Contact center software updates shouldn't waylay operations

To keep pace with customer expectations, contact centers must evaluate their technologies and make some difficult decisions about investments in the tools they've used for years.

As ever-increasing expectations place added pressure on customer service organizations, it has spurred the development...

of new technologies to replace or enhance legacy contact center software.

Most contact centers have invested significant capital to acquire a standard set of technologies, many of which remain fully functional. That makes it all the more difficult for contact center leaders to justify additional IT investments.

The growth of cloud technologies has eased some of the pain by removing the financial investment that comes with on-premises software. Cloud technologies enable organizations to pay as they go, for only the services that they use.

Regardless of how companies justify the procurement of new contact center software, technology dinosaurs must be evaluated to ensure that they still meet customer expectations. Some of the key technologies and practices under the microscope include the following:

Automatic call distributors

ACDs were once the primary means for call centers to receive and route calls to agents using predetermined routing rules. Since then, call centers have transitioned to contact centers, and communication with customers now includes not just phone calls, but email exchanges, chat sessions and SMS text messages, as well.

Many older ACDs can't handle inquiries beyond the phone channel. Automatic call distributors must be upgraded with multichannel capabilities to make it possible to serve customers in whatever channel they choose to communicate. Most of the major ACD vendors have upgraded their products to support multichannel communications.

Workforce management software

Call centers utilized workforce management software to project and schedule staff to meet incoming call volume and attain a specific service level.

Workforce optimization software offers a broader suite of modules that includes workforce management, quality monitoring, e-learning, and performance management and more. Proponents of workforce optimization systems understand that improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the agent workforce goes far beyond attaining service-level goals.

Interactive voice response systems

IVR systems were installed to allow customers to use touchtone prompts to access specific information. They were introduced as an initial form of automation that enabled customers to get questions answered without having to take up agents' time with lower-level inquiries.

IVR technology has improved with the advancement of speech recognition. Customers have become more comfortable with speech-recognition technology, as evidenced by products such as Apple's virtual assistant, Siri , on iOS devices. The growth of this technology allows customers to have natural conversations, rather than resort to touch-tone prompts to perform self-service inquiries. Organizations now have an opportunity to enhance their self-service capabilities by installing voice technology that uses speech-recognition capabilities.

Call recording software

Analysts can listen to, notate and score customer calls with call recording software, and then provide feedback to agents.

Speech analytics has expanded its value with the ability to analyze live calls, listening for predefined keywords and analyzing customer emotions and sentiment to identify specific calls that may require special attention while the customer is on the phone. Another contribution of speech analytics is that, as a result of analyzing a large volume of live and recorded calls, contact centers can identify trends and perform root-cause analysis to determine why customers are contacting the organization. Finally, speech analytics can be used to identify samples of recorded calls where a specific phrase (e.g. "I want to cancel") can be segmented and forwarded to key areas of the organization to improve product and service offerings.

Sentiment analysis is also emerging in this area as an important, if controversial, capability. Emotions analytics vendors listen to voice cadence, diction and intonation and also use facial recognition technology in videos. The technology applies algorithms that identify whether a customer, or a contact center agent, is frustrated, angry, confused, satisfied and so on. A few vendors have emerged in this area, including Beyond Verbal. These technologies provide dashboards to help contact managers intervene in calls that are problematic or survey contact center productivity and call volume as a whole. Vendors like Radian6, now part of Salesforce, do sentiment analysis of text-based comments on social platforms and other forums.

Desktop systems

Legacy desktop systems were built to assist contact center agents in answering specific customer inquiries (e.g., providing bank balances) and performing specific activities regarding a customer's account (e.g., adjusting billing).

CRM systems provide a supplement to legacy desktop systems, allowing agents to have a better understanding of a customer's total relationship with an organization, including all kinds of interactions beyond a phone call. A CRM system can provide information to a call center agent so that when a customer pivots from another channel, the telephone agent does not have to ask repetitive questions and has an understanding of the research the customer has already performed.

Knowledge management

Historically, knowledge management has consisted of online help systems along with paper documentation, Word documents and frequently asked questions, among others.

Systems today aggregate resources in a searchable database so that agents and others can search in real time for information. Knowledge databases contain all reference material in a centralized, easy-to-access location. Knowledge management systems provide simple search capabilities and eliminate the need for agents to maintain binders full of documents at their desk.

Various vendors of contact center software, including Oracle, Salesforce and Microsoft, have now begun to integrate knowledge bases into CRM systems themselves, enabling agents to call on information, articles, product documentation and so forth in the course of a customer service event.

Next Steps

Knowing call center jargon

Talent management and contact centers

Why virtual contact centers can make sense

This was last published in March 2016

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