MULTI-CHANNEL CUSTOMER DIALOG FOR THE CALL CENTER

    • Gary Hodkinson, Business Development Director at inovoo, discusses how the smartphone won’t replace the call center but, if implemented as part of a multi-channel customer dialog solution, it will reduce customer support costs.

      Remember the paperless office? You probably don’t because as far as I’m aware, it’s not yet in existence. Sure, we’ve got digital mailrooms and paperless business processes, but the prediction of paper being confined to the dustbin of history has so far proven to be just as accurate as the one that told me I’d have my own flying car by now.

      In a similar vein, only the other day I read an article (written in 2012) that confidently predicted the death of the call center, brought about by the humble smartphone. Three years further down the line, I know from personal experience that the call center is far from dead - although, speaking as a consumer, there are times when I wish it was!

      The Ubiquitous Smartphone

      Call centers are a notorious source of customer dissatisfaction and it’s easy with the benefit of hindsight to discredit predictions of the future. In this case, however, I’m not so sure. Could the smartphone replace the call center? There are some simple facts and trends referred to in the article that cannot be denied, such as:

      • Smartphone ownership is forecast to continue to grow
      • Consumers buy the devices because they like using them
      • Customers will increasingly look to the smartphone as the primary communications portal for services and information.

      Given the above, isn’t it logical to reach the conclusion that we will soon all be using our smartphones to access either custom-built apps or web portals for our support needs?

      Well, no. One good reason is possibly the easiest to overlook, which is that the smartphone in your pocket is also…a phone! Sometimes, it’s just easier to dial a number and go through the tedious process of number-based menus and automated waiting-time queue messages, before finally speaking to somebody who you’ve not spoken to before and doesn’t have a complete record of the paperwork/emails/web & smartphone-based chat logs that you’ve used in the past to explain why you need support.

      OK, so I’m possibly being a bit negative after my own recent call center experiences, but there’s a serious point to be made here:

      Not everybody wants to use an app on a smartphone.

      A customer can, and will, choose the method of contacting a company in a way that is most relevant at the time when the contact takes place. For example, if you’re sitting in front of your PC when you decide to contact your insurance company, you’re more inclined to use either a web portal or email than you are to find your smartphone and load an app. We live in a multi-channel dialog world, whether companies like it or not.

      Multi-Channel Customer Dialog

      Using an example of an insurance claim, let’s consider for a minute why the poor call center operator might not have all of the details to hand when dealing with an insurance claim.

    • You can see from the table above that the customer has a number of different communication channels to use at any given point, so it’s not surprising that the call center operator might have difficulty understanding a complex claim if not all of these historical records are recorded somewhere.  Now add-in a mobile communication channel via a smartphone, and things get even more complicated!

      Incorporating Legacy Solutions

      Most companies have already implemented legacy CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solutions that are supposed to keep a full record of all dialog channels used by customers. However, as technology evolves it becomes difficult for companies to extend their legacy IT to incorporate new dialog channels, such a smartphone-based text chat and document exchange app.

      Customer satisfaction is key; if a company can’t provide a multi-channel customer dialog solution that keeps a full record of ALL customer interactions, regardless of the dialog channel used, they will lose customers to companies that can.

      If standing still and forcing customers to use legacy communication channels is not an option, how can companies offer an app-based, mobile communication channel to their customers without incurring massive IT development costs?

      In 2010, an online article estimated that the average cost of developing, launching, promoting and maintaining a mobile app was between $25,000 and $50,000. But these figures don’t tell the true story, because a lot of the development and marketing work will start from a base of zero. In our example, we’re not looking to replicate whole business processes with a single app on a smartphone but, instead, simply open a communication channel through which a dialog can take place.

      A better approach than building bespoke apps is to place a “framework” around legacy CRM technology and then enable these specific business processes to be accessed via a secure mobile communication channel, using a simple app on the smartphone.

      For example:

      • Enable text communication to and from the smartphone, to directly access the existing customer record in the CRM
      • Enable photos of e.g. completed claim forms to be captured by the smartphone camera, then passed through the mobile channel to the existing paper imaging workflow (Optical Character Recognition)
      • Enable on-smartphone validation of the resulting OCR data by the person best-placed to decide if the data is accurate or not (i.e. the person who originally photographed the claim form)
      • Enable e.g. policy documents to be sent directly to the smartphone, through the mobile channel, for end-user storage in the cloud (accessed by the app)
      • Enable photographic evidence of e.g. an insurance claim to be captured & compressed by the smartphone, passed through the mobile channel and stored in the CRM master record

      In the above scenarios, the most important point is that there is no need to develop a complex smartphone app because each piece of functionality is an extension of the central, legacy business processes, merely accessed through a secure mobile communication channel. The “framework” technology is what makes it possible to extend these business processes out to the mobile platform in a cost-effective way and without having to replace existing legacy investments.

      One Last Thing

      Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone in January 2007, making the bold claim that Apple had reinvented the phone. In 2014, a mere 7 years later, Apple’s iOS “only” had 15 % market share, with the Android OS taking a massive 81.2 % out of almost 1.3 billion total smartphone units sold globally. It goes without saying that a mobile communication channel needs to operate on all mobile software platforms, and a framework technology with a simple app is the most cost-effective way of delivering this.

      But, by allowing customers to use their preferred method of communication at a time of their own choosing, companies gain from increased customer intelligence, satisfaction and the cost savings that come from self-servicing customers. The call center may be a long way from dead, but it certainly needs to adapt to its customer’s changing demands.

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