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Call Center Technology in a Customer-Centric World: 4 Essential Tips for Success

Brian Cantor

Odds are, you are not sourcing and investing in contact center technology for the sake of decreasing operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Unfortunately, if you approach the technology process from a flawed, yet all-too-common philosophy, that is exactly what you will do.

Few business leaders are categorically unintelligent, but an even smaller portion is immune to mistakes. Whether defined by allegiance to false conceptions or by the improper way performance is measured, errors are a reality of business leadership. The question, therefore, involves not whether mistakes will be made but how costly those mistakes will be to the affected stakeholders, employees and customers.

As leadership works to minimize those mistakes and assure the business is philosophically and structurally positioned to maximize the resulting customer satisfaction and ROI from investments into call center technology, it is important to consider the following essential tips. Doing so will assure technology reigns as an enabler of, rather than an inhibitor to, a customer-centric experience.

Technology is managed by people

When working correctly, technology can help you care for your customers. But it cannot make you care about them.

Swept off their feet by flowery marketing language and promises of cost-efficiency, far too many business leaders implement technology under the notion that such technology is a shortcut to a better customer experience. They mistakenly believe that they are paying for a better customer experience.

But so much of the customer experience happens before (and after) the agents and customers engage via a specific technology platform. And it is those philosophical and cultural elements that have the truest impact on the customer experience.

If an organization does not value the customer enough to empower its live agents, giving them a platform to better communicate will not solve lingering problems with the customer experience. It might make the communication easier and more efficient, but it guarantees nothing in the way of efficacy. And more efficiently providing ineffective service provides value for neither the business nor the customer.

Because it is a business’ cultural commitment to the customer—and the customer’s voice—that ultimately determine its ability to drive customer satisfaction, it is that cultural commitment that must drive the technology purchases. Technology is used to better execute a vision; it does not create or replace one.

Costs are not always costly

Because technology requires an upfront financial investment, the natural inclination is to assume that its ROI must emerge in the form of new revenue. That inclination is wrong.

Make no mistake; the implementation of new contact center technology should yield increases in revenue. By improving agents’ ability to engage customers, technology should facilitate increases in satisfaction, loyalty and, ultimately, sales. If a piece of technology is not playing a worthwhile role in that revenue chain, it is doubtfully a good fit for the contact center.

But the idea that technology is always a net cost—and thus must always be evaluated for its impact on revenue—is an errant one. While cash will need to exit the business at first, the most successful contact center technology is the kind that actually reduces costs.

Leaders commonly mistake the cost in satisfying customers with the cost to satisfying them. Customer service is never free, but thanks to cumbersome, inefficient processes and systems, what business actually spent almost always outweighs what they should be spending.

If the right technology is implemented, it will remove the costly operational barriers to an elite customer experience and thus more efficiently enable the execution of the business’ vision. Before fretting about the cost of a new system, businesses need to consider the unnecessary costs they are enduring because of their existing system.

But technology still must work in your organization

It is irrefutably true that businesses should eliminate and/or overhaul processes and mindsets that complicate and undermine the customer experience. But is equally true that some things cannot be imminently changed or eliminated.

Though processes can be fixed, the nature of process is unavoidable. Businesses will have data systems that cannot be easily modernized or updated. Businesses will have command chains and required interdepartmental collaboration that cannot be avoided or ignored.

Successful contact center technology is conscious of these limitations. And in its role of enhancing—not defining—the customer experience, it must integrate with that which cannot be scrapped at the snap of the finger. While businesses should always be looking to streamline and modernize, each, depending on industry and complexity of the business, will face different hurdles in actually making good on those efforts.

None, therefore, cannot afford to invest in technology that does not align with the realities of the status quo. Technology should absolutely play a part in overhauling that status quo, but to the extent that strategies and logistics will not radically change, the more important role is to complement those admittedly constraining factors.

Great technology adapts with the given business environment. Businesses should not change specifically for technology.

Cost-savings are great, but technology is about the customer

The value chain is irrefutable; by eliminating costly processes that inhibit proper customer service delivery, effective call center technology enables businesses to more efficiently and effectively satisfy customers, which in turn builds loyalty and greater revenue.

But the chain is not inevitable. While the "right technology" will indeed play an instrumental part in that chain, it relies on a very specific definition of "right."

Technology, particularly that involving multi-channel service channels, must be implemented for its irrefutable impact on the customer’s experience; not because it specifically impacts the agent or leader’s experience. While employee and customer experiences often go hand-in-hand, the correlation is only assuredly positive when internal mechanisms are built for the benefit of those on the outside.

Consider IVR and self-service applications. In theory, such platforms should reduce call volume, which in turn will reduce the time and money spent—often wasted—satisfying customers in the call center and thus lead to a more profitable contact center. But that logic only holds when the IVR and self-service applications are designed, implemented and executed in conjunction with actual customer demands.

There are absolutely scenarios in which the customer would prefer to use an automated or self-driven customer service platform. There are absolutely scenarios in which ordering via an iPad is more convenient than ordering through a live cashier.

But it is up to the customer to select those scenarios. If the business forces customers to use these "lower cost" channels against their will, it will end up compromising its customer experience—and the associated satisfaction, loyalty and revenue—as a result.

Only two consequences are possible when a customer is improperly diverted to an automated, virtual or self-service platform: he achieves a resolution but experiences dissatisfaction in the process or he cannot achieve a resolution and must escalate the issue to a live agent. In either case, the net cost will outweigh the net benefit, and the business will suffer as a result.