TMC this year celebrates 30 years of covering customer interaction, which means it couldn’t be a better time to look at where we’ve been with customer service and where we’re going. We’re also rebranding our customer experience effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Mariann McDonagh, chief marketing officer at inContact.
The company says it is the market share leader, based on agent seats, in the cloud contact center space. Prior to joining inContact, McDonagh was senior vice president of corporate marketing and investor relations for Xtralis; senior vice president of corporate marketing for Verint (News - Alert) Systems; and in high-tech and software marketing at CMP Media, Computer Associates and Cheyenne Software.
We’re celebrating the 30-year anniversary of TMC’s (News - Alert) Customer Interaction Solutions magazine. What has been the most important development in the past 30 years related to customer interactions?
McDonagh: We strongly believe that there are three macro trends that began to arise about five years ago and are driving major change in the service industry. In fact, we believe that the next 5 years will see more changes in the customer and service dynamics than we have experienced in the last 15 years total. These trends – social, mobile and self service – are fundamentally changing the way that customers interact with the companies they do business with. Customers have more voice and choice than ever before and this democratization of the customer experience – where the customer is in the driver’s seat – is causing companies both large and small to rethink their interaction strategies and the underlying technologies that enable them.
Is the tide turning on call center offshoring?
McDonagh: The movement of work to the offshore took hold of the collective conscious in the United States as customers began to experience difficulties in communicating with contact center agents, and offshore services experienced customer backlash that was embraced by popular media. Movies and television shows such as “Offshore” and the Conan O’Brien segment where he sent an employee to India to have his computer serviced in person reflected the consumer irritation over offshore services. Contact centers have responded in several ways. Some are now offering domestic support at a premium cost; if you don’t want to pay the premium, you stay with the offshore support. Others are leaving their back-office work and non-voice communications in the offshore centers and are bringing the voice calls back to the United States. Still others are working to bring language skills and American culture to their offshore contact center agents to break down the perceived communication barriers. And, of course, some are completely bringing their outsourced business back to the United States.
It would seem that both domestic and offshore contact center services are growing. Offshore services certainly continue to grow – according to a World Bank quarterly update, the Philippines portion of the report stated that job creation is expected to add 100,000 positions in 2012. However, we are seeing a number of domestic companies bring their work back to the United States – many see that they can improve overall customer satisfaction and increase first call resolution by using domestic call centers, which in turn helps them realize the cost benefits they were seeing by outsourcing from the beginning.
How has the rise of IP-based networks impacted the call center? Customer interactions at large?
McDonagh: IP-based networks continue to rise in demand in contact centers around the globe. The biggest change in the contact center as a result of IP-based networks is cost. Utilizing IP networks typically comes at a lower cost. It can also enable the use of softphones, which further reduces hardware and maintenance costs. It is also an enabler of unified communications, enabling all types of contacts to be delivered via any means and to any handset. This impacts customer interactions because it allows more flexibility on the part of the agent and contact center. It also enables work-from-home agents to operate as part of the overall contact center structure with minimal configuration to loop them into the infrastructure.
How is CRM changing?
McDonagh: CRM continues to evolve in the depth and breadth of the offerings, the way that the technology is delivered, and the importance of integrating a number of systems with the CRM solution. This is happening as the needs of contact centers and enterprises change. While once they were simply a Rolodex that automated reminders to contact leads, CRMs now have more sophisticated opportunity tracking, historical records, etc., and many have a built-in knowledgebase and social capabilities. While CRM continues to evolve, and the expectations of customers change, there is more demand for integrating the various systems in the contact center with the CRM and automatically documenting the record of the call. For example, customers expect that if they are a known customer to a company, when they call in, their record will automatically pop to the agent with an accompanying record of their last several calls, their issues and outcomes. Customers expect the companies they work with to know them and to have a relationship with them, and make working together painless. As a result, it becomes key to integrate CRM and call handling systems, and, where applicable, add other systems to the integration mix (such as billing, fulfillment, inventory, etc.).
How is WFM changing?
McDonagh: WFM continues to be a key driver of personnel efficiencies in the contact center. Through proper planning and forecasting, WFM ensures that contact centers are staffed to meet the needs/demands of the customers that are going to call at any time or day. The systems are becoming more intelligent and effective, and like CRM systems, the ability to integrate WFM with other systems is key to driving continued efficiencies to make contact centers work smarter and identify agents that excel and those that need more help. For example, if the WFM were tied to the ACD, training and QM solutions, the workforce manager could change staffing priorities and expertise based on an individual agent’s performance. If an agent were to consistently receive low ratings on billing calls, for example, they may be de-skilled from billing in the ACD and have a training module sent to them, only to be re-skilled when they pass the training.
Another significant movement in the WFM space is the transition of enterprise-level WFM solutions to the cloud, enabling small to mid-sized contact centers to manage their contact centers like an enterprise-grade center. inContact has driven this change forward through our partnership with Verint. We have enabled their WFM solution (and soon to come, the rest of the WFO solutions) for the cloud. We have a number of customers whose business has been transformed through the addition of a sophisticated WFM solution.
How is marketing changing?
McDonagh: Traditional forms of marketing continue to erode in the marketplace, forcing marketers to find new and innovative ways to spread their messages. This has primarily impacted sales-oriented contact centers, particularly those that depend on direct response marketing to drive sales. We have seen that many of the companies that once relied primarily on television and magazine ads to drive sales are turning to the Internet to market their products. In particular, many are becoming experts at SEO to improve the page ranking of their products, as well as social media experts as they leverage the new channels of communication to market their products.
How is the rise of cloud computing impacting how businesses target, engage with, and deliver product/service/support to the customer?
McDonagh: As Richard Snow of Ventana Research said in his blog, ‘There is no doubt in my mind that the cloud is the future for companies wanting to build first-class contact centers.’ The cloud is opening a number of opportunities for companies to do business. First of all, the cloud enables companies to implement new technologies for a lower cost of time and money than ever before. Cloud technologies are faster to implement than premises-based solutions, and because they typically require low or no set-up costs, and work on an operational cost, they are typically easier to fund. Therefore, cloud technologies impact the way that businesses target, engage with and deliver support to their customers by allowing companies more access to technology solutions. Additionally, many cloud technologies are starting to architect pre-built integration capabilities with key CRM solutions, making those integrations much simpler and faster.
Additionally, leading cloud technologies offer a number of enhancements to their platforms during each calendar year, which removes the cost and heavy lifting of product updates that are experienced on premises systems, and ensure that companies are always using the most current version of the software. This allows organizations to be more strategic in their operations as they can leverage new features to target, engage with and deliver support to the customer.
Cloud technologies on average don’t require as much oversight from team members to manage, which opens up time for internal resources to focus on strategic efforts in the contact center to deliver high quality service.
How is the widespread use of social networking technology impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
McDonagh: The advent of social media has been one of the most disruptive changes in the sales and customer service space, and continues to change the way that companies and customers interact with one another. Social media has changed the way that companies provide customer service because the channels of communication have changed from one to one, to one to many, where in some cases, companies need to actively search for information/complaints/raves/etc. in the social channels, rather than those coming straight to the company.
Social networking should be viewed as a great opportunity for companies to change the way that they are perceived by their customers, and the way that they all interact together. Companies can open the kimono to a certain extent, and give customers visibility into company culture, policies, employees and values – and provide more reasons for customers to embrace the company, because they feel that they know them more. From a customer service perspective, social networking can provide a way to identify your super users – the customers who love, adore and can’t live without your company or products. You can embrace those individuals and leverage them in the selling and customer service process. They will often come to your rescue when customers post negative comments about your products or brand in the social sphere. Social media is also an opportunity to engage with your customers in the way and channel that they prefer, which will increase customer service ratings as customers find that you’re where they want you to be when they’re ready to engage with your company. And lastly, social media provides a means to identify customers who are unhappy with your product or service before you actually lose them as a customer – providing a means to rescue that customer. Most won’t call into a company until they are absolutely ready to cancel. But if they tweet that they are mad at a company or that the company failed, that company has an opportunity to make things right with the customer and potentially retain the customer for a longer period of time.
How is the increased use and comfort level with video impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
McDonagh: Video continues to have only small usage across the contact center industry. It has strong opportunity in industries where the customers feel better or more secure speaking face to face with the customer service provider, but hasn’t yet found a place in mainstream contact centers. Because of its low rate of adoption, it hasn’t had a significant impact on the overall customer service experience/expectations.
What new tools and practices are businesses using to better leverage their own and/or outside data to target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
McDonagh: As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. We’ve all seen contact center supervisors combing through reams of reports, trying to get to the root cause of issues and extract the data from their contact center. Thankfully, those days are changing. Contact centers are becoming much more adept at analyzing the data from all of their various systems in order to improve the contact center. Technology is leading the charge in this area, with the various systems in the contact center providing richer data and more sophisticated built-in reporting capabilities to turn the raw data into actionable insights. Leading contact center software technologies are offering built-in reports that aggregate key data into simple dashboard views of the contact center that make it quick and easy for supervisors to see the status of the contact center.
How is the mobile boom impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
McDonagh: The advent of mobile has put a number of contact technologies into a customer’s hands at any given time. From one device, they can post to social media channels, SMS, e-mail and call a contact center, which makes it important for contact centers to be ready and able to respond to customer inquires in the time and format that customers prefer. In fact, Gartner (News - Alert) predicts that by 2014, there will be more smartphones than computers accessing the net. This rise will mean a dramatic increase in contact volumes and a massive surge in multichannel communications. Customers will expect – no require – you to be able to blend channels on the inbound and know their channel preferences on the outbound. As research has shown us, customers are getting more and more impatient in their expected response time when they reach out to a company. Thirty years ago, companies had more than a day to respond and customers felt that their needs were met; however, now customers are barely willing to wait a few seconds to have their question answered. That means it’s more important than ever to be available for your customers when and in the channel they prefer.
What other key trends are you seeing as it relates to how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
McDonagh: One key trend we’re seeing is the continued emphasis on self-service. Customers want to accomplish as many customer service functions themselves as possible – meaning that contact centers need to focus on their self-service options to ensure that they meet customer expectations. It also means that, with customers solving as many problems as they can on their own, the types of issues that will come into the contact center will be more complex, requiring agents to be better trained and skilled at their jobs.
Another trend we’re seeing is the growth in demand of multi-channel customer service. As I’ve mentioned before, customers want to receive customer service at the time and in the channel that they most prefer. However, according to DMG Consulting, only 20 percent of contact centers in North America have embraced multi-channel. For those contact centers that haven’t embraced multi-channel yet, they have some catching up to do to meet the demands of their customers.
Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. ITEXPO (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO click here.
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Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli