The Contact Center is Not a Place

Business today takes place in an on-demand culture. From ordering pizza to renting a 12 bedroom lake house, customers demand instant gratification when shopping around for the products and services they seek. And it’s not just about making a purchase, it applies to getting immediate answers to any of our questions from the companies we do business with. That has set an expectation that affects all businesses and not just the likes of Uber and Amazon.

Contact center agent in the cloud abstract image

When I had a question about a deposit bonus sitting in my online poker account, I expected a rapid response to understand if I had enough to cover taking a seat at a high stakes table or if I had to resort to playing at the penny tables with no hopes of winning anything big. Granted it was close to midnight on a Saturday night, but I needed answers. Turns out, I am not alone.

Research shows that consumer expectations are high. When consumers contact brands using social media, 32% expect a response within 30 minutes. But social media is exceptional, right? Not so. Close to 80% of American consumers say that speed of service is one of the most important elements of a positive customer experience, regardless of channel.

Even for organizations whose customers are less demanding, unexpected challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic force a rethink. Contact centers built for good times struggle when circumstances change. And for anyone hoping that consumers will give them a pass when times get tough, bear in mind that 71% of shoppers expected no change in ecommerce delivery times as a result of coronavirus. 

 

Pictogram of document with bulleted copy. Whitepaper
How to Move Communications to the Cloud
Practical advice for CIOs making strategic decisions about their communication infrastructure.

Some companies are thriving under these conditions. Each of them has one thing in common: they rely on agile customer communication tools that let them respond quickly to changing needs.

Creating the environment for spontaneous customer communication

Meeting increased customer expectations and being prepared for business disruption both rely on the same shifts in strategic thinking:

  1. Customer communication is ongoing, not transactional.

  2. Your customers choose where that conversation happens.

  3. The contact center is a function, not a place.

Each of these has something in common: they set an organization’s customer communication free of the limitations of legacy tech.

A conversational approach frees information from software silos so that it can build into a complete picture of a customer, rather than a series of snapshots. New channels, such as WhatsApp, free the customer from inconvenient communication methods. Rethinking the contact center frees companies from tying their fates to the fixed capabilities of on-prem infrastructure and the fragility of physical places.

 

"Rethinking the contact center frees companies from tying their fates to the fixed capabilities of on-prem infrastructure and the fragility of physical places."

The problems we need to solve

Let’s put it into context. Think back five years to a time when social distancing was a concept that would only bring a smile to the most antisocial among us. A customer calls to ask a question about accountancy software. They want to know if the software integrates with the bank their company uses. The call center agent says that it does and the customer is happy. 

After the call, everyone feels they’ve done a good job. The agent closed the call without losing the sale and did so in less than the target call duration. The sales manager adds another win to the tally. And the customer is happy because their question was answered. The transaction is closed.

In the moment it looks like a win for everybody. Seen in the context of an ongoing conversation, though, it might be a missed opportunity.

As it was, the customer had emailed earlier asking a separate question about managing Canadian Dollar denominated accounts. If the contact center system had provided a history of all communication, rather than just recent call history, the agent would have known to tell the customer that foreign currency integrations required a third-party plugin.

Now let’s turn the pressure up. Later that week, a digger’s backhoe goes through the fibre line connecting the contact center to the company’s telecoms provider. There’s another perfectly good line coming in the other side of the building but that’s for general internet use only. Each of the contact center agents also has 3G or LTE on their cellphones but there’s no timely way to make use of any such alternative.

The customer is now configuring the software and realizes that the integration doesn’t work in the way they’d hoped. They try calling the support line but get a service unavailable message. After a few more tries, they finally give up, request a refund through the website, and try a competitor’s product instead. Yikes. 

Today things could be very different. A 360 degree view of the customer would help the agent provide better advice. Using facilities such as the Vonage’s Messages API, the customer could contact support using messaging app, thereby avoiding issues with other channels. And using a cloud contact center platform, rather than an on premises system, would enable agents to log in from anywhere regardless of problems with one particular line or physical location.

However, for the 90% of organizations globally that still use on premises contact center systems, the story would most likely have been the same. In a world where compute power has become a utility, legacy contact center platforms are an outdated liability. They make it harder to integrate new functionality and, crucially, they are fragile.

Replace fragility with agility

Serving on-demand expectations takes agility and the one thing holding most companies back is the idea that the contact center is a place with chairs, desks, headsets, and server racks.

Instead, the contact center of the 2020s is the bringing together of the people, processes, and systems that make customer communication happen. The agile contact center can adapt rapidly to meet changing customer needs and to respond to business disruption. At the heart of that modern contact center is a move from on premises software to cloud contact center solutions.

Think back to those three shifts in strategic thinking. How does moving to the cloud help there? Let’s look at them one by one.

Customer communication is ongoing, not transactional.

Customer communication preferences are evolving faster than ever before. Signing a three or five year term for on premises contact center software means taking a bet that your vendor and your contract can keep pace. An on premises solution is a snapshot of technology and culture at the time of installation.

Like all cloud computing, cloud contact center solutions constantly improve to increase functionality and take advantage of new technologies. Cloud contact center solutions are built from the ground up to integrate easily with other systems. With a cloud contact platform, you can bring every channel together and integrate them with your CRM to produce an omnichannel, conversational view of each customer.

Your customers choose where that conversation happens.

What if in two years’ time a new messaging platform sweeps the world? Will a legacy on premises system integrate with it? And if it does, will the vendor’s consulting fees wipe out any chance of a return on the investment?

Cloud contact center solutions, such as that offered by Vonage, stay current with customer preferences.

The contact center is a function, not a place.

Even before COVID-19, employment was becoming increasingly distributed rather than tied to a physical location. Even if your contact center staff operate from the same location in ordinary times, a cloud contact center platform decouples your ability to function from a single place.

During a pandemic or natural disaster that makes access to your premises impossible, a cloud solution lets agents take calls and respond to messages anywhere that they have internet access. In normal times, location flexibility means you can hire agents based on their performance rather than on their location.

Stay relevant by moving to the cloud

As consumer expectations change, the risk to companies is that they won’t be able to respond quickly enough. Legacy communication systems lock organizations into operating from a physical location and serving customers according to whatever was in fashion at the time of purchase.

By moving your company’s contact center platform to the cloud you not only enable your agents to continue operating even while disruptions take your competitors offline, but you also accelerate the pace at which you can adopt new technologies to better serve your customers; even those looking to play poker on a Saturday night. Spoiler alert: I played and lost. 

 

 

By Michael Goldberg Editor-in-Chief, Content Marketing

Michael is Vonage's Editor in Chief. When he's not writing and reading about technology, he enjoys watching the Jets and Mets try not to lose and spending time with his wife and two sons.

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