By Rob Schneider
Regardless of whether customer relationship management is handled in-house through internal agents or outsourced to a third-party contact center service provider, there’s no question that it’s a critical function for customer satisfaction and loyalty. The contact center, once viewed as a cost center, has finally emerged as a value center. Forward-looking brands now know that the path to a consumer’s wallet is through fanatical customer service. The contact center can be a key component in adding value to the customer relationship, creating new opportunities for revenue, and encouraging future purchases.
Ideally, a true value-add contact center strategy is designed to help offset some of the operational costs of doing business over the phone, online, or through mobile channels. But the traditional brick-and-mortar contact center model hasn’t proven to be as cost-efficient as one would hope, despite being cheaper than face-to-face sales. However, it also shouldn’t cost a lot. So, if your contact center is a slow drain on your finances, something is wrong.
For outsourcers, providing the highest level of value to clients and their customers while maintaining healthy margins is key to a successful business model. But keeping up with premise-based contact center technology, hardware migrations, changing client needs, shifting government and compliance regulations, and changes in workforce management can all put financial pressure on the contact center, degrading margins and affecting service levels.
For many, cloud technologies are helping decrease some of these financial burdens, allowing contact center service providers to focus their time and efforts on attracting and servicing clients rather than maintaining technology systems. And focusing on your customers has its benefits: Recent research from the Aberdeen Group indicates that cloud-based contact centers experience 27 percent lower annual customer-turnover costs. Additionally, these centers typically experience about 28 percent lower infrastructure costs than contact centers with a traditional infrastructure that requires time and energy to maintain.
Here are three simple ways a move to the cloud can improve the bottom line:
1. Optimized Equipment Enables Better Service: Surprisingly, 42 percent of contact center agents are unable to effectively address customer queries due to outdated interfaces and disconnected systems. Data center equipment needs to be constantly maintained and optimized to ensure it’s in proper working condition so downtime is minimized and customer service is never affected. This means checking data centers for networking issues, performing routine monitoring, and allocating power to maximize server load capacity. For outsourcers serving numerous clients, these costs mount as servers and equipment are added, and failures can equate to significant loss of business and reputation.
Moving contact center operations to the cloud eliminates the majority of this work, decreases IT labor costs, and helps shift remaining costs from capital to operational budgets. More importantly, cloud architecture gives agents access to optimized and updated equipment, providing access to the tools necessary to get the job done. By moving to a cloud-based solution, businesses can focus on the important details of their operations without having to worry about the headache of maintaining equipment.
Moving to a hosted cloud solution also influences reliability by reducing the failure points to the network. As with any cloud solution, when evaluating providers, make sure to focus on reliability metrics to ensure your partner has a clean record.
2. Remote Agents Actually Get You Closer to the Customer: Businesses everywhere are abandoning traditional brick-and-mortar contact center facilities and embracing a virtual work environment. Today, distributed global agents can provide round-the-clock service, and the money saved by eliminating physical workspaces can go toward customized agent training to deliver improved customer service.
Letting even a few agents work remotely can save money and boost productivity, as it increases agent flexibility and allows businesses to recruit top talent regardless of location. Using the cloud to facilitate work-at-home business models also means that remote employees access files from a single, secure network location. This promotes sharing and unification strategies in the workplace and ensures that remote employees have access to the tools they need to service customers from any location.
3. Connect to Convince: Customers expect accessibility like never before – via phone, email, Web chat, SMS/texting, mobile, and social media. According to a recent eConsultancy report, consumers want multiple channels of communications, and there isn’t a clear winner for their most preferred interaction channel. In the eConsultancy report, approximately 57 percent of consumers surveyed said they would like to have the option of live chat for customer service, 60 percent want email communication, and 61 percent of customers surveyed want to engage over the phone.
Consequently, the more interaction platforms available to consumers, the greater likelihood of convincing first-time customers to make a purchase, become a loyal brand proponent, and develop into a repeat buyer. However, translating this into profit requires outsourcers to offer service through all channels and do it well. Nothing is more frustrating for consumers than a poorly set up IVR, painfully slow Web chat interactions, or ignored social media posts.
Conclusion: For companies just starting out with a cloud-based contact center, easing into multi-channel communications is possible. It is also much easier and more cost-effective than upgrading on-premise solutions to support new channels. Today, cloud-based contact center platforms support a long list of features, including IVR, outbound dialing, email, Web chat, SMS/texting, mobile, and social media. When integrated with applications such as CRM, customer analytics, call recording, and workforce management (WFM) software, finding and focusing on the customer value becomes much easier.
If you’re feeling frazzled, service is suffering, or profits are down, it’s time to consider moving to the cloud. With all the options available, there’s never been a better time to make the switch and boost your bottom line.
Rob Schneider is vice president of customer service at Connect First.
[From Connection Magazine – Jul/Aug 2014]