Case StudiesTechnology

Building A Customer-Centric Multichannel Contact Centre

Todd Marthaler, Interactive Intelligence
Todd Marthaler, Interactive Intelligence

Do you have a New Year’s resolution in place for your contact center? If not, it’s never too late! A good place to start is to take stock of your house. What do I mean? Think back to when you were buying or renting your first place. What was on your wish list? Was the floor plan open and flexible to meet your needs at that time and long term? Was it move-in ready or a work in progress?

Finding the best contact center technology solution for your center is very much like finding the right house. Does your contact center meet the needs of your customers now and in the future? Is it flexible to change as your customer’s needs change? Is your environment adaptable—will it easily adjust to the evolving needs of its inhabitants (your agents, internal customers and center leadership)?

What to Consider When Building a Contact Center Solution

These are a lot of questions, so let’s tackle the answers. The end goal is a flexible technology solution. The means to that end are:

  • Understanding the challenges that organizations experience today with multimedia in the contact center.
  • Knowing your customers and quantifying how they prefer to communicate and conduct business with you.
  • Discovering the technology options to meet these customer needs (externally and internally).
  • Learning from others’ successes and lessons learned.

Coming from nearly 20 years managing contact centers, I can say that business challenges are not always the same across organizations, and the demands we put on our agents are always changing. There are several things we need to keep in mind in building a new contact center solution.

Metrics and reporting are dynamically changing. Service levels of 80% in 20 seconds for inbound phone calls have become more of a baseline, and first-contact resolution (FCR) has become more relevant. Measurement of FCR depends on the business: It can be measured around cycle time between interactions on a single transaction, or it can be more customercentric—for instance, asking customers whether we resolved their issue on the first try. Email response time has evolved from 24-hour/one business day response expectations to a handful of hours. Chat has near real-time response time expectations. We, as organizations, need to understand these challenges of measuring our success and quantifying the results.

Social media has changed the way information is gathered and communicated about our organizations—and some of us are still trying to understand what it all means. How we create business process rules around handling new interaction types and positioning ourselves for the future is critical in the new contact center world.

Customer experience has become the buzz. We, as contact center organizations and businesses, used to focus only on the block-and-tackle—answer the phone quickly, help the customer place the order and deliver the product. Now it’s about optimizing the customer’s experience at every touch point. Customer retention and building positive word-of-mouth about our service is a primary focus for most organizations.

Gather Customer Feedback and Data for Additional Insights
Given these types of challenges, how do you get accurate insights on how your customers view their experiences? Do you truly understand how they prefer to do business? There are several approaches. One way is to canvas your customers through customer survey tools or focus groups. You can also review activity/posts on social media sites. Sometimes your best sources of insight about customers are your agents who interact with external customers. Ask agents what customers are saying in team meetings, and review quality voice, email and chat recordings.

Once you have gathered anecdotal information, it’s time to layer on quantitative data and contact center reporting statistics. What do you know about your customer demographics, generational impact, buying life cycle? Can you tie the type of transaction with the customer’s preference for interaction type (call, email, phone, chat)? This is important data to collect, and your long-term solution should have the functionality to store that information and assimilate customer transaction and interaction history.

Now that you know more about your customer and how they want to interact with you, look at how well you are handling this today. Many contact centers are handling email from customers via disparate systems. Social media isn’t always handled in the contact center today. Rather, other departments, such as marketing, manage and respond to customers on social media sites and escalate to the contact center as needed.

Ready for a New Solution? Four Technology Options
The information and feedback that you have gathered to this point gives you the data for a business case and/or justification for a contact center solution. If you have determined that the technology you have in place does not address your current and future business and customer needs, you are ready for a change. So, what are the options?

One suggestion is to go with a subscription based, single-source proprietary solution that allows you to “test the waters” and understand the effectiveness of a new communication method without long-term spend. (See “Case Study: A Pilot Program for New Interaction Types,” for an example of how this works.) Whether it is for chat or email or phone, you can leverage new technology without the capital expense and incur your cost as a monthly budgetary operational expense. You can grow your footprint by customer. You leverage a third-party provider’s technology while your agents respond to your customers. One obstacle can be reliance on multiple third parties for service resolution and limitations with comparative data, reporting and agent productivity metrics.

Another approach is a single-source solution. You can build your own or purchase a plug-and-play solution for your current platform and service both your customers and the technology internally. There are challenges to this type of solution. For instance, it can be difficult to compare the handling of an interaction’s service level with other interaction solutions (say, if phone calls are different). It also creates obstacles in reporting from an enterprise and agent perspective. Single source also creates challenges to leveraging both quality measurements across multiple interaction type platforms and can play havoc with your ability to successfully forecast and staff in workforce management.

A third approach is to outsource. Have a third party manage and respond to interactions with their staff and technology, using your contact center service level and quality management targets. With this approach, you would generally meet with the vendor weekly to calibrate on results, and listen to and score interactions to ensure consistency in performance with internal resources. This solution still does not allow a single-source view of results and requires additional reporting, measurements and relationship management resources.

A fourth option is a unified communications platform. Consider the value of all interactions being routed, measured, quality calibrated, responded through and reported upon in a multichannel application. This approach gives you the greatest visibility to your success while partnering with a single solution provider for assistance with servicing, upgrades and new feature sets. This platform also allows you to leverage outsourcers and internal resources to manage activities and workflow in a virtual environment. (See “Case Study: A Unified Platform” to read about this solution in action.)

Final Thoughts: Making the Right Choice
As you consider your interaction solution choices, you need to be sure that the solution you select can capture all the customer experience, transaction and interaction history in one system that your agents and business can access. The solution also should have integration capabilities with your contact center solution to ensure that any agent can assist any customer at any time.

Business intelligence should go hand in hand with CRM. Leverage your customer information to help with analytics, long-term planning and future growth while understanding what is happening in the marketplace. Know how your products and services stack up to the competition.

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline,

CASE STUDY: A PILOT PROGRAM FOR NEW INTERACTION TYPESCan you afford to go all in and replace what you are doing for all interaction types or would it be better to test the waters? One suggestion is a pilot program for new interaction types. This allows you to understand the effectiveness of a new communication method without long-term spend.There are fundamentally two approaches—outsourcing technology and contact center services with clear measurements for successes or purchase a subscription-based program that has a month-to-month commitment to measure the results with internal resources.

The following are the steps taken by one company that decided to launch a pilot program to initiate chat as a contact center interaction type:

  • Determine a customer to introduce the communication method and pilot for 90 days.
  • Select a vendor to provide a web-based client application, adding a chat icon to your shopping page, setting up customer-defined screen
  • pops and response templates, and passing a browser-based toast pop to the agent, presenting the customer question and response
  • functionality to the agent.
  • Determine and complete agent skills training and define a workgroup to handle these interactions.
  • Determine operational hours for this feature to the customer with measurable metrics for response time, quality and customer satisfaction.
  • Define reporting to capture this data and share with operations and business leadership.
  • Introduce the service to the customer and encourage individuals to choose chat before picking up the phone.
  • Measure items like adoption rate for chat based on the total number of interactions and the percent for chat. Determine how effective chat was in replacing a phone call. How well did chat enhance first contact resolution? Canvas the customer with an outbound survey to determine customer satisfaction.

In this case, the company was not only able to see significant adoption of chat as an interaction, but also was able to reduce cost and improve agent productivity by implementing chat. In the long term, it was determined that chat should be part of a more holistic solution for the contact center.



CASE STUDY: A UNIFIED PLATFORMOur case study for a unified communications platform solution comes from American Family Insurance. American Family provides coverage for home, life, auto, travel and business insurance in 19 states, serviced by local sales representatives and contact center agents. Contact center agents also assist the field with sales and service.The contact center currently handles inbound calls, outbound calls, email, chat and callbacks. An outbound dialer is used in preview mode—where the agent can view customers’ info before deciding to make the call. Social media is not handled in the contact center today, because the volume has not warranted building a queue. Marketing is monitoring, responding and escalating, as needed.

American Family InsuranceSo with all these interaction types, American Family determined that a unified solution would be the best fit for them. The solution has an open architecture, ACD engine enabled to route multimedia to agents coming from all points—sales field, consumers and businesses. A CRM solution also provides the agents with customer interaction and transaction history at their fingertips integrated with the multimedia ACD engine.

Why that choice? A unified solution gives the customer the choice of how to communicate, and allows the business to route, track and store all those media types/interactions in one platform. Reporting, recording, quality and voice of customer data all were housed in the same solution. If something fails, there is one vendor to contact and resolve the issue. It also reduced American Family’s operational and maintenance costs.

The new solution allowed the contact center to have blended agents handling callbacks, web chat and inbound calls in one group, and email and inbound calls in another group. The routing is configured such that if an agent is answering an email, he or she won’t get an inbound call until the email is answered and comes out of his or her queue. This is a best practice and not only allows for improved productivity, but provides accurate measurement of response times by channel.

Chat has been a big lift in first-contact resolution. On the other hand, there has been some growing pains in the channel, because some customers are choosing to call and chat same time. Big takeaways were making sure that agents are evaluated to see if they can handle a specific media type, that they receive the right training, and making sure that resources are in place to ensure that agents are nimble and
efficient in that skill set.

American Family has several key initiatives in the New Year, including deploying a smartphone application that will allow customers to use mobile chat or directly call the contact center. The contact center is also deploying a cloud-based solution to support their field sales team, and integrating that deployment with their current premise-based contact center solution. The organization has been successful in responsiveness to its internal and external customers, based on customer feedback.


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