IP, SIP, presence awareness can improve customer service

Before spending more money on your contact centre, consider the possibility that you might be on the wrong path. From a high level, there is a tendency to treat contact centres generically. Their common purpose in most organizations is to address customer-initiated transactions and, in commercial enterprises, their added objective is to take advantage of those transactions by up-selling or cross-selling. For many organizations, however, the results are at best expensive and at worst elusive. Throwing more technology at the problems does not always work. More training and better career paths for agents frequently seems to be insufficient. These difficulties are compounded when the main priority for the contact centre is increased productivity, particularly when the measure is something like cost per call. The major reason for this dilemma is assuming only one model for the contact centre, when that model is not suitable for all types of organization.

Internet Protocol (IP), Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and presence awareness technologies are about to foster different views of what a contact centre could, and should, be. The key elements will be multi-media and decentralization; the former will improve the options available to the customer but, more importantly, the latter will improve the rate of first-call resolution. This will be achieved by allowing agents to work better with subject matter experts (SMEs). Presence will allow agents to know which SMEs are available to deal with customers, thereby making it easier for customers to have access to SMEs without having SMEs become first-level agents. This concept could be extended to home-based SMEs, in addition to home-based agents. Consider being able to access the expertise of recent retirees or even employees of another organization on a part-time basis.

Decentralizing customer service will generate two distinct models for implementing contact centres. Type 1 is much like today’s dominant type, namely one in which the agents try to conduct all transactions. It is good for handling simple orders and trouble reports. This model runs into trouble when an agent is trained to be a jack of all trades, but the transaction requires the expertise of a specialist. Type 2 is one in which agents are not expected to conduct all transactions: it includes explicit recognition that customers need access to SMEs. If the volume of such transactions is significant, then Type 2 will generate its rewards in more-satisfied customers. With Type 1, how do you up-sell to customers who are ready to explode because of dissatisfaction with current and previous transactions?

In many organizations, the issues raised here might fall into the domain of the contact centre manager as opposed to the IT or telecom manager. Do not forget, however, that it was the application of technology that created the problems and that is what will solve them. The introduction of IP, SIP and presence will offer alternatives for organizations that would benefit from Type 2 architecture. Therefore, before finalizing your longer-term plans for that contact centre, it would be wise to find out how the stakeholders really want your contact centre to evolve. Stakeholders should be made aware that the old concept of a closed, centralized, contact centre is no longer the only choice. The new alternative is a “contact gateway,” which reflects openness, access and decentralization.

Ron Scott is principal of Scott & Associates. He can be reached at rs@scottassociates.ca

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