Chapter 4: Using Contact Center Technology to Improve CX

Chapter 4 Learning Outcomes

After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

  1. List five different technologies used within a contact center.
  2. Explain two customer benefits from contact centers using technology to improve service.
  3. Explain two employee benefits from contact centers using technology to improve service.
  4. Explain two company benefits from contact centers using technology to improve service.
  5. Describe three benefits of customer relationship management software.
  6. Discuss the pros and cons of contact centers becoming purely automated.

Types of Call/Contact Centers

The first step to investing in a contact center is to determine which services and tasks the contact center will support. That will help management determine the type of structure, technology, and resources needed. Here’s a brief definition of each type:

: In an outbound call center, agents contact potential or existing customers rather than receive incoming calls from them. This type of call center is mainly used for sales, fundraising, promotions, and customer surveys, but it’s not always the case. Some businesses choose to welcome their new clients with the so-called welcome call, during which agents provide further information on the company’s products or policies.[1]

: Inbound call centers tend to focus on assistance for customers who need instructions, a technician, problems solved, questions answered, or other assistance with products, services, and orders. For example, if your internet connection stops working or if it’s too slow, you can call your internet provider’s customer service center to report the issue and get it fixed. Apart from on-call support, inbound contact center agents often provide email responses or chat support.[2]

Blended call center: In a blended call center customer service agents take care of both inbound and outbound call operations. Agents can fill in for each other while handling all the calls. This functionality boosts a call center’s productivity.[3]

 : Many businesses have opted for virtual or cloud-based contact centers with blended services. Cloud-based call centers can be operated from anywhere, the set-up is very easy and quick and you don’t need any special programming skills or equipment. Users only need a computer or a phone with an internet connection to access the service. A huge advantage of virtual call centers is the possibility to integrate them with your existing tools, such as CRM or sales support systems.[4]

International and : Contact centers can be further divided into domestic and international contact centers. Domestic contact centers make and receive calls from people within the same country. So if the company contact center operates in France, agents will be in touch with customers living in France only. On the other hand, international call centers receive and make calls to people from all over the world. often use several local phone numbers or toll-free numbers to minimize fees for their customers.[5]

Offshore and nearshore contact centers: Companies often outsource their customer service management to overseas call centers. India and the Philippines are the most prominent countries where offshore call centers are located. Overseas call centers typically offer lower rates, because the labor costs in these countries are much lower than in the U.S. However, it’s important that companies do not lose sight of what’s important if they are considering moving their call center operations overseas. Businesses need to make sure the provider they choose will not compromise their brand or the customer experience.[6]

Nearshore call centers are designed to blend the quality of service found in domestic call centers with the cost-effectiveness of offshore call centers. These contact centers are typically located in Central America or the Caribbean and have significant numbers of bilingual agents as well as native English speakers. Nearshore call centers also tend to minimize cultural barriers because there is more travel back and forth between nearshore countries compared to truly overseas call centers.[7]

: With onsite configurations, contact centers are owned and operated by the company itself. This means that the company’s team takes care of the installation, configuration and maintenance with in-house software and hardware.[8]  This can be a costly choice but offers more control over setup, upgrades, customizable options, and changes when needed. 

: Cloud-based configurations are hosted offsite in the cloud by a business phone service provider. Users access telephone service through an app installed on their computer or mobile device. This solution relies on internet access with sufficient bandwidth to comfortably accommodate all users, plus other internet activity. Your business or call center’s data is hosted on the cloud, and the corresponding servers either belong to the service provider, or to a third party.[9]

Hybrid configuration: Hybrid configuration means that your call center’s software is hosted off-site and accessed through the internet or intranet. This solution combines the pros and cons of the previous two models, but it does have some drawbacks. The startup costs are cheaper than onsite solutions, and your business won’t need physical space to store servers. However, adjustments and troubleshooting still require third-party maintenance, making an on-premise solution less flexible than cloud solutions. Call routing structures can’t be changed at a moment’s notice, and users/numbers cannot be added as quickly. A combined onsite and virtual approach also has drawbacks in terms of security and overall expenses.[10]

What is Call Center Software?

Call center software is software that allows businesses to make or receive phone calls to and from customers for the provision of good customer service. It offers certain features, such as inbound queueing, call routing, outbound contacting, interactive voice responses (IVR), automatic call distribution (ACD), call scripting, and call monitoring, to help the agents efficiently manage all the calls.

customer relationship management via laptop and software
Photo by Bumiputra from Pixabay.com

Contact center operations software includes traditional dedicated telephone-based call center technology as well as computer systems integration and management tools.  These products integrate with customer relationship management (CRM) applications to access customer information and update customer records. Contact centers often integrate contact center workforce software, speech analytics software, and auto-dialer software solutions. Contact center operations features can overlap with telecom services software beyond adding communication channels–analytics, real-time call guidance for agents, and authentication or permission services, among others.[11]

A contact center is supported by many technologies designed to enhance the customer experience and improve operating and management efficiency, or lower the overall costs of running a contact center. These technologies include:

Common Features of Contact Center Software

ACD-–: ACD is a telephony system that recognizes, answers, and routes incoming calls to the terminal or agent that is best suited to handle the caller’s needs. Knowing where to send incoming calls before they are answered is a huge help for companies receiving a large volume of calls. ACDs help companies meet customer needs more efficiently. It can also create customer call waiting queues, collect phone system usage data, allow for call monitoring and coaching, and allow for social media and CRM VoIP integrations. [12]

Photo of Contact Center Agent sitting at computer with headset
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

: Call recording enables agents and managers to record inbound and outbound calls. The recordings can be searched through and heard later for quality coaching.[13]

: Call scripting helps agents follow a dialogue template for easy reference. They can fill their responses directly into the customer relationship management tool (CRM) to design workflows. [14] Scripting is especially helpful to new agents who may not know what to say to a customer or to an experienced agent who may be dealing with a very difficult customer or complex problem. Scripting helps the company portray a similar image to each customer and create a positive experience for each customer. While scripting helps agents follow a specific line of questions and answers it is important for agents to have the authority to deviate from the script when needed otherwise the script may be too rigid or not aligned with specific customers’ needs.

CMS–-: A CMS is most helpful for outbound contact centers. The software provides the agent with a contact list, or other information needed to reach out to the right people.[15]

CTI-–: CTI is a type of technology that enables computer and telephone systems to interact together.  Contact centers implementing CTI can use computers to manage all telephone calls, which in turn leads to increased efficiency and better results. When agents using CTI receive incoming notifications, a screen is displayed, showing the caller’s account information on the agent’s computer screen. This saves time for both parties by giving the agent the customer info they need to lead the call and solve the problem. CTI screen pop is often used in tandem with a unified desktop so an agent has complete access to customer data.[16]

CRM–: CRM software gives agents the 360° customer information they need to solve customer issues as quickly as possible. Contact center agents can also use the servicing application to document customer interactions that can be brought up if the caller needs more help in the future. Having a record can help agents resolve customer issues more efficiently. It can also help manage issues that need to be transparent to a sales team leader for further relationship building. CRM systems enable an organization to provide insight into all customer interactions across business units. Because they provide visibility into customer interactions with an organization, they also help with case and issue management: routing customer issues or cases through internal processes and keeping the customer apprised throughout the entire case lifecycle.  Your call center software should integrate with your CRM solution. This would help you centralize all the data, including history of communication, agent notes on every interaction, customer issues, and the offers emailed to customers.[17]

: Email response empowers agents to answer customer queries and manage requests across platforms, such as email, chat, or mobile apps, from a centralized interface.[18] An email response management system is a computerized system that receives, acknowledges, analyzes, and organizes email inquiries submitted by customers and routes the emails to the appropriate resources for response. The system tracks the status of the inquiries from receipt to completion and provides tools such as auto-responses, auto-suggestions, and response libraries to help contact center staff respond to inquiries more efficiently.[19]

Customer service agent sitting at computer with headset
Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

: Call routing is a management process that routes calls as per categories, which are based on predefined business rules, wait time, and customer value. This allows agents to prioritize calls that need to be answered first based on their value, urgency, etc. They can also transfer the caller to another queue and define wait limits for the queues.[20] It is also sometimes referred to as an automatic call distribution (ACD) system.

IVR–: IVR is an automated telephony system that interacts with callers before routing them to the right agent or department, based on the required expertise. The feature aims to ease the situation for callers. The IVR greets them first and prompts them to choose from a series of options to talk to a team member, pay bills, check their account balance, and more.[21]

KMS–: KMS is a computerized system designed to support the creation, storage, and dissemination of information. Such a system contains a central repository of information that is well structured and employs a variety of effective and easy-to-use search tools that users can use to find answers to questions quickly. One of the greatest challenges of running a contact center is making sure that customers are getting consistent, accurate, and timely information. KMS are developed to help contact center operators meet this challenge. By having answers to frequently asked questions in a central repository, agents and/or customers can search and retrieve the correct answers quickly and consistently.[22]

: A predictive dialer automatically dials from a list of phone numbers. This saves the agent time as the dialer will detect busy signals, voicemail messages, disconnected phone numbers, and when there is no answer. Predictive dialing is applicable across channels: mobile, text, social, chat, and email. It detects a customer’s channel of choice and delivers the interaction directly to an agent. It can also be used to deliver proactive outreach in the case of an emergency or to educate a customer on where their case is in the queue. This feature automatically connects agents to calls when an agent becomes available. The dialer runs through the calling lists and dials at the pace at which the calls can be handled to ensure higher contact rates and lower abandoned call rates. [23]

QM-–: QM applications give managers insight into employee performance so that any areas of weakness can be identified. Managers can also use QM to ensure that agents are adhering to internal policies and procedures. For instance, if contact center agents are not taking their break at the scheduled time, it could offset staff-to-customer demand levels. Knowing how contact center agents adhere to scheduling, training, and workload balance creates a more efficient contact center.[24]

: Social listening lets your agents listen to customer issues online using predefined keywords and hashtags on social media. Social media posts are immediately routed to agents and prioritized so that they can provide immediate resolution to customers. The feature also allows you to identify the problem areas based on the online feedback and then use it for improvement.[25]  Salesforce Social Studio is software that helps marketing, sales, and customer service teams to come together and manage a brand’s social media presence all in one place.  Hootsuite Insights is software that also empowers companies with social listening capabilities.

Here are a few benefits of using Social Media Listening:

  1. Learn what customers think about the company and its products and improve the customer experience accordingly
  2. Engage with customers and find opportunities for new sales, new customers, and new product development
  3. Listen to customer’s complaints and solve their problems or answer their questions
  4. Track the brand’s performance as well as competitors’ performance and create social media posts accordingly
  5. Connect with influencers and get reviews
  6. Address public relations disasters or crises before they get out of hand

: Mobile devices have become indispensable tools of the twenty-first century. Studies show that two-way text messaging systems offer a more direct and expedient means of contacting call centers.[26]

: A ticketing system collects customer support requests from all the sources and centralizes them with customer data about contact history. Integrating ticketing software with a call center system allows your agents to respond to all queries efficiently.[27]

TDM-– – Internet Protocol: TDM was developed in 1870 for large system telegraphy implementation. The technology transports contact center interactions by segmenting multiple data streams and then putting them in a single signal. IP has replaced TDM as the primary mechanism for transporting contact center transactions. IP offers easy access and value-added services such as instant messaging, video calling, and making phone calls directly from websites – all while moving through a less costly network.[28]

: Toll-free or “800” service lets customers call the company free of charge. The company or agency pays the phone bill for all incoming calls. There are different levels of service, and depending on the package selected, it can accommodate callers from the U.S. and U.S. Territories, and Canada. With special arrangements, it can accommodate callers from other countries. The public doesn’t want to pay long-distance charges to obtain government information and services. Toll-free telephone networks can help your agency manage customer calls more efficiently and effectively. They offer a combination of toll-free telephone service and call routing services to optimize the operation and management of contact centers. You can serve a wide geographic region, with multiple locations and staggered hours of operation across time zones.[29]

Used in the context of contact centers, a basic “trunk circuit” is a telephone line connecting the phones at the contact center to the telephone network. Each circuit can handle one phone call at a time. The number of circuits required depends on the number of simultaneous callers the contact center wishes to accommodate. For smaller contact centers, a special trunk circuit known as T-1 is commonly used to connect the contact center system to the telephone network. Each T-1 circuit can accommodate up to 24 simultaneous phone calls at a time. For example, if your contact center wishes to accommodate 36 simultaneous phone calls, you’ll need to put in 2 T-1s.[30]

: A Text telephone is a special device that lets people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired use the telephone to communicate. The process is similar to chat on computers, where one person types text to the other on these devices. Both individuals in the conversation must have a TTY at each end of the telephone line in order to communicate. Some TTYs can be connected to the phone line by placing the telephone handset in an acoustic coupler; others can connect directly to the phone line.[31]

: Web chat is a real-time communications system between agents and the company’s customers that uses a simple, Web interface. Users need browser access in order to use the service. It allows agents to handle multiple chat sessions at the same time. Webchat can be implemented as a hosted service provided by a service provider or as an application on the organization’s server.[32]

WFM – : WFM is used to forecast the number of voice and digital channel interactions service agents will have with customers.  Contact center managers can use the forecasts to hire the optimal number of agents to ensure customer transactions meet a certain standard of service. WFM systems often tie into other workforce optimization solutions to provide the tools to empower contact center agents.  Integrating this software will help contact center managers better manage agents’ productivity. Managers can plan agents’ schedules with a clear understanding of the call volume (derived from forecasting data).[33]

Watch the “Contact Center Technology Finally Enables You to Be Customer Centric” YouTube video below to learn about how technology can help a company be more customer centric.[34] Transcript for “Contact Center Technology Finally Enables You to Be Customer Centric” Video [PDF–New Tab]. Closed captioning is available on YouTube.

Benefits of Using Contact Center Technologies

Some of the benefits contact center agents receive from using technology to improve customer service include increased productivity, accuracy, efficiency, better time management, and possible promotions/recognition/perks for a job well done.

Some of the benefits the company receives from using technology in contact centers include increased customer spending, referrals, and satisfaction resulting in increased customer retention; improved employee retention as technology enables employees to be more efficient and effective; and, cost savings.

Some benefits customers receive from contact centers using technology include faster service, fewer errors in ordering and billing, reduced stress, and loyalty rewards.

Some benefits of using customer relationship management software (CRM) include improved customer satisfaction, retention, and spending; better internal communication; more targeted and cost-effective marketing campaigns; and easier analysis of performance as a whole. The company thereby gains valuable insights such as revenues generated, leads, and results of marketing campaigns enabling effective decision making thus improving revenue in the long run. A CRM system can help maximize business performance by increasing up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.

Should Contact Centers Be Purely Automated?

“It’s unquestionable that automation technology provides significant cost savings. For every second that bots shave off average handle times, contact centers save about $1 million in annual customer service costs. Businesses can reduce customer service costs by up to 30 percent by implementing conversational solutions like virtual associates and chatbots. Automation can, for certain business processes, replace humans (what usually is known as RPA or unattended automation). But there are many things bots can’t do. Bots can’t handle unusual or complex requests. They can’t match a human in expressing empathy. This is why enterprises that have blended automation with humans report that their customer service efforts are more effective at improving both customer satisfaction (61 percent) and associate satisfaction (69 percent).”[35]

Key Takeaways

  1. In an outbound call center, agents call potential or existing customers rather than receiving calls from them. This type of call center is mainly used for sales, fundraising, promotions, and customer surveys, but it’s not always the case. Some businesses choose to welcome their new clients with the so-called welcome call, during which agents provide further information on the company’s products or policies.
  2.  Inbound call centers tend to focus on assistance for customers who need instructions, a technician, problems solved, questions answered, or other assistance with products, services, and orders.
  3. In a blended call center, customer service agents take care of both inbound and outbound call operations.
  4. Many businesses have opted for virtual or cloud-based contact centers with blended services. Cloud-based call centers can be operated from anywhere, the set-up is very easy and quick and you don’t need any special programming skills or equipment.
  5. Contact centers can be further divided into domestic and international contact centers.
  6. Offshore call centers are international call centers that, due to their location, can often pay lower wages and thus charge less for third-party customer service.
  7. With onsite configurations, contact centers are owned and operated by the company itself.This means that the company’s team takes care of the installation, configuration, and maintenance with in-house software and hardware.
  8. Cloud-based configurations are hosted offsite in the cloud by a business phone service provider. Users access telephone service through an app installed on their computer or mobile device.
  9. Hybrid configuration means that your call center’s software is hosted off-site and accessed through the internet or intranet. This solution combines the pros and cons of the previous two models, but it does have some drawbacks.
  10. There are many technologies used in contact centers today to help improve customer service, sales, customer relationships, customer experience, customer retention, and more.  A list of some of these technologies has been included in this chapter:
    • ACD – Automatic Call Distributor System
    • Call Recording
    • Call Scripting
    • CMS – Customer Relationship Management System
    • Computer Telephone Integration
    • CRM – Contact Center Servicing Application
    • CTI – Computer Telephony Integration
    • Email Response
    • Intelligent Call Routing System
    • IVR – Interactive Voice Response
    • KMS – Knowledge Management System
    • Predictive Dialing
    • Quality Management
    • Social Listening
    • Texting Response
    • Ticketing System
    • TDM – Time Division Multiplexing & IP – Internet Protocol
    • Toll-Free Telephone Service
    • Trunk Circuit Networks
    • TTY/TDD Communications
    • Web Response
    • WFM – Workforce Management System
  11. Some of the benefits contact center agents receive from using technology to improve customer service include increased productivity, accuracy, efficiency, better time management, and possible promotions/recognition/perks for a job well done.
  12. Some of the benefits the company receives from using technology in contact centers include increased customer satisfaction resulting in increased customer retention, increased customer spending, increased referrals; improved employee retention as technology enables employees to be more efficient and effective.
  13. Some benefits customers receive from contact centers using technology include faster service, fewer errors in ordering and billing, and reduced stress.
  14. Some benefits of using customer relationship management software (CRM) include improved customer satisfaction, retention, and spending; better internal communication; more targeted and cost-effective marketing campaigns; and easier analysis of performance as a whole. The company thereby gains valuable insights such as revenues generated, leads, and results of marketing campaigns enabling effective decision making thus improving revenue in the long run. A CRM system can help maximize business performance by increasing up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.
  15. Businesses can reduce customer service costs by up to 30 percent by implementing conversational solutions like virtual associates and chatbots. Automation can, for certain business processes, replace humans (what usually is known as RPA or unattended automation). But there are many things bots can’t do. Bots can’t handle unusual or complex requests. They can’t match a human in expressing empathy. This is why enterprises that have blended automation with humans report that their customer service efforts are more effective at improving both customer satisfaction (61 percent) and associate satisfaction (69 percent).

End-of-Chapter Exercises

  1. Influencers. Search the Internet for how a company might find influencers through social listening. Why might a company want to do that? Discuss with your classmates and professor.
  2. Better Service. Search the Internet to see if you can find an article or story about a company that recently reorganized its contact center or adopted some new technology or configuration in order to provide better customer service and build customer relationships. Share your findings with your classmates and professor.
  3. Quality Management. Search the Internet for best practices in quality management in contact centers.  How do managers ensure quality customer care within contact centers? How would an agent be dealt with who may be lacking in quality care? Discuss with your classmates and professor.
  4. Outsourcing. Search the Internet for the pros and cons of outsourcing contact centers.  What are some of the cons of outsourcing contact centers to foreign countries? Discuss with your classmates and professor.
  5. Automating. Search the Internet for the pros and cons of automating contact center services. Do customers like to use automated systems?  Why or why not? Thinking beyond contact centers, when might customers prefer automated systems rather than interacting with a live person/employee? Provide examples. Discuss with your classmates and professor.
  6. Social Media. Search the Internet for the most popular social media tools used by companies today.  Search the customer segments that use each of these tools. Did you discover any trends?  For example, are there specific customer segments using Twitter? Are there more Facebook users in Canada per capita compared to India?  Do younger customers use Pinterest more than seniors do or vice versa? How might knowing the type of customer using each social media platform help a company better serve and sell to customers? Discuss with your classmates and professor.
  7. Trailhead Training. Visit Trailhead at Trailhead | The fun way to learn (salesforce.com) and complete the Social Studio Basics training module for free.  It should only take you a little more than one hour to complete and just think of all the knowledge you will gain. A great thing about Trailhead is when you complete a trail you receive a certificate of completion to add to your portfolio.  In addition to free training on Salesforce, Trailhead assigns badges and rankings making it fun to learn!
  8. Trailhead Training. Visit Trailhead at Trailhead | The fun way to learn (salesforce.com) and complete the Knowledge Basics for Lightning Experience module for free.  It should only take you about 30 minutes to complete and just think of all the knowledge you will gain. Discuss with your classmates and professor the questions a company might ask when creating a knowledge base.

 

Self-Check Exercise – Contact Center Automation

 

Additional Resources

  1. Top Rated Contact Center Products
  2. Top Customer Experience Management Trends in Telecoms
  3. How does Contact Center AI Work? YouTube Video
  4. Introducing the All-New Webex Contact Center: The technology enabling the future of CX, YouTube Video
  5. Disrupting and transforming the contact center experience., YouTube Video
  6. 2021 Customer Experience Strategies, YouTube Video
  7. Hootsuite Platform, Free Training
  8. Social Listening with Hootsuite Streams, Free Training
  9. What is Social Listening, Why it Matters, and 10 Tools to Make it Easier
  10. Hands-on Free Training for Salesforce

References

(Note: This reference list was produced using the auto-footnote and media citation features of Pressbooks; therefore, the in-text citations are not displayed in APA style).


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