Serving the empowered customer.

Author:Read, Brendan
Position:CALL CENTER Technology

Today's customers; they control the business conversations with vastly increased ability to find out information on products, services and suppliers and, through social media, to influence others' buying decisions, not just their own.

For these reasons more customers are anecdotally going to self-service: web, mobile apps, IVR/speech recognition, and peer service/support via social media first and then only teaching out to contact centers if their needs cannot be met.

Those channels are changing. Voice is still the primary means with e-mail second, but there is a big rise in the number of centers handling chat and SMS, reports Keith Dawson, principal analyst at Frost and Sullivan. This growth in these channels is not necessarily at the expense of voice but as incremental additions, as more sophisticated switching systems get put in.

"So that when things begin to get better and contact centers start to replace their switches, perhaps in 2012, 2013 we will see a lot more of those which handle the different channels come online," says Dawson.

Chat/SMS/IM Growth

Customers are reportedly relying more on chat, e-mail, instant messaging (IM), SMS/ text messaging or a combination of these and on Web co-browsing to communicate with agents and less so on voice. The key reasons are increased speed and effectiveness. These methods can also permit quicker access to live agents. Tim Passios, director of solutions marketing at Interactive Intelligence reports that when a chat does lead to a call, customers find that they typically can reach a live agent faster than if they had dialed in from the very beginning.

Aspect is bullish on IM as it enables contact center agents - and ultimately customers - through the Web along with business partners (see sidebar) to see if there are subject matter experts available to help them via presence and then send them an instant message. IMs may ultimately replace chat for that reason and also because it is easier to send links such as video how-tos with. IMs are the most popular for service issues when there is a logical, well-defined series of steps that can be walked-through with the agents' help," explains Nancy Dobrozdravic, vice president of solutions marketing, Aspect. "Think about trouble-shooting a PC issue or filling out a mortgage application."

Ryan Joe, research analyst with Ovum, is seeing more suppliers putting chat in their product stacks. This is being motivated by the ability of chat to drive in leads...

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