Table of contents
Part II: Key Systems to Consider
Part I of this blog post discussed how organizations have responded to the three “Cs” of communication, collaboration, and connectedness needed for agents and supervisors. This post explains the opportunity to revitalize the contact center and examines the new technologies and tools that are on the horizon which can be deployed to support this vision.
What do agents need in terms of communication, collaboration and ultimately connectedness? It takes a bit of an interdisciplinary approach.
Things to consider:
The Internal Assessment
One of the hardest aspects of any initiative is conducting a comprehensive needs assessment against the backdrop of time pressure. Two adages in opposition spring to mind – “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” and “a failure to plan is a plan to fail.” Is there a middle ground, or a way to reconcile these two directives in a business environment? The answer to that will be the outcome of an assessment done within the contact center and hopefully with support and partnership from IT. The assessment should be as broad as possible, shining a light into the darkest of corners of contact center operations; inquiries should not be held captive by the concept of doing things as they have always been done. An internal assessment stage shouldn’t be where choices are made; all information informs the whole and will become part of the next step. The internal assessment therefore should not be approached with fear but with an attitude of opportunity.
In this stage all customer data that an agent needs must be identified – without judgement. All capabilities that the agent uses need to be documented, whether sanctioned or unsanctioned. This would include technology deployed for collaboration or storing best practices. Innovation often occurs around the edges.
Organizations need to think of data and technology that is about the customer, for the customer and used with the customer in mind by the customer handling personnel. Specifically:
- Where is the data, structured and unstructured, stored? Contact center-centric and corporate wide.
- Are there secondary or tertiary stores of information that agents use as source data? Is it an island or does it inform the central repository?
- How do agents access information?
- How do agents share information? Is it in a central tool? Is it a new tool since COVID? Is it a separate system from the core tool?
- How do agents collaborate? Is it ad-hoc, are the outcomes stored for best practices creation?
- How do agents participate in an environment that allows them to feel empowered to do their job and be connected to fellow employees?
“Retooling” can bring to mind a complete renovation of an existing process with new capabilities and workflows. In some ways that is true of what needs to be done in the contact center but it all can’t be done at once. The contact center environment is one of the most organic in terms of how it got to where it is today – contact center tech stacks have been getting larger as new capabilities have been bolted on via new software. In most cases it is not an environment that can be easily shut down for a complete retooling, nor should it be. However, there are some cloud-based technologies that need to be part of the environment to enable the ecosystem of solutions to peacefully co-exist.
The shift to cloud is one of the largest seismic shifts that the contact center has encountered in a long time. That said, the transition to cloud-based systems has been slow-going because of continued reliance on legacy on-premise solutions that were thought to be more stable and secure. That is, on-premise solutions have been entrenched in the contact center because of how essential this environment is and the requirement for up-time. Year-end 2022 brought the mix of cloud-based software products sold versus on-premises software products sold to just 51%, a small tip towards a cloud-based majority. In actuality, the contact center is benefiting from the best of technology innovation as many of the latest cloud technologies are designed to ease communication, collaboration, and productivity challenges. Additionally, cloud-based contact center products have been in the market long enough that they can be considered next generation products that also bring more refined, effective, and stable solutions to the market. The time is ripe for contact center innovation.
There are many areas in the contact center that can specifically benefit from the current innovation cycle that is happening broadly in the market due to changes such as the shift to cloud and AI everywhere. The following are key areas for contact center leaders to consider planning to incorporate technologies that impact communication, collaboration, and contextualization in the contact center:
A customer data platform (CDP) or CRM.
As organizations seek to create a complete understanding of a customer – encompassing all interactions within the journey — the concept of a CDP/CRM resonates both outside and inside of the contact center. A CDP/CRM allows an organization to centralize information and create a unified view of the customer. Marketing has known about and utilized CDPs/CRMs for years. The idea is that using a CDP/CRM organizes data and makes it available to multiple stakeholders. However, the data needs to be fed into a system that is accessible by all constituents to be truly effective. A CDP/CRM can combine data across touchpoints in the case of service and in real-time to help create an experience unique to that customer based on their needs and behaviors. If interrogated properly, a CDP/CRM can also help identify customer issues and help improve service interactions and also identify new sales and upsell opportunities.
Agent assist technologies.
The realm of products that offer agents assistance in conducting both routine and not so routine tasks, is expanding due to a wide variety of AI technologies. The pressure on agents to react to customers in real time with accurate information is a tall ask when that agent is researching and talking at the same time and often consulting 3-4 different sources of content, compliance, and entitlement information. With AI supporting activities such as recommendations of products, help articles, real-time recording and transcriptions, and post-call summaries, a significant number of time-consuming tasks can be completed automatically for the agent.
Knowledge Management (KM).
Knowledge systems and knowledgebases have been a core part of contact centers for self-help and agent assistance for a long time, but they have suffered from maintenance and curation issues that harm content relevancy. Customers and contact center employees alike can benefit from a well-maintained knowledge management system. With AI technologies waiting in the wings to enhance virtually all technology areas, knowledge management is about to enjoy a resurgence. The information in a KM system today will be used to feed generative AI tomorrow. Using a KM to store best practice information and deploying AI to continuously refine and highlight out-of-date or inaccurate content will help organizations prepare for training the generative AI systems on their specific content.
Generative AI’s true value in the market is still to be determined, yet its impact is promising. However, new products utilizing GenAI are coming to market every day. For the agent and the customer, it’s rapid collection and summarization of content will become the standard. Many predict that the interface for applications will be a prompt waiting to be asked a question instead of clicking through options within an application. In the short term its capability for finding and summarizing content and call wrap-up notes is a boon to the contact center environment. This alone will allow agents to create personalized responses to customer queries particularly when informed by the information in a CDP.
Collaboration and connection.
Contact center agents’ needs for collaboration span from between each other as employees to sharing important information and between the agent and the customer. Many organizations are utilizing UCaaS (unified communications as a service) and digital messaging tools to enable employee-to-employee communication; these capabilities also allow agents to collaborate with customers. What system should they use and how to capture the content within that capability? Deciding how to handle the internal and customer collaboration is an area that is probably one of the more challenging to organizations.
Contact centers have been on a journey of renovation. Something that many have very much needed. In that renovation there are many opportunities for improvement. Once centers assess their needs, they can begin to retool. In addition to the latest and greatest tools in the market, cloud-based and AI in particular, organizations need to reconcile data sources in a way that enables them to understand and then service the customer holistically. These tools can help agents and contact centers be better informed during all phases of the customer journey. Happily, this opens the door for more meaningful collaboration between agents and other agents and agents and customers.