactive. Innovation sometimes means anticipating problems and solving them before they occur. Chances are your call center agents are asked many of the same questions every week, perhaps even every day. Compile a list of these questions, create satisfactory answers for them, and send this information to all of your customers and prospects. Assess your customers based on their needs, their expectations, and on their preferred methods of communication. The more you know about them, the better you’ll be able to make them happy. These answers can be gathered through a review of data collected by workforce management software, as well as through customer surveys. Customer priorities will vary depending on the product or service involved. In some cases price will be the determining factor in making a purchase. Or it could be product durability, or a company’s safety record, or the service and support provided after the purchase. Identifying areas of concern and addressing them is what innovation is all about.

2. Process Efficiencies

A review of the call center’s processes and procedures can expose gaps and issues. Ideas should be solicited from managers, trainers, agents – and even customers through surveys and other means of assessing their feedback. Document your processes, to uncover any inconsistencies. Take a fresh look at employee recruitment and staff retention procedures, as well as your forecasting and scheduling routine.

3. Communication

Communication is a key component of contact center efficiency. There are a number of ways to innovate and streamline in this area, all of which will improve productivity and morale. Best of all, many of them won’t add a dime to the company budget. The objective is to open the lines between staff and agents, particularly when it comes to where the organization is going, and to avoid unpleasant surprises by providing advance notice. Innovative solutions may involve regular meetings, or matching the message to the agent – some prefer direct verbal communication in a one-on-one setting, others would be more comfortable with an email. Of course, technology can play a role in improving communication as well, such as in shift swapping and other areas where ease of access to data can eliminate issues before they arise. Decisions that are made in a collaborative manner are those more likely to be accepted by everyone involved.

4. Big Data

Big data is a buzz term at the moment, but it’s one that deserves attention. It simply means having data available automatically and then utilizing the right tools to find the information needed, including real-time dashboards and drill down capabilities. Having access to the right data at the right time provides a major step toward innovation in all of the areas previously discussed. Yes, this means a discussion of technology, and where it can and should be upgraded. That leads us to…

5. Technology

Once you’ve completed your customer assessment, review the contact center’s resources to make sure they are sufficient to meet customer expectations. Do your agents have the tools they need to interact with customers by phone, email or online? Have resources been allocated correctly so staff and technology are optimally aligned? Are the processes now in place for handing calls, forecasting and scheduling agents, training/coaching, etc. all getting the job done, or are there areas where improvement is possible? Is the center using the most recently updated software versions? How much effort and cost are involved to maintain or upgrade each solution? While cost considerations will have to be taken into account with any decisions on technology innovation, the ascendance of cloud computing solutions have removed many of the concerns over large upfront costs, challenges with transition, and time necessary to achieve ROI. Once an option only for the largest call centers, cloud-based contact center solutions are now becoming more attractive to smaller and medium-sized businesses as well. In fact, as storage and bandwidth costs continue to drop, smaller companies looking to reduce technology investment costs may be a significant factor in the continued expansion of the cloud market. The cloud model offers all of the advantages of call recording software without the upfront investment in hardware and software. System flexibility, scalability and ease of implementation are also benefits. Plus, all software upgrades are delivered automatically at no cost. And since all call monitoring data is stored “in the cloud,” it can be accessed from the office, from home and from a mobile device.

Conclusion

Contact centers must constantly evolve to meet the needs of customers. The success of innovation depends on the culture of each company, and the willingness of its personnel to discover, implement and embrace positive change.

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