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Those charged with maintaining call center customer experience platforms work in interesting times, for several reasons:
- Many of their own companies are either acquiring competitors or getting acquired themselves.
- Major contact center software vendors are going through similar consolidation, during a period in which scores of new vendors, including big names like Google, are entering enter the market, making it hard to keep up with the times.
- Customer service is evolving into customer experience, which opens up more support channels to monitor.
- AI is coming, but ambivalence in the call center abounds as some agents welcome its potential relief, while others consider it a threat to their jobs or of minimal value in meeting metrics.
One or more of these factors make it a particularly active moment for removing old call center customer experience platforms and replacing them with new ones, or at least integrating existing applications with new platforms, said Toronto-based contact center technology and operations management consultant Cheryl Helm.
"The proliferation of vendors and technologies out there has really grown, especially in the last couple years," Helm said. "It's [created] challenges for customers that we work with and us consultants just keeping up with it."
She provided tips for call center managers to tailor software buys to their companies' needs, whether the call centers are at large companies or SMBs. Here are five that can shape your call center customer experience platform purchase.
1. Fix processes before changing technologies
Review the workflows first, before committing to any technology buy -- same thing for staff competencies. Flawed workforce management and redundant workflows remain in disarray after a software rollout, regardless of how modern the software platform.
"It's amazing how we look to the technology first for answers," Helm said. "If I don't have the right people and I don't have the right processes, even the best technology is going to totally [fall] on its face."
2. Consider the cloud, regardless of scale
Costs for cloud-based contact center applications are dropping, Helm said. Comparing the subscription fees to the continuing costs of maintaining on-prem IT makes cloud call center customer experience platforms attractive choices for businesses of many sizes.
For SMBs in particular, cloud vendors offering cost-per-agent licensing models and trial periods of up to three months can make sophisticated platforms and features -- formerly used by only the largest customer support operations -- affordable to use.
3. Consider best of breed vs. integrated stack
This is a big decision buyers need to make in the software evaluation process. Integrated stacks might not always be as straightforward and intuitive to use for front-line workers as the tools best in their niche tend to be.
But best-of-breed tools can cause integration problems for the IT staff, as well as result in tech support that varies from one vendor to the next. "From an IT perspective, I want fewer tools or vendors to work with," Helm said.
4. Align software to business strategies
A prospective call center customer experience platform might be from a popular vendor, possess an amazing feature set and boast an intuitive interface that tests well with agents. But it also must provide measurable performance against company goals -- some of which might be better data security, engaging customers on more channels and expanding market share by creating better customer experiences.
Helm told an anecdote about how one of her customers, a small Michigan credit union, found its contact center overwhelmed by unhappy customers when its new website interface caused problems. The root of the problem -- in Helm's mind -- was, when choosing its software, the company failed to review its own mission statement, which included: "We will be the easiest credit union to do business with."
5. Fit it into your company's overall IT roadmap
While this tip might seem like stating the obvious, in many companies, it's not: "I have had people just going out and buying a product and not really working close with IT," Helm said.
Things to check with your company's IT leaders before buying a call center customer experience platform include finding out your company's plans for staying on prem vs. future cloud migrations or if it will be a mixed environment moving forward. Also, discuss how a new contact center system will affect IT operations and support. Finally, Helm said, discuss what other current projects IT has taken on and how rolling out a new call center customer experience platform fits into that workflow.
Editor's note: Helm presented her advice at the 2018 ICMI Contact Center Expo in Orlando, Fla.