The Future of Contact Centers

Rather than Going Away, They Will Be a Point of Consolidated Information and Functionality

July 18, 2002

Contact center solutions today provide a key set of functionality which will, in the future, need to be enhanced to meet customer needs. This Report includes a list of current and future required capabilities.


Even in the digital age, classic contact centers will continue to thrive. They will not be replaced by new technologies, e.g., Web, CRM systems, etc., but rather will be enhanced by the capabilities of these other systems.

Today's contact centers are already making use of many of these capabilities, such as access to customer-related information in other systems, customer self-service, and technical knowledgebases. However, they are still limited by organizational requirements that focus exclusively on optimizing customer service representative (CSR) productivity, rather than on enhancing the customer experience.

The next generation of contact center solutions will bring additional and improved capabilities, such as consolidated metric for customer-centric intelligence, proactive knowledge and help systems, and enhanced integration with CRM and operational systems. While these enhancements should contribute to better customer relationships, it is only by designing the customer support processes from the customer's point of view that these enhancements will result in significant impact on customer relationships.


In May, Patty Seybold wrote:

"Contact centers are hot! In particular, customers continue to spend money to optimize and enhance their multi-touchpoint contact centers. This is particularly noticeable in B2C companies and in those with both consumer and business customers. As customers become more and more demanding, our companies have no choice but to improve the way that customers do business with us. That means providing exquisite and seamless front-line support for pre- and post-sales interactions across the phone, Web, e-mail, automated voice response, and Integrated Voice Response touchpoints. Which technology players are benefiting? Those who supply software for call routing optimization, for integrated queue management, and those who offer tools to enable managers and employees to better track how they're doing in measuring, monitoring and improving what matters most to customers are all seeing healthy sales. The benefits? Improved customer loyalty with more streamlined and cost-effective operations."

This flies in the face of former e-commerce zealots who tried to convince the world that all you needed was a Web site--that the phone would become obsolete when dealing with customers--that a few well-articulated FAQs and an effective search capability would provide all the help customers ever needed. We even had debates with our large clients about whether to publish their phone number on the site at all--"We have a Web site, so why would they ever want to call us?"

Now, we never believed that person-to-person support--whether via the phone, face-to-face, or through some electronic method such as chat--would go away. And, although we agree that effective search is a requirement for any Web site, we actually believe that, in the complex world of multiple touchpoints and channels, customer support centers become even more important to making it easy for your customers to do business with you. After all, somebody still needs to be in business to answer the complex questions that only committed customers can think up.


Today's state-of-the-art contact centers are a far cry from the corral of phone answerers of the past. Customer service reps (CSRs) are much more than "Betty with Time Life Books." Today's CSRs are responsible not only for taking orders and solving problems, but for up-selling, capturing interactions, and, most importantly, enhancing the relationships with customers. Thus, they need more than a telephone headset and a data entry screen--they need a system that provides them with all the information they require to meet the customers' needs.

Today's contact centers systems are doing a pretty good job of supporting these activities by providing capabilities in the following areas:

  • Consolidated Information
  • Touchpoint Integration
  • Customer Self-Service
  • Technical Support Knowledgebases
  • Support for Customer-Facing Team

In addition, there is a growing trend of viewing the contact center as a potential profit center rather than exclusively as a cost center. These systems are helping companies to realize that vision.

CONSOLIDATED INFORMATION. CSRs (aka, support agents) need to have access to more information than ever before in order to address all customer issues that come their way.

Single Agent Environment. These support agents need to be able to get to this information from one place. Today's state-of-the-art contact center applications provide a single environment where the support agent can access the following:

  • Customer-Centric Information. This includes such data as customer profiles, transaction histories, and the status of trouble tickets.
  • Customer-Related Information. This includes such data as inventory and billing/accounts receivable.

In the past, only customer-centric information was made available to the CSRs, who then had to make a bunch of phone calls to check on things like inventory availability. But, today, contact center systems can integrate with ERP and other back-end operational applications to ensure that the support agent has a complete picture of what is impacting the customer.

Single Call-In Number. Just as CSRs need a single environment for information access, customers need a single support number to call no matter what type of help they need--Web support, product support, catalog support, account support, etc.

Today's technology can easily support this, but, in reality, this is one area where practice lags far behind capability. Too often, we still find support agents who refer us to other phone numbers for help with different types of problems.

We realize that it is impractical for every agent to be an expert in all areas. Rather, there should be a single call-in number reaching a skilled CSR who can answer the most common questions, no matter what the subject. This agent should be able to easily transfer more advanced questions to qualified experts without having the customer restate the problem or, even worse, dial another 800 phone number and wait (again) in another telephone queue.

TOUCHPOINT INTEGRATION. Customers must be supported with the same vigor no matter what touchpoint they choose to interact with your company.

Same Information on All Touchpoints. This means that the same support information must be available from the Web, the catalog, on the phone, or face-to-face at the store. This latter requirement is currently the most lacking--store personnel typically do not have access to any support knowledgebases or even to support personnel. (I remember one particularly annoying incident at a Hertz counter where I was told that my #1 Gold card wasn't valid. I asked why, and they gave me an 800 number to call. They didn't even offer to let me use one of their telephones! For that trip, I rented from Avis.)

Visibility into Multiple Touchpoints. Not only must support information be available regardless of touchpoint, but support agents must have visibility into these multiple touchpoints. Today, this is primarily an aspect of Web site support. For example, let's say a Web customer requires assistance and phones the 800 number (that should be available from the site!). The CSR should be able to track the customer's path through the site and push pages to the customer while also having access to the customer's profile, transaction history, etc. The customer should also have the option to seek help ...

Sign in to download the full article


Be the first one to comment.

You must be a member to comment. Sign in or create a free account.