Amazon just launched a preliminary cloud contact center offering, built on AWS. It offers an IVR, natural language understanding via Lex, queueing and routing and telephony infrastructure. It supports basic self-service interactions, and phone interactions. The best videos to explain what Amazon Connect does is at: Getting Started With Amazon Connect and Introducing Amazon Connect.
Even though this is a first step in the commercial contact center world, this offering is really cool. Why? Because Amazon knows how to build and run contact centers. They built their own infrastructure to power "millions of customer conversations". Amazon Connect has the potential for democratizing customer service technologies - making them simpler, smarter and prepackaged, to allow companies of all sizes to offer good service.
Today, a customer service organization needs 3 technology categories to support their operations: queuing and routing technologies (to route incidents to the right agent), a CRM or customer service agent desktop (to capture customer and case details), and workforce optimization technologies (to manage agent staffing, productivity, quality and forecasting).
This technology ecosystem is cumbersome, unintegrated, and vendors offer pieces of this ecosystem. Sure, there’s been movement to consolidate these categories over the last several years. But, still nobody offers the end-to-end solution that customers demand.
This a guest post by Danielle Geoffroy, a Research Associate on the Application Development & Delivery (AD&D) team.
Customer service teams are facing a dilemma that may bring back high school nostalgia – if you want to be one of the cool kids, you need to be social. But simply being present in the social scene doesn’t automatically make you hip to the digital customer. You need to talk the talk and have the latest gadgets.
In our recent report, we discuss the new reality of social customer service, and outline tools you should adopt for social workforce optimization. Companies have all felt social flip the table – it affects their core business model because newly empowered customers have a giant bullhorn to make their feelings known. As a result, companies must incorporate social into all realms of their business, especially customer service teams.
Customers turning to social channels for service support have high expectations (I know I do). Those expectations mean you’ll need to:
Contact center outsourcers have gotten a bum rap. Customers frustrated with offshore accents, agents with no power to actually solve problems, and overly scripted interactions have complained, sometimes loudly, about the practice. Comedians have mocked offshore agents, often mercilessly. In particular, the shared services outsourcing model in which a single agent supports multiple brands at the same time has come in for a real savaging. Check out this Funny or Die video for just one the literally dozens of such comedic rips on outsourcers.
In many ways, brands set themselves up for such criticisms by focusing on outsourcing simply as a way to take costs out of their businesses. That focus on efficiency left little room for the types of excellent service that built customer loyalty. Today, however companies’ motivations for outsourcing customer support are changing and options for onshore or so-called near-shore outsourcing have expanded. Contact center outsourcing actually remains quite vibrant. For example, more than two-thirds of telecommunications technology decision-makers at companies with midsize or larger contact centers report they are interested in outsourcing some or all of their contact center seats or have already outsourced them. So, it is clear that outsourcing is not going away; brands, however, are starting to look at outsourcers for new types of interactions.
OK, it is certainly a cliché and clearly suffers from an incomplete view of the world, but many contact center executives would still nod their heads in agreement with the statement, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Contact centers generate a huge volume of data, and everyone from agents on the floor to CEOs in their corner offices would benefit from being presented with actionable analytics based on that data. However, turning that data consistently into actionable knowledge that is useful to improving performance remains challenging. The key questions for contact center professionals around this data are:
What do you measure?
How do you present the data from those measurements?
It's no surprise that our recent survey data shows that customers of all ages are increasingly using self-service channels (web, mobile, IVR) for a first point of contact for customer service. In fact, for the first time in the history of our survey, respondents reported using the FAQ pages on a company's website more often than speaking with an agent over the phone. Self-service gives you that "pain-free" experience that consumers want. Customers escalate the harder questions to a live agent - whether its chat, email or a phone agent - and these calls become opportunities to help build stronger relationships with your customers to garner their long-term loyalty.
What is comforting is that the 2015 survey results from Dimension Data is saying the same thing too. This report is based on responses from over 900 global contact center decision makers covering 12 industry verticals. Some of their key findings say that "Customers want a frictionless, easy, and immediate journey on channels of their choice. They want a connected omnichannel journey across channels. Complexity levels are intensifying as contact centers evolve into channel resolution hubs."
Industry analysts travel—a lot. It is, therefore, no surprise that I care deeply about airlines’ frequent flyer programs and track the changes to those programs as closely as baseball obsessives track star players’ slugging percentages. When I want information on what these changes mean practically in my situation (Will the new loyalty program make it harder for a 75k+ elite member looking to book a companion ticket’s upgrade on an alliance partner airline, for example), I typically do not turn directly to the airline. Instead, I log on to Flyertalk, a forum that bills itself as “the largest expert travel community.” The forum—populated by thousands of frequent fliers far more obsessive than I will ever be—consistently houses discussions of exactly the thing I want to know.
The lion’s share of people answering questions on Flyertalk and other forums like it—Cruisecritic for the cruising fans, TripAdvisor for travel and hospitality broadly, AutomotiveForums for car enthusiasts, etc.—are other consumers, albeit well-informed ones. But these non-brand controlled communities provide opportunities to brands to differentiate themselves through service. Because affinity communities have barriers to entry, including registrations and jargon, community members are usually deeply interested in the topic at hand. In communities that regularly discuss brands, these customers are also more likely to be exactly the type of high-value customers that companies want to provide with great customer experiences. But brands need to decide when and how to engage customers in these forums they do not control.
“With the gift of listening comes the gift of healing.”
-Catherine de Hueck Doherty
We’ve all heard the canned notifications when we call companies for customer service: “this call may be recorded for security or quality purposes.” Most customer service organizations today record their phone interactions with their customers. Often those recordings just sit untouched on the digital equivalent of a dusty shelf in a storage closet. The recordings are there to ensure regulatory compliance or, in rare cases, to be pulled off the shelf in case of a major dispute with a customer. In essence, the part of the notification about security rings true; the quality part, not so much.
But, as part of continuous improvement programs, companies have begun to change that by actually analyzing the recordings for quality purposes. That process of quality monitoring allows firms to select recordings for review and assessment. In forward-thinking organizations, the tools enable managers to replay agent screen actions, allowing evaluations to include screen activity in addition to voice content. Managers use these reviews to pinpoint which agents perform well, which need further training, and to identify processes that need to be refined.
Companies doing this basic form of quality monitoring, however, find they cannot change the outcome of those calls — the interactions are long since over. This is where the emerging field of real-time speech analytics comes into play. Vendors of real-time speech analytics tools promise to allow companies to intervene at the moment of truth, while the customer and the contact center agent are still talking.
I first noticed the creeping changes a few years ago. In college I majored in comparative literature and averaged about five novels read per week. Even when I entered the hustle and bustle overdrive of the working world, I still rapidly pounded through stacks of books every month. Over the past few years, while I still read more than the average American, the act of actually finishing a book became something of a notable achievement. My brain was more easily distracted, my ability to focus on and engage with complex information diminished, and my capacity to multitask as required by a modern work environment was seemingly illusory.
Of course, I wasn’t alone in experiencing these changes. This distracted mental state has become a common problem among knowledge workers and heavy users of Internet and mobile technologies. Excellent books such as Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains detailed the changes we are all undergoing and described much of the neuropsychological research that seeks to explain the mental modifications that have left us in such a state. At heart, the research shows that our tools have begun to shape our brains just as much as we fashion our tools--and not always for the better.
Such mental modifications would seem to pose some significant and idiosyncratic problems for customer service organizations. Indeed, a new generation of contact center agents has begun to vex application development and delivery professionals. The new agents seem reluctant to learn detailed product and service information that previous cohorts of agents had little problem with. These new agents prefer to learn where to find such information, but have little intention of actually memorizing product support details.
I come to Forrester after working in the Solution Marketing and Corporate Marketing groups at a large customer service software provider. That role put me in touch with contact center technology buyers and the overburdened folks responsible for actually making great customer service happen every day. I saw close up the impact of the age of the customer on the thinking, processes, behavior, and technology choices of contact center professionals around the world. They are facing a world in which consumers are much less willing to settle for mediocre and impersonal experiences when dealing with customer service organizations. As consumers we all want effortless service delivered via whatever channel is most convenient at the moment, and we want companies to know just the right amount of information about us, but not too much, at the moment of the interaction.
That is a very tough nut to crack for contact center managers, supervisors, and agents. My research coverage will primarily focus on two areas that can help contact center pros begin to address these issues:
Outsourcing contact center operations helps organizations deliver better customer service. In Forrester’s recent survey of 304 North American and European network and telecommunications decision-makers, we found that nearly 20% have already outsourced some or all of their contact center seats or are very interested in doing so. Outsourcing doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition — organizations can leverage outsourcers to fill language gaps or react quickly to seasonal volume changes. Organizations can also choose to outsource only a subset of non-mission-critical customer service processes.
In all cases, outsourcing is major decision which carries a significant amount of management overhead, and should not be pursued solely as a cost-control strategy. Look to outsource if you want to:
Improve the quality of services delivered. Leading outsourcers adhere to strict quality measures that allow them to support customers more consistently and use tools and techniques that promote cost-effective and reliable standards.
Focus on core business activities. Using the expertise of an outsourcer whose primary business is managing contact centers allows you to focus on core business activities that strengthen your value proposition.
Deliver a consistent customer experience. Many companies use processes that are inefficient and don’t deliver the same customer experience across the voice, electronic (e.g., email, chat, SMS), and social (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) customer interaction channels. Outsourcers can help standardize this experience.
Scale capacity up and down. Organizations can’t always predict the volume of interactions they anticipate over time. Outsourcers allow you to quickly ramp up or contract enabling you to deliver service in line with your target service levels.