My wife has never touched a computer and never will, but, when she wants to shop around for products or services, check for information, or send an email, she now asks me to go on the Web to search for what she wants, make a purchase or a reservation, or send a message, rather than make a phone call to a call center or put up with the limitations of old IVR self-service applications. For the growing population of consumers who go online to the Web by themselves, there is even more such self-service activity.
Rich, Web-based customer services are continually increasing and displacing the limitations of the voice-only telephone as a first step for customer access to information and self-service applications. That's a fact of life as consumers exploit the conveniences of both desktop PC's and mobile, multimodal handheld devices for doing business over the Internet. The moment of truth, however, comes whenever customers need the added intelligence and flexibility of human assistance. That is where the power of UC will enable greater customer access to people resources, not only within an enterprise, but outside the organization as well.
From an "ROI" perspective, any technology that helps generate revenue more quickly or improves customer satisfaction and retention for future revenues will always be at the top of every business organization's priority list. I would term this benefit of UC technology for customer contact applications as being an improvement in "customer productivity!"
Self-Service Apps Driving the Need for Greater Selectivity in Staffing
It used to be that telephone call centers used lots of "bodies" just to answer the phone traffic because most of the calls just needed simple information that an agent could quickly give to the caller. However, those kinds of applications became the first targets for simple self-service telephone IVR applications. New speech recognition technologies for telephone callers and online Web-based applications are now adding more complex information access and transactional capabilities to the menu of customer self-service capabilities. This fast-moving trend towards increasing the power and scope of self-service applications will further reduce the need for just "bodies" to handle simple customer needs.
While self-service applications will reduce the overall need for live assistance staffing, it is also creating a requirement for such staffing to be more selectively "expert" and "empowered" to make more complex decisions for the customer. There won't be a "one agent fits all customer needs!" Multiple skills may become the norm for a customer contact while "first contact resolution" will still be an operational metric for customer satisfaction. In a global economy, language skills become an important qualifier for live assistance.
So, while less staff may be needed quantitatively, the capabilities of that staff will be more varied and demanding, and will require more collaborative flexibility in servicing the new ways that customers will be contacting the enterprise. Enterprise "contact centers" won't remain location-based "centers" where "multimodal" agents sit together and the telephone won't be the only way a customer initiates a business contact to the enterprise.
Outbound contacts to customers, whether notifications and time sensitive "alerts" or deferred responses to customer requests, will also change as customers become more accessible via email, instant messaging, and wireless mobility. Not only will such outbound contacts become more automated, but also, when live contact is needed, personalized presence-based IM and mobile telephony will increase customer accessibility by enterprise staff.
We view self-services and live assistance as yet another "modality" of customer contact that will be supported by the power and flexibility of UC technologies. UC technologies will not only facilitate access to people through presence management technologies, but can also enable and increase more flexible contact with people by being "transmodal" across asynchronous messaging, instant messaging, and voice conversations. Embedding access to UC capabilities within business process applications will make access to live assistance from self-service applications more efficient and seamless for customer needs.
Migrating to the Future of "Virtual" Customer Assistance
It will take more than "two to tango" in moving towards the new multimodal world of IP-based UC and customer interactions. Both the customers and the enterprise staff will be changing their ways of accessing information and efficiently contacting the right people. The new software-based technologies will continually evolve and improve and the old communication technologies (telephony) will still have to be supported for a long time. So, it is going to be an evolutionary migration for the enterprise, and one that will offer new implementation alternatives besides the traditional CPE products, i.e., hosted and managed services.
As I highlighted in a "migration guide" for call centers that I co-authored for CMP Media's CommWeb last year, step one in planning for migration to the next generation of "virtual" multimodal customer contact technology, is to "get organized" internally, put the right person in charge of customer contact migration planning, and start doing the homework on new operational and business requirements.
The customer contact technologies have significantly improved since that report was published, but that first step has therefore become even more critical. It is not so much about what technology to buy and from whom, but rather, first things first, what will have to change operationally in how customer contacts will be handled for the future. Furthermore, UC-based customer contact technologies are not only about reducing implementation costs (it won't be cheap to replace old technology), but the real payoffs in reducing customer support staffing costs, while at the same time increasing "customer productivity."
New Resource For UC Migration Planning
Since technology and service providers are still defining and developing the various components of "UC," it is difficult for enterprise organizations to keep up with the reality of today vs. tomorrow's needs. I have joined with a group of knowledgeable and objective industry experts, who have helped pioneer many of the new concepts of "unified communications" technology.
To learn what is happening with new UC products and services, the impact on business processes including customer contact applications, and how your organization can more efficiently migrate to the UC future, visit our web site at: www.ucstrategies.com.
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Some other exclusive customer contact insights may be found here: Smarter Call Center IP Telephony Routing and here: Stop Guessing! The Five Real Reasons For Migrating Your Call Center to IP.