This is a guest post from seasoned contact center technologist and independent consultant Tony Tillyer. He offers an inspiring and provocative view of the future in customer interaction, with technologies we all are familiar with today. You may also read his other guest post about VOIP here.
Curious how a Service Provider has to deal with a multitude of customer wants and needs, through their Interaction Channels. Identifying them and providing for them seems a never-ending process of evaluation and re-evaluation. Recently I took stock of the general industry trends for interactions between customers and their contact centres and where that may lead in the future of interaction management – come take a trip with me, into the future of interactions…
Unified Communications (UC) is basically the means and ability for a customer to use whatever means they deem appropriate to contact their Service Provider — and to be responded to in a way that suits them. The absolute lengths a Service Provider will go to is primarily based on which channels they want to deploy — or can afford. Voice, for sure, but then there is Multimedia, Social Channels, Retail Channels, Smartphone Apps and…. Where does it end? Well, again, that is in the hands of the customer — or is it? A recent survey has suggested that the smartphone will pretty much be the communication channel of choice by 2015 — I wonder how many Service Providers have a roadmap that points in that direction, rather than fanning-out their Service Offerings across a plethora of other Channels? Sure, right now it’s nice to offer the Customer a choice — as long as it can be effectively managed from a central platform. Unfortunately, that is very rarely the case, as these Channels have evolved through different business entities especially in the mobile communications world. SMS was always a Channel in its own right, giving a telco the means to keep the customer informed. But then it’s supplemented by Web Chat, email, FAX(?) and other “electronic” means of connecting with the customer, through a central platform called “Multimedia.” The absolute indepedence of these Channels not only requires orchestration at a technical level to bring them together as “Multimedia” — the business also needs to accomodate these fundamental changes, too. Even the Voice Channel has its origins in Networks and national telco providers. The legacy telephony equipments (Switch, PBX, ACD, etc.) have been around an awful lot longer than the boys and girls in IT who brought us VoIP and SIP as a replacement, and the telephony providers have pretty much always been at odds with the new breed in IT.
Then there is the question of choice. Another Survey suggests that “Generation Y” are just not interested in hanging around to talk to someone about their problem. And, if/when they eventually do get through to an “expert,” they want to be able to discuss the finer details of the issue and not be palmed off with a standard response like “I’ll look into that for you and get back to you…” For the up and coming generation, it’s about proactivity, staying informed, and being fed. The sheer amount of information available under FAQs, self-service areas and the Internet in general leads customers to look at possible solutions before they contact anyone for help — and that means no more “general enquiries.” It means having real experts on hand to deal with complex issues, not the “meet and greet” kind who are happy to pass your issue to the “back office.” Hence the need for proactivity — the need to resolve issues as they happen and informing the customer of the result — not constant iterations of the problem.
So where does this lead? The knowledge that pretty much everything service-related will be served through a smartphone and that the customer base will only make contact when it is absolutely necessary means a new approach. It also means being best informed about the issues which exist and not only taking note of them but doing something about them — being proactive. Today’s contact centres are awash with information, to the point where many are actually drowning in it. But today it’s all just
“information.” Converting “information” into real-time, proactive measures is a natural next step for customer services. If you know what the problems are through effective and succinct knowledge management, and you know how it occurs or how likely it is to occur, then you have the means to be proactive and address the problem without the customer even being involved. It means
using the centralized information being fed in by your customer service representatives (“Agents”) and actually doing something with it, other than working out how to respond to the customer. Beyond that, providing the customer with a notification that there was an issue — and that it has been resolved — completes the circle of next generation customer services.
Taking a couple of “future” examples, then:
A bank customer has the bank’s app on their smartphone. Business preferences have been pre-set for the customer and an overdue bill payment needs to be made, but there are insufficient funds in the account to cover the amount. The bank determines the customer’s ability to pay through their account history and credit status and grants a short-term overdraft to meet their needs. An information message is sent to the customer’s smartphone app, to inform them of the “issue,” the “resolution” and a “recommendation.” In the back office, updates are made to the account, as appropriate.
A retail store customer has the store’s app on their smartphone. Through knowledge management and trends, business rules have been applied to determine the best possible time for that customer to be offered a “Special Offer,” specific and exclusive to them. The information is fed to the customer’s app and provides them not only with the offer details, but allows them the ability to reserve the item and provides them with directions to their nearest store.
I know some of this sounds pretty far-fetched but it does highlight how technology convergence, customer preference, business acumen, knowledge management and business and technical rules could be applied in a pro-active customer services environment. Using the real-time information available to anticipate the needs and requirements of a customer and keeping them
informed. It’s a long way from the plethora of systems, processes, technologies and techniques within an Enterprise today but with the right long-term strategy in place, it is not beyond the realms of possibility.
As a utopian view of the future of customer service then: CTI, CRM, business, technology and knowledge management merged into single channel which serves the customer and the business without the need for interaction, through the implementation of effective proaction.
How to get there is a journey that needs a lot of planning — convergence, actions, rules, terms, management, technology, architecture, process, infrastructure…
Where does your roadmap lead…?
Tony Tillyer has 25+ years’ experience in the IT and Telecommunications industry and 10+ years’ experience with Contact Centres with Genesys Products/Solutions. Currently working as an Independent Genesys Consultant. Previous employments included banking, retail, automotive and mobile telecommunications as well as Service Integration, IT Networks, Enterprise Databases and military static and mobile communications.