Be An Educated Technology Customer

Susan Hash, Editor, Contact Center Pipeline.
Susan Hash, Editor, Contact
Center Pipeline.

Do you take an active role in contact center technology planning efforts, or do you rely on IT to take the lead in deciding which tools to implement for your operation? If you answered yes to the latter, do you then spend countless hours with your team trying to rebuild your existing workflows in the new system while growing increasingly frustrated with its limitations for replicating your processes—and your IT group for purchasing it?

In the contact center world, IT has traditionally had ownership over technology planning, implementation and management, as well as vendor relationships. But as the business environment continues to grow increasingly complex, contact center leaders need to ensure that they not only have a voice in technology decisions, but are actively involved in selecting and managing the tools that will play a critical role in their future success.

But are they ready? The gap is widening between those service leaders who embrace innovation and leading-edge technology as a driver of operational efficiency and competitive advantage, and those who are intimidated by any change in their processes or tools. “Technology has morphed the contact center operation into new levels of complexity. Contact center management must stay updated on the changing landscape or risk becoming irrelevant and losing their edge against their competitors,” says Marilyn Saulnier, director of Global Contact Center Consulting at Interactive Intelligence.

Staying informed about technology developments and trends is key. For time-constrained contact center leaders, this takes commitment, the desire to educate yourself and participation in conferences, webinars, product demos and forums, as well as a reading agenda that includes industry publications (our monthly Tech Line column is a great resource), blogs, white papers and books.

EDUCATED techKeep in mind that technology awareness is about learning how the technology can support your business objectives—it’s not technology for the sake of technology, cautions Saulnier. Many contact centers have implemented channels such as chat, SMS, video without proper planning to identify demand, staffing requirements, skill sets and the ability to provide customers with a seamless experience across all channels. Results from poor planning can vary from lack of customer interest, at best, to a terrible customer experience that can damage the brand image.

“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” Saulnier stresses. “It makes absolute business sense from a customer experience perspective and competitive imperative to implement access channels that meet your customers’ needs. Just make sure that you do your due diligence and get it right the first time.”

Obstacles to Effective Technology Adoption

The best place to begin your technology awareness journey is with your own systems and tools. The contact center is often unfamiliar with all of the capabilities and features that their current system provides.

There can be many reasons for this lack of awareness, but it is very common in organizations that don’t provide an adequate timeline or resources during a technology implementation. In the rush to go live, contact centers view the cutover date as the end goal rather than business value, say Strategic Contact’s Lori Bocklund and Maren Symonds. As a result, “they don’t invest the time and energy to pursue all of the benefits that the tool offers (the long lost ‘phase 2’ of the project) and/or optimize their use of it,” they point out. For example, “we see lots of sophisticated CTI offerings used only for screen pops, never adding capabilities such as advanced routing, reporting or outbound applications. And knowledge tools often languish for lack of resources to enhance the user interface, apply advanced search functionality, keep content up to date and expand the information repository”

Having a narrow view of your existing system is just one obstacle. What are other common issues that prevent organizations from realizing the full value of their technology investments? We turned to the technology providers for their insights.


“The greatest impediment for technology implementations in contact centers today is a lack of clarity and focus on what the goals and objectives are for the technology,” says OpenSpan Executive Vice President Anna Convery.

When that happens critical questions (and answers) often seem to get lost when technology is deployed, she says, such as: What business goals will the technology help solve? How will the technology address the company’s business challenges? How will an investment in technology help an enterprise achieve a new level of performance?

“The contact center is the most instrumented business unit of an enterprise. There are more metrics and benchmarks analyzed on a daily basis than in any other part—but if you do not know how these metrics correlate to having an impact on improving the business, they are not very helpful,” Convery adds. “If you plan to deploy a new technology solution, you must understand how that technology is going to drive performance.”

Let’s face it, most of the responsibility for delivering innovation and efficiency falls squarely on IT. They’re expected to support the entire enterprise’s strategies for delivering products and services to customers in a timely and efficient manner and across multiple channels and systems.

However, when IT is the sole driver of technology selection and deployment for the contact center, the decisions are likely to be highly influenced by IT’s perspective on cost, support and maintenance, reliability and vendor reputation. IT simply cannot represent the contact center perspective effectively regarding features, functionality and how the technology will support the contact center’s future strategy, says Saulnier.

“There needs to be a collaborative contact center/IT strategy that supports the overarching company’s objective for the customer experience,” she says. “If those collaborative discussions don’t take place, conflict between what IT purchased and what the contact center actually needs is inevitable.”

Practical Pointer: It’s easy to blame IT when technology doesn’t live up to expectations, says Strategic Contact’s Brian Hinton, adding that: “The contact center must take responsibility for defining requirements and optimizing the use of technology.” Hinton recommends a more collaborative planning approach in which IT helps to educate the contact center on the possibilities by asking questions like:

  • Did you know you could do X?
  • Would it help you if you could do Y?

For their part, contact center leaders should consider how to respond to questions like:

  • What do you want your technology to do that it is not doing today?
  • What capabilities are missing from your current infrastructure?
  • What business results should the technology drive?

Traditionally, when a new technology is deployed, all of the tools are made available by the go-live date. In this type of scenario, end- users are typically trained on how to use all of the tools in advance, and then left on their own to make the best use of them.

“What we’ve learned over the years is that, if we provide all the tools upfront, they’re not going to use everything. They’re going to use either what they’re already comfortable with or focus on the biggest pain point in their contact center,” says Debbie Draper, VP Professional Services, inContact.

Instead, Draper recommends a phased implementation approach that focuses on adding one or two tools at a time—usually with one to three weeks in between deployments. “We gather one to three weeks’ worth of data so that we can have true data to show the management team and help them to understand some of the things that they can do within their ACD and IVR, or with agent training. We walk them through the reports so that it ties right back to their business needs.”

It’s exciting to learn about the advanced features offered by a new system, and it can be tempting to run amuck and lose sight of the impact on reports and how you will manage it all in real time. Here again, Saulnier reiterates that, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. “There’s a tendency for contact centers to overcomplicate the system design and configuration. You can create all sorts of complexity in the IVR, for example, but customers won’t use it if it is too cumbersome,” she explains. “There are also many examples of contact centers that have built so much complexity into their call flow design—creating too many queues, skillsets and priority interactions —that their real-time operation is unmanageable. Critical data is masked and real-time management is no longer nimble enough to take needed action in a decisive manner. You should only make the processes as complicated as you need them to be—because if you can’t manage it, what good is it? Yes, the technology can do it, but let’s talk about when it makes sense for you to do certain things.”

Deploying new technology will not miraculously fix the inefficiencies in your workflow or processes. This all too common assumption creates a dilemma for vendors: A contact center purchases new technology to increase efficiency and performance. The contact center then wants to recreate its existing processes in the new system so that it will do exactly what the previous system did.

“Technology alone won’t achieve your business objectives,” Saulnier says. “Combining effective programs, methodologies and best practices with technology is the only way to get the maximum value from your technology investment.”

Change management is the main stumbling block that organizations encounter, which prevents them from embracing the new solution and being successful, agrees Chris Dickhans, regional vice president—Americas, Enterprise Workforce Optimization, Verint. “If I see any hiccups in how contact centers consume technology, it is generally around change management,” she says. “People tend to view technology as magical—sprinkle a little pixie dust and the technology now does what we need it to do. But technology has changed dramatically over the last 10 years—it’s an enabler, and it changes the way in which the entire organization is going to work. From a management perspective, if you don’t provide your staff with the new rules of engagement and show them this new standardized way in which they’re going to work so that it drives value out of the tools, you’re not going to get the outcome that you anticipated.”

Most contact centers today rely on an assortment of cobbled together stand-alone systems to manage their operations, Draper points out. “The biggest challenge for companies that are working with older technology is the ability to connect different systems into one integrated whole,” she stresses. In fact, Pipeline found that to be a leading concern in our 2012 technology survey cosponsored by Strategic Contact: The top technology implementation challenge (reported by 44% of survey participants) was difficulty integrating new tools with existing technology and/or applications.project that typically takes six to eight weeks and a number of internal resources.”

Many organizations are unwilling to—or simply unable to—justify the capital investment required to replace aging legacy systems. “Customers with extensive premise-based solutions are often reluctant to abandon their investment in aging equipment, integrations and human capital, and often, are afraid of losing the perceived control of their infrastructure. However, we offer multiple deployment options, such as hybrid deployments, to bridge the migration from premise equipment to the cloud,” says Dave Pennell, director of Professional Services for Bright Pattern.

If large contact centers are struggling to justify budget and resources, imagine the strain on small to mid-size operations. “Cost and complexity are the primary inhibitors to adoption,” says Envision CEO Ron Srandin. “For a contact center with five to 75 agents, which is the bulk of contact centers in the United States, adding technology such as new switch hardware, licensing the infrastructure and training staff can lead to implementation costs breaking the six-figure mark. Also, implementing a workforce optimization solution is a huge, time- consuming project that typically takes six to eight weeks and a number of internal resources.”

Every technology project needs a high-ranking executive sponsor who has a vested interest in the project’s success, and the authority to ensure buy-in and commitment across the organization. Having the right C-suite champion can make or break the project. In fact, it’s one of the first conversations that Dickhans and her team has with the client.

“We ask for an executive sponsorship when we’re building a partnership with the customer. That is critical because, if we’re going to ensure proper business usage, proper business support and really drive strategy and vision, we have to have leadership commitment from the beginning,” she says. “If you don’t have that building block, you’re at risk right out of the gate, because everyone is looking for a vision. They need to have a strategy in place, a new way of working, a playbook—if they don’t have those things, it’s easy to go astray.”

Vendors Are Focused on Customer Success
Best-of-breed and all-in-one solutions vendors alike are doing more these days to ensure that contact centers are getting the most out of their tools. Client retention (or renewals) is heavily linked to the vendors’ ability to ensure solid, measurable business value.

Many vendors’ customer-centric strategies include customer success individuals or teams responsible for engaging with customers, understanding their business needs and driving their success. “Each of our clients is assigned an engagement champion during a project and that individual is the eyes, ears and heartbeat of the project from start until finish,” Convery says. “We augment this individual with a team of management consultants, technology experts and solution advisors.”

Customer success managers at inContact have weekly calls with their customers, plus they visit the customer’s sites multiple times per year, says Draper. “The customer success managers are focused on making sure that their client is achieving their goals. They will then bring in resources that they feel the customer needs to make them successful.”

The overall goal is support and relationship-building throughout the customer lifecycle, instead of just during the deployment phase. At Connect First, that takes the form of a process called “Progressive Discovery,” which includes more than 100 interaction points. “We focus heavily on client needs early on in the relationship,” says CEO and Cofounder Geoff Mina. “The relationship is rooted in marketing, grows richly in business development and the sales process, and then blossoms during onboarding. By this stage, we have covered 118 interaction points during our Progressive Discovery, and the real work (fun) of building the perennial business relationship and ensuring alignment is firmly planted.”

Importantly, vendors are backing up their customer-centric approaches with monitoring, surveys, metrics and feedback. Interactive Intelligence’s Professional Services team takes a very transparent approach to implementation projects. Customers have access to the project plan, including tasks, timelines and statuses throughout the project lifecycle and they receive surveys at key points in the project. There is also a Client Success team made up of individuals who are true customer advocates working collaboratively across the organization to respond to customer issues, says Saulnier. The team also measures Net Promoter Scores for each group, and combines that with targeted customer feedback to identify areas for improvement and follow up.

Bright Pattern also combines survey scores with customer input. “Our product management team routinely conducts in-depth customer specific discovery sessions to understand what works well (product, features, operations, etc.), as well as areas we can improve upon,” explains Pennell. “This direct input forms the foundation to the set our corporate strategy, drive operational improvements and formulate our product roadmap. Experience shows us that this direct feedback and recurring customer interaction is an actionable complement to a quantified survey score.”

Verint uses its own Enterprise Feedback Management tool to collect insights—both internally and from customers. “I look at the feedback within my team to see what’s working well, what isn’t, which customers my team thinks may be at risk and which are not at risk. This all folds up into a single report that allows me to review many different variables for my internal view,” says Dickhans. “The company uses those same tools to get feedback from our customers so we can see whether they’re struggling somewhere or if they’re experiencing big wins.”

Other approaches for gauging the vendor-client relationship include customer satisfaction measurement, customer retention rates, customer advisory boards, customer success stories and roundtable discussions.

Resources for Building Your Technology Awareness
One reason why vendors are more focused on the contact centers’ pain points and business needs may be because more are employing consultants with strong contact center backgrounds, not just technology expertise. That gives them special insights into the ins-and-outs of running a contact center. “We are passionate about helping contact center leaders because everyone on my team has walked in their shoes—we know what their challenges are,” Saulnier points out. That hands-on practical knowledge has helped other areas of the organization to better understand the contact center’s goals and challenges. Saulnier often provides sessions on contact center fundamentals for areas like product development, product documentation, professional services, sales and marketing to ensure that everyone keeps the customer’s perspective in mind.

To that end, many vendors have stepped up efforts to provide more comprehensive opportunities to educate their customers, as well.

Take user conferences, for example. Years ago, vendor user conferences typically consisted of smaller meetings strictly focused on the technology, and many of which took place under the radar of anyone who wasn’t a client. Many of those conferences faded away during the recession, replaced by free Internet-based information.

In recent years, though, user conferences have not only resurfaced, many are eclipsing the annual events produced by industry conference and expo providers by offering an impressive lineup of operational management sessions and workshops and high-profile speakers. Last year’s Interactive Intelligence user conference featured keynotes from NASA Apollo 13 legends Jim Lovell and Gene Kranz, and Angie Hicks (founder of Angie’s List), and more than 120 sessions. It drew 2,000-plus attendees, as well as the industry’s top analysts.

In addition to live and recorded user group events, Calabrio provides its customers with access to hands-on education at its Calabrio Innovation Center, a state-of-the-art training and consulting center that opened last year at its headquarters in downtown Minneapolis. The center “is dedicated to sharing best practices, key methodologies and forward-looking business practices that contact centers need to thrive in today’s market,” says Matt Matsui, vice president of Product and Marketing. “Through the use of flexible training options—including workshops, training modules, and elearning—the Calabrio Innovation Center helps leaders identify and address critical success factors for their operations and to exceed their own productivity and efficiency goals.”

User conferences and learning centers are just a couple of examples of the proactive role that vendors are taking to help contact center leaders build their technology and business awareness. Others include online training videos, newsletters, customer support websites, online ideas forums, user groups, regional conferences, best practice consulting, and annual onsite or remote training sessions, among others.

Most importantly, the key to getting the greatest value out of your tools and vendor partnership is to educate yourself. Today’s vendors offer a wide variety of resources to help you learn how to use technology to drive business success—you only have reach out.

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline, www.contactcenterpipeline.com

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