TMC (News - Alert) this year celebrates 30 years of covering customer interaction, 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 and retooling our customer care/customer experience effort. In this installment of our CUSTOMER coverage, we talk with Jon Arnold (News - Alert), principal at J Arnold & Associates.
How has the rise of IP-based networks impacted the call center and customer interactions at large?
Arnold: On a basic level, this has made the cost of long-distance calling a non-factor, freeing up contact centers to be located anywhere. Not only does this give companies more options for setting up low-cost operations, but it enables global businesses to spread out their centers to provide 24/7 service, and be located closer to their customers.
Another aspect of IP networks is more intelligent routing, which allows contact centers to distribute calls more effectively across global operations. Now, when a customer calls and needs to speak to someone in a certain language or with a highly specialized skill set, businesses can draw from a much broader pool of talent that can be efficiently connected with an IP network.
When and why did the trend toward call center offshoring take off?
Arnold: I don’t know exactly when this started, but it’s been going on for many years. As with other forms of outsourcing, cost reduction is the big driver. With the rise of IP-based communications, the cost telephony has come down enough to make it worthwhile to shift a lot of volume overseas where labor and operational costs are cheap.
Is the tide turning on call center offshoring?
Arnold: There is some reversal happening, either to repatriate jobs to support a weak domestic economy, or via nearshoring. The latter is a compromise where you pay a bit more than with offshoring, but the agents are closer to HQ, which adds efficiency in dealing with customers.
If so, why?
Arnold: Offshoring certainly has economic advantages, but some companies are no longer happy with the tradeoffs, and are being more strategic with where and how they deploy contact center resources. Increasingly, companies are getting pushback from customers who don’t like calling someone half a world away to deal with a complex or sensitive problem, and this is often compounded by issues around language and culture. In these cases, the cost savings are more than offset by decreases in customer satisfaction, causing businesses to re-think things. Companies that embrace current contact center technologies are able to mitigate this by routing routine, low-value calls offshore, while keeping more complex, higher value calls at home where their best-trained agents are.
How is the rise of cloud computing impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Arnold: The cloud provides a more cost-effective way to scale and centralize customer data from a wide range of contact center operations. This is especially good for smaller companies that couldn’t normally justify the investment in a premises-based network to operate this way.
How is the widespread use of social networking technology impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Arnold: In terms of outbound marketing, this is an inexact science, but is very much the new Holy Grail of marketing. Social media is too new, but once marketers figure out how to manage privacy, they’ll eventually crack the code, and that’s the dream that makes Facebook (News - Alert) worth $100 billion.
On a smaller scale, contact centers are also struggling to make sense of social media, and its popularity is too important to ignore. Contact center agents need to become social media savvy, as more customers prefer to communicate this way. Not only that, but one false move, and a bad customer session becomes news very fast over the web.
How is the increased use and comfort level with video impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Arnold: This is another big trend, and it ties closely into mobility. Businesses are still cautious using video for customer-facing communication, and this will take some time to get over. Effective use of video is more about culture than technology – it’s an intimate mode that doesn’t come naturally for most people, and customers generally aren’t used to engaging with companies on this level. I think one-to-one video will have more value with customers as a means to demonstrate or explain something rather than have a simple conversation.
How is the mobile boom impacting how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Arnold: As mentioned, I see a close tie here with video, which will become a standard mode with mobility in short order. Tablets are inherently visual, and their screen size is optimized for video. Convenience is the real appeal here, whether customers have an urgent need to reach a company, or simply want to participate in a scheduled call or event. The latter can be very important for new product launches, where the company wants to create a high impact buzz at a specific time. This could be for a new car, a new movie, a new software release, etc. So long as video is the right mode to get the message across, mobility can be a big part of the plan, especially if the intent is for consumers use social media and share the vibe right away with their endless circles of friends. To a lesser extent, mobility can have this impact with voice or text-based communication, so there’s more to consider here than video.
What other key trends are you seeing as it relates to how businesses target, engage, and deliver to the customer?
Arnold: Digital signage is an emerging area that will become a standard part of the marketing mix to engage with the masses. This is another channel for IP-based communications and networks to provide high-touch interfaces where people regularly congregate. As mobile networks and devices become more sophisticated, digital signage will provide interactive touchpoints for two-way communication, making this channel far more valuable for advertisers.
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 Brooke Neuman