The Importance of a Unified Multi-channel Contact Center

Strategic Solutions Series

The Importance of a Unified Multi-channel Contact Center

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  October 01, 2012

This article originally apppeared in the Sept. issue of CUSTOMER magazine.

Customers have become far more demanding in this new real-time, always-connected world. They expect fast results. They want access to information and assistance when and how it’s most convenient for them. And they’re not afraid to use social media to make their voices heard.

More than 60 percent of inbound customer service calls will come from smartphones, laptops and devices other than landlines by 2016, as discussed in this issue’s CUSTOMER magazine cover story. That means companies need to be able to communicate with and listen to input from their customers and prospects not only via voice, but also using chat, e-mail, instant messaging, mobile communications, and social media. They need to keep their virtual fingers on the pulse of customer behavior and sentiment. And they sometimes require the ability to bring in experts from outside the contact center to solve customer inquiries.

“Multi-channel communications and mobility continue to change consumer behaviors and expectations,” says Serge Hyppolite, Aspect’s (News - Alert) vice president of product management. “All of this has had an impact not just in communications with the customer, but even with interactions inside of a business, largely due to unified communications functionality such as instant messaging and presence.

“Social networking is also greatly impacting business today and will continue to do so as it gets even bigger, especially with the idea of communities. It’s changing the delivery model,” he adds. “Customers today don’t just want service by calling a company, but look to peer-to-peer networks as a source of information. People want easy access and feedback on their terms and from sources they trust.”

Delivering such multi-faceted customer care with traditional tools is no easy task. Adding to the challenge is the fact that customers expect businesses to present them with a consistent and continuous customer experience regardless of which medium, or combination of technologies, they use to communicate. So organizations need to break down the separate silos that now exist between different communications mediums, data sources, and departments to offer a unified experience to both employees using these systems and to the customers served by them.

The answer is the next generation multi-channel contact center.

Aspect, a global provider of customer contact, workforce optimization and Microsoft (News - Alert) platform solutions, is leveraging its UC expertise to outfit clients, and those that they serve, with solutions that allow for a unified customer experience. The company last month unveiled version 7.1 of the Aspect Unified IP platform, which is designed to enable enterprises to interact with their customers across channels in their contact centers and with knowledge workers in the company. New with this release are enhanced compliance features around outbound calling to mobile phones, expanded call routing to allow for more personalization of service to customers, increased scale, and more. A key focus of Aspect in creating 7.1, Hyppolite says, was delivering superior total cost of ownership for the business and differentiated experience for the customer.

Other contact centers may be integrated, bringing together disparate solutions, but, as is widely understood, system integration projects typically are costly and time consuming. And, in the end, integrated systems are not truly unified, says Aspect. The experience that customers receive from integrated systems is different depending on whether they contact a company via telephone, e-mail or web chat; agents lose productivity because they are logging in and out of various systems; and business leaders lack the ability to truly understand what is happening with employees and customers at any given time. Worse yet, identifying the source of an issue in an integrated environment may take hours, or even days, given the many different systems, rules and formats that exist under the hood.

The Aspect solution, meanwhile, administers, manages, monitors and drives the performance of the contact center – including inbound and outbound calls, e-mails, chat sessions, faxes, staffing, productivity, and more – all from a single unified platform.

“We have the ability to provide a consistent view of the customer to the business, and a consistent view of the business to the customer,” Hyppolite says.

To help enable that, the company in June launched Aspect Applications Foundation, which exposes all Aspect applications, and connects to platforms from its partner Microsoft, as well as to other Aspect partner solutions. That allows businesses to turn up applications so agents, supervisors or anyone else in their organizations can see their schedules, look at calling queues, view e-mail, check evaluation scores, and more, on a single screen.

“An emergent trend is the marriage of workforce optimization into the larger business processes of the enterprise,” Hyppolite says. “Organizations are looking to reduce complexity, streamline workflows and inform interactions – all to deliver a great customer experience. It is not enough to only engage the contact center; the entire business needs to be on board and in sync.” 

First-generation call centers were based on a one-to-one model in which a customer called and was connected to an agent. Over time, the contact center evolved to include additional communications mediums such as chat and e-mail, and to support a one-to-several model in which customers could be transferred to other agents in other parts of the enterprise. Now, the multi-channel contact center expands on that by supporting additional communications options for customers and those serving them; bringing social media into the mix; and extending the contact center’s reach internally to touch the entire enterprise and all employees who can help enhance the customer experience either directly or indirectly.

By unifying multiple channels into a singular platform while maintaining and optimizing access to knowledge databases, Aspect’s multi-channel contact center solutions allow businesses to incorporate things like social networking or self-service applications into a single platform. As a result, the contact center, and the enterprise as a whole, realizes greater efficiency and agility. 

This model pulls together both structured and unstructured data acquired from multiple customer interactions within the contact center and through outside sources like social media sites. It allows large volumes of data to be sorted and analyzed, providing organizations with critical knowledge in real time.

“A key trend emerging is analytics and really around synchronizing insight to make better business decisions,” Hyppolite says. “Organizations are making investments in analytics to gain that knowledge and leverage it at the point of engagement, and not just view interaction analytics after the fact. It is all about understanding the customer context to deliver superior experience.”

Hyppolite says analytics is one of Aspect’s strongest assets.

The company’s analytics and workflow engine address social interaction by revealing who’s engaging, how often, and how quickly the business is responding. That way, an organization can understand the purpose and types of interactions happening over the social channel, and whether it has the right people and processes in place to address those interactions.

Increasingly, addressing customer requests involves not only people and processes within the contact center, but also those within the enterprise at large. The Ask an Expert offering that Aspect introduced last year addresses that reality. This solution enables organizations to leverage their Microsoft Lync and SharePoint tools to find people in the enterprise automatically and then allow contact center reps to use IM to interact with those experts to find answers to customer questions. It also enables contact center reps to directly connect experts and customers, and it can be used to bypass the contact center altogether and route a customer directly to an expert if that is the best resource to meet the customer needs.

UC tools like presence really make it possible to reach and connect with people outside the contact center, he adds.

“What’s happening is, as a result of some of the innovations around unified communications, and innovations at the hands of the customers, the contact center is changing,” says Hyppolite, “and UC is helping make that happen.”

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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