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Legacy technology in contact centers stalls good customer service

Good CSRs offering good customer service used to be enough for a contact center. But, today, facilities need to dump legacy technology to stay ahead.

It was a typical yet telling rant conveyed via a bank customer's Facebook status. "Totally frustrated with [my bank]," she said to her 200 closest friends, referring to a problem in making an online payment. "Got transferred four times ... then was given a number that put me into voice mail hell."

Contact centers often get a bad rap from customers who are fed up with wait times, multiple call transfers and an inability or lack of knowledge on the part of the customer service representative about how to solve the problem. But, sometimes, it's not so much the fault of the contact center as it is the outdated legacy technology that the facility uses.

Ever-increasing customer expectations and demands mean greater emphasis is placed on the delivery of quality customer service after the sale. Companies recognize that securing a customer today provides no guarantee that he'll return in the future. That's why customer service is inextricably linked with customer retention -- and why a lack of current technologies can be so devastating. Companies must be ready to recognize when older technologies limit that needed flexibility and progress.

Siloed systems for customer relations

Companies have also come to understand the critical nature of solidifying relationships through various communication channels and through the technologies themselves.

In the case of the irked bank customer, the interaction began with an online chat. The customer was referred to a number at the company to call and then was transferred to other reps. With each transferred call, she had to repeat her story and finally had to leave a message. Irritating, yes, but not unusual. Many companies still have siloed channels of customer service. The online chat representative may not have access to customer information. The customer service representatives in one department may have product information while another representative may have account or delivery information.

Integrated CRM and contact center systems enable businesses to capture current and potential customer information in one place. Using a system that allows a rep to track a customer regardless of which channel he uses is key.

Companies are starting to notice. According to a Gartner report, CRM software sales grew 13.7% last year, totaling $20.4 billion in 2013. That growth is expected to continue. Kate Leggett, an analyst at Forrester Research, said that 40.5% of businesses surveyed plan to invest in CRM this year. Though it can be high touch, customer service is also becoming high tech, and keeping up is essential.

In addition to investing in CRM systems to take the place of legacy technology, companies need to address siloed back-office data throughout the enterprise, which can impede CRM initiatives. If they don't address data integration issues, the resulting poor-quality data or a lack of access to data in CRM systems, can thwart efforts to service customers.

Tried and true -- and done

Traditional telephony is trusted and familiar, says Jon Arnold, principal at J Arnold and Associates, an independent industry analyst and marketing consultancy. But it can be costly and lack flexibility down the road. With legacy telephony, a business hires a certain number of employees to operate an on-site call center, and pays those wages whether the call center is busy or not; there's no easy way to scale the support to the demand. And long-distance calls made using legacy telephony systems are costly, Arnold said, and that may limit a representative's ability to contact a customer on the other side of the country.

New Voice over Internet Protocol technology saves money because it usually provides free long distance within the U.S., Arnold said. It also gives staff the freedom to be away from the desk -- but near a computer and Internet connection. This enables customer service reps to work from home, saving the company the cost of office space. Companies can have customer reps on call and use them when demand is high.

"It gives you a little more control over meeting customer needs," Arnold said.

On-premises contact management software

In the 2014 North American Call Center Survey, 78% of businesses said their contact centers were on-premises, yet of the 70% that plan to migrate to the cloud, 32.5% plan to do so in the next year and a half.

Why this flight to the cloud? Like VoIP, cloud-based operations help companies, particularly smaller ones, save money by allowing them to scale their service to demand. In addition, instead of having an on-site server that needs in-house management and IT expertise, businesses that use the cloud turn those issues over to a hosting company. Customer service reps can connect remotely, giving them greater freedom and also enabling customer responsiveness, via their computer, phone or other mobile devices.

This was first published in August 2014

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