Think you know contact centers? Think again. This ain't your grandma's contact center.
As enterprises continue to hone in on improving the customer experience, the call center industry has been undergoing a much needed image overhaul. Unfortunately, reversing consumer perception of call centers is proving to be more difficult as previous negative experiences overshadow innovative new advancements. The reality is that call centers have become the cornerstone for customer service strategies and are becoming known as customer loyalty engines for enterprise. Below we’ll explain how current innovative call center technologies trump some of the closest-held consumer misconceptions about call centers.
Myth 1: Call center agents really don’t care about customer service
For many consumers, it’s a common misconception that the call center agent who handles their query doesn't care about providing quality customer service. On the contrary, because agents are on the front lines, business leaders acknowledge the business value and cost benefits attached to their role in improving the customer experience and make it a priority to foster agent success. In fact, the quality of customer care provided by call center agents is directly tied to the corporate culture and the reward system offered by the enterprise.
According to a recent study conducted by Deloitte Consulting, 62% of organizations view customer experience provided through contact centers as a competitive differentiator and are looking at various ways to further agent productivity. Coupled with the recent advancements in contact center technologies, agents are now armed with tools and real-time data to more effectively handle customer queries. Many companies also offer quality assurance programs to ensure even higher levels of service.
Myth 2: No one uses the phone anymore, anyway
There is no question that customer care channels are expanding beyond the phone to include SMS, social media, chat and smartphone applications. However, that doesn’t mean that phone-based call centers are on the decline just yet. In fact, Forrester Research reports that 69% of online consumers used the telephone to speak with a customer service agent. Additionally, Forrester Research reports that telephone customer service has the highest level of customer satisfaction compared to other online customer service channels. That being said, the industry is noting a strong preference among consumers for self-service; 72% of US online consumers prefer to use a company's Web site to get answers to their questions rather than contact companies via telephone or email. Taking this further, a recent survey by Aberdeen Group indicates that 65% of businesses use at least six touch points to engage with their customers.
The birth of "right channeling"
So while the call center isn't dead, it's transforming into a multichannel contact network. Smart companies are focused on responding to customers' needs via the customers' channel of choice and supporting them through the entire customer journey, regardless of channel. Multichannel technologies are helping enterprise call centers keep pace with new engagement strategies. Enterprises are increasingly looking for ways to incorporate chat, social media, texting, apps and web functionalities into their call center platforms. In fact, Deloitte Consulting found that 33% of contact centers already provide social media contact channels, and that number is expected to grow in 2014. So rather than proclaiming the death of the call center, many brands are embracing "right-channeling," or allowing customers to receive consistent service via their preferred channels.
Myth 3: Call centers are exclusively cost centers
Call centers have long been viewed within enterprise as a cost center only capable of improving the bottom line by trimming costs. However, that view omits one key function that call centers perform better than any other within the business: customer retention. Only the call center can turn a frustrated customer into a loyal one.
McKinsey analysts found that 70% of buying experiences are based on how customers feel they are being treated. On the flip side, Forrester found that 89% of consumers who experience poor service with a brand will leave for the competition.
Agent job satisfaction equals better customer service
And one of the best ways to ensure a positive customer experience is to improve the frontline agents' job satisfaction levels. According to a recent survey conducted by LiveOps, 50% of call center agents report increased productivity when they have access to “fully integrated social, multichannel desktops,” which translates to a more positive customer service and increased customer loyalty. The study also revealed that the incremental profit contributions from higher agent productivity ranged anywhere from $815K to $2M per year. In short, happy agents make for happy callers and an improved bottom line.
Because call center agents are communicating directly with customers, companies that emphasize customer service and agent job satisfaction achieve greater loyalty, better acquisition and increased spend. The research says it all: a positive experience with an organization’s call center has a direct impact on revenue.
Myth 4: Speech recognition doesn't work
In the age of Siri and IBM’s Watson, consumers have heightened expectations for automated speech recognition capabilities, which sometimes work against call centers. While Siri was built to handle a wide variety of tasks and commands, call center IVRs struggle to compete with Siri’s broader grammar and categorization capabilities.
In the call center, the key to accurate call routing rests in the ability to understand the reason for a call and identify the caller; therefore, it's critical that the speech recognition engine capture and interpret those caller utterances with near 100% accuracy. Advancements in speech recognition software are helping to bridge this gap. Enterprises are now able to compete with the likes of Siri using innovative hybrid solutions: provide human silent guides that work in the background to correct utterances that would otherwise fail (Find out more about how this works). The silent guides are able to supplement the automation and raise the speech recognition accuracy level closer to 90%, giving the callers a more Siri-like experience.
Myth 5: Remote agents cause security risks and decreased productivity
Security A common misconception of the remote agent model is that it creates a threat to private information. In actuality, virtual call centers can add security tools that ensure a higher level of security than is typically available in most brick and mortar call centers. Security measures such as intrusion detection, call recording storage, historical log files and PCI compliance audits are often included in virtual offerings. In fact, it’s much easier to lock down computers in a virtual environment at a comparatively low cost.
Also, new virtual products such as a Secure IVR allow a live agent to transfer a caller to a unique, masked PCI-compliant IVR to collect sensitive information in a secure manner and then transfer that data to back end systems, all without the agent ever coming in contact with credit card numbers or other sensitive data.
Productivity Additionally, people often fear that work from home agents might show lower productivity as a result of distractions or lack of workplace camaraderie. However, most virtual call centers actually report higher productivity because of the value the agents themselves place on the experience: working from home, eliminating the commute and working more flexible hours are seen as privileges. The virtual workforce tends to work hard to retain those benefits and, in turn, those happy agents offer better customer service. Organizations that implement remote agent teams report increased agent retention, reduced agent turnover and increased agent morale.
As we begin to examine the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the biggest call center misconceptions, it’s increasingly evident that times have changed and some long-held myths need to be exploded and demolished. New innovative technologies are equipping today’s contact center agents with the means to continue pushing the limits of exceptional customer service.