Delivering excellent customer service is paramount in today’s economic climate. Most consumers and businesses view the products and services they use on a regular basis as commodities due to the fact that they are so readily available via the Internet. One bad customer experience can result in a customer quickly dumping one supplier for another. After all, it only takes seconds to conduct a quick search to find a company’s competitors—and only a few minutes more to place an order with one of them.
As a result, customer service has not only become an important differentiator, in many cases it is the only differentiator. Organizations can no longer afford to let customer service take a back seat to product selection or quality. The phrase “a great product trumps all” is simply not as true as it used to be. A business might have a superior product, but if its customer service is lousy, it will invariably lose a percentage of customers and prospects to its competitors, even if their products aren’t as good.
Multiple Channels Present Service Challenges
But delivering good customer service cost effectively has become a major challenge for most organizations. That’s because there are so many new channels through which customers can do business. In addition to the traditional channels of the telephone and “snail mail,” the Internet has brought email, Web chat and social media, the latter of which can be viewed as a “test bed” giving rise to a myriad of new channels, some with staying power, others fly-by-night. What’s more, mobile communications have completely revolutionized the way customers interact with organizations as smartphones allow them to communicate via SMS, email, chat, phone and social media when they want, where they want.
The challenge is delivering good customer service across all these channels consistently. Customers expect the companies they do business with to be just as good at meeting their needs via webchat as with phone or email. As such, most organizations today are deploying multichannel contact centers that are capable of supporting these new modes of communication. They are also spending a lot of time and money training their contact center agents how to use these channels effectively, as each requires a different skill set.
Many organizations, however, have taken a piecemeal approach to bringing multichannel functionality to their contact centers. Some are still using legacy phone systems in conjunction with other, more advanced solutions, such as webchat and email that are “bolted” onto the telephony platform. Although this enables an organization to get more mileage out of its existing technology investment, this approach can be detrimental to customer service. Why? The different solutions that make up the overall system simply don’t work together reliably due to the inherent deficiencies of the integrations between the systems. Very often these solutions were never intended to work together.
The limitations of these custom integrations can sometimes be apparent to customers. For example, they might find that an organization is slow to reply to emails or requests for webchat; calls might fail to transfer to the intended party; text messages might never reach their proper destination; or an agent might not have a customer’s information readily available when they call. What’s more, the organization’s contact center agents might have trouble dealing with so many different applications—or there is significant lag time when switching from one application to another—thus slowing customer service. If an organization’s management thinks such minor lags are of little consequence, then they need to be made aware that today’s consumers, particularly those representing generations Y and X, demand instant gratification via instant communications. With these impatient consumers, sometimes even a delay of only a few seconds can result in a defection.
Cloud-based Systems Offer a Reliable Solution
Today’s cloud-based contact center systems largely resolve these technical issues. In general, these systems take all of the applications that comprise the contact center technology ecosystem and unify them on a single, Web-based platform. By building all of the applications on a single platform utilizing common code, integration issues are largely resolved, thus allowing for faster, more reliable multichannel communications. In addition, the agents gain a single user interface that unifies all of the applications and thus is many times simpler and faster to use. As such, today’s cloud-based contact center systems give organizations the ability to serve their customers quickly and accurately, without the risk of legacy technology slowing communications or causing an interaction to go awry.
Today’s cloud-based contact systems have already cemented their reputation for being quick and easy to deploy. With the cloud, software-as-a-service or hosted model of delivery, companies can simply “subscribe” to a contact center technology provider’s service, often without making a large upfront capital investment in new hardware or network infrastructure. The software is delivered to the agent’s desktop in an on-demand fashion, much like a utility, allowing organizations to rapidly deploy a new system without the risks associated with purchasing an on-premises system, which in essence locks them into a particular vendor (or multiple vendors) for the long haul. In fact, most providers of cloud-based systems today will allow customers to try their software on a short-term or trial basis to see if it properly fits their needs.
As a result, small to medium-sized businesses can quickly and easily deploy a full-featured cloudbased system that delivers a host of features and capabilities typically found on more expensive, hardware-based systems. This, in turn, gives them a distinct advantage over their competitors using legacy on-premises systems, in that they have access to a wider range of features that they can leverage to further improve the customer experience.
In fact, most cloud contact center technology providers are continuously refining their systems, adding new features and capabilities based on feedback from their clients. Most of the time, these new capabilities can be rolled out seamlessly without any service interruptions. In contrast, on-premises systems tend to be more rigid and inflexible when it comes to adding new features. The fact that innovation in the cloud can be carried out so readily is one of the major advantages of today’s cloud-based contact center systems.
Another advantage of cloud-based systems is that they are ideal for geographically dispersed contact centers—that is, centers with multiple locations or which make use of remote or home-based agents. Not only are these systems ideal for linking all the locations together, creating a virtualized contact center, they also help organizations deliver customer service more consistently from location to location. For example, a company with multiple contact center locations may have legacy technology from different vendors at each location, creating inconsistencies in the level of service provided at each location. These inconsistencies can be annoying, or at the very least mysterious, to an organization’s customers. Whereas with a cloud-based system, the hardware and software is centralized in a data center and delivered via the Internet to virtually any end point, thus bringing consistency, standardization and uniformity to all operations.
Eliminate Risk: How to Choose the Right Partner
Although cloud-based contact centers offer numerous advantages over on-premises systems, many organizations have concerns about “loss of control”—that is to say, they see risks in being dependent on a third-party provider that may not address problems fast enough or be reactive in delivering desired functionality. This risk, however, is mitigated through due diligence: Providing that the organization has done its homework and thoroughly researched the particular vendor it is planning to use, there should be little concern over loss of control. Basically, any organization that is considering moving its contact center to the cloud needs to bear in mind that the vendor it selects is going to be a strategic partner. That means the vendor needs to be evaluated using a set of criteria that goes beyond the merits of its system. For example, the depth of experience represented in the vendor’s management and support teams is an extremely important consideration, as this is what enables the vendor to better understand the organization’s operations. This, in turn, allows the vendor to provide its clients with a more personalized service. In addition, it is essential to consider the vendor’s reputation for providing prompt and reliable support in the event something goes wrong.
Other questions to ask include:
- Is the cloud-based provider capable of addressing the organization’s security and dayto-day operational needs?
- Is the cloud-based provider’s support team as responsive as an in-house team, or will it take days to make simple changes?
- Is the cloud-based provider reliable when it comes to implementing new features?
- Does the cloud-based provider’s management and/or support team possess a high level of expertise in contact center operations?
- Is the cloud-based provider willing to support the organization’s unique requirements?
- Does the cloud-based provider have a good track record of running patches, updates and fixes in a timely and non-disruptive manner?
Any organization shopping for a cloud-based contact center solution should conduct due diligence in examining each provider’s expertise and track record in delivering its software securely and reliably. What’s more, an organization should select a vendor that not only understands its business philosophy, but mirrors it. Because the vendor will be serving as a strategic partner, there must be synergies between the two organizations, and certainly how the personalities of the two “mesh” is not to be overlooked. It is also important for the organization to keep track of how the vendor’s performance and philosophy changes over time. It is recommended that an organization develop a set of metrics that can be used to assess the vendor’s performance on an ongoing basis, as this is a critical factor in consistently delivering superior customer service.
Finally, one of the biggest advantages of a cloud-based contact center system is that it reduces the strain on an organization’s internal IT support team, thus freeing it up to focus on other, more mission critical systems. By freeing itself of the burden of having to maintain an on-premise, hardware-based system, an organization can instead focus on initiatives that will help improve service quality and deliver a truly differentiated customer experience.
Patrick Barnard is a freelance technology writer for cloud-based contact center technology provider Connect First, where he also contributes to the company’s blog.