The following is my High Priority Column in the April 2006 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions Magazine.
The modern call center industry is about 25 years old, yet it remains on the forefront of customer interactions. Paradoxically, for many years, call centers have not been on the leading edge of technology or in the forefront of attention by corporate management. As markets become more competitive, it is essential that call centers embrace the latest technologies to ensure they not only keep their current customers, but are positioned to attract new ones.
This is not to say that call centers have shunned technology. Much to the contrary, in the past quarter of a century the call center has transformed from an industry that dealt with contacts on index cards to one in which the latest CRM software is used on state of the art servers.
Over the years, call centers embraced technology when automating their inbound calling functions using ACDs, skills based routing and predictive dialers.
In the last decade and a half call centers have used technologies like CTI to enable better integration between phone systems and computer systems. Screen pops are but a single example of how call centers embraced the merging computer and telephony realms to enable agents know who was calling before they even said hello.
In the late 1990s VoIP was born and was heralded as a technology that would transform services providers and enterprises as well as call centers. Massive investments took place by all of these sectors in VoIP. Most of these investments stopped after the financial markets took a hit in 2001.
It was at this point that the call center market stepped up and took a leadership role in VoIP deployment. The entire call center offshoring phenomenon has come about because call centers embraced VoIP for inexpensive calling. VoIP allowed corporations to locate agents wherever they made the most sense, regardless of geography.
In the last few years state-of-the-art technology has transformed the Web to Web 2.0, VoIP to VoIP 2.0 and now, naturally, the call center is able to leverage advances in its own core technologies to achieve what is known as Call Center 2.0.
For the past two decades many innovations have helped call centers become more productive and subsequently generate more savings and profit for corporations. In many cases, technology has had a dramatic increase in sales volume at today’s corporations.
We are now on the forefront of the evolution of call centers from where they are today to where we will be over the next decade.
This leap will be deemed call center 2.0 and it will be the biggest change the industry has ever seen.
In addition, this new way of thinking about call centers will help them evolve into the next-generation entity called the contact center, and help us realize that our customers are really groups of communities that can benefit from interacting with one another.
In addition, Call Center 2.0 heralds full integration into the corporate supply chain and drives forward the desire to integrate analytics into customer contact. Furthermore, it allows us to mine, archive and put to use the enormous amount of data available in our call centers so we may respond to customer needs more effectively and create true customer delight.
Furthermore, call center 2.0 will focus on integrating various departments in organizations using SOA or service oriented architectures. SOA-based applications will allow unprecedented amounts of information to flow between departments in order to answer customer questions in near real-time. It will also allow agents to make use of critical up to the minute data that can make the difference between a customer calling to buy an extended warranty and leaving the conversation deciding to buy a new car.
Video will play a huge part of call center 2.0. Call centers will video-enable themselves to increase the customer service of phone calls. In some cases conversations will be 2-way video enabled in other cases the benefits of having video calls will be so obvious that all call centers will scramble to show their agent’s faces.
Video kiosks will be an integral part of call center 2.0 allowing companies to put a virtual video call center anywhere they like. Sony can put such a kiosk in an electronics retailer, Weight Watchers can put one in a supermarket. Some ATMs will become video enabled allowing tellers in call centers to answer questions for customers around the clock.
Call centers will embrace client-based VoIP, striking deals with the likes of companies such as Skype, Vonage and others. Call centers will go up market with VoIP allowing their customers to speak with agents in higher fidelity with stereo and surround sound. VoIP will be come a service differentiator.
Call center 2.0 will be speech enabled allowing customers to use automation if they choose. They can seamlessly transfer to live agents if needed and back to automation again.
Call center 2.0 will use SIP endpoints allowing more flexibility and interoperability. In addition there will be enhanced presence use to determine when the best agents are available in your organization. SIP will allow all workers in a company to become call center agents.
Call center 2.0 will allow corporations to build vast virtual geographically distributes call centers around the globe using the best workers for the task at hand.
Call center 2.0 will allow callers to schedule callbacks with ease online and will alert callers to wait times online before they place a call.
Some of Call Center 2.0 technology exists today, and every company needs to explore and discover the combination of concepts and technologies that will help them continue to both exceed customer expectations and attract new customers. Technologies such as
Something I forgot to mention in the printed article is VoIP peering and how contact centers of the future will all peer with one another and with service providers, universities
and enterprises. ENUM databases will be the way we check to see if a call can be transmitted via VoIP so it doesn’t have to traverse the PSTN.
In order to showcase the best and brightest in the call center 2.0 market be sure to come to the world’s only Call Center 2.0 conference October 10-13, 2006 in