By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Twenty years ago, the first issue of Connections Magazine rolled off the presses. Printed on newsprint and sent bulk mail, it was mostly black-and-white (color printing throughout was too expensive). The Internet was around then, but most people were still trying to figure it out.
Since then, much has changed. Call center technology advanced, customer expectations expanded, hiring and training practices evolved, and new service opportunities emerged. Parallel to this, publishing also changed, and the Internet exploded into a global phenomenon that altered everything. The result is that this magazine is now much different from that first edition—regardless if you’re reading a printed version, from our website, or electronically on a myriad of portable devices.
What hasn’t changed is our focus on connections: making connections, facilitating connections, and streamlining connections. Back then, almost all of these connections used the telephone. Just “reach out and touch someone,” as the old AT&T jingle advised.
We answered calls, giving or receiving information. We placed calls also, giving or receiving information. The telephone was the medium of choice to make connections over a distance, be it near or far.
Of course, there were also faxing and paging, but both were insignificant compared to the widespread practice of simply picking up the phone and calling someone—a real person—and talking with each other in a real-time, two-way conversation. Not too many people fax anymore, and it’s been ages since I’ve seen a pager. Yet the telephone remains.
Over the years, however, call centers, which processed phone calls, yielded to contact centers, which focused on contacts, regardless of the technology. Many of these contacts—connections, if you will—still happened by phone, but other options emerged as well. These included email and text chat. As each new channel presented itself, it chipped away at the dominance of the once ubiquitous phone call.
Though the idea of call center yielded to contact center, at least in concept if not by name, Connections Magazine remained Connections Magazine. We continue our focus on the art and science of making connections. However, with the phone no longer being the dominant means to connect, call centers will do well to embrace a connections paradigm. Your contact center needs to be about connections, not phone calls.
I already mentioned email and chat as two alternate means of connection. Another is outbound calling. Yes, outbound. Frequent Connections contributor Donna Fluss recently noted new opportunities and increased interest in outbound. This, of course, requires that we learn lessons from past mistakes, follow laws diligently (and even exceed them), and provide actual value to both the company and customer.
Then there’s social media. A growing preference, for people of all ages, is to interact online with the companies whose products and services they use, “like,” or “follow.” Someone must monitor these comments and tweets or whatever else they may be called, responding in a timely manner that is simultaneously professional and engaging, both accurate and fun. With the plethora of social media platforms, no company can be on them all, yet they must be where their customers are. The task of interacting with these social media-minded customers is ideal for contact centers.
A final consideration is self-service, the preferred option for most people when they have a question, problem, or curiosity. How, you may ask, does self-service become a contact center opportunity? Doesn’t self-service subtract from the contact center? On the surface, the answer is yes. Every transaction handled via self-service is one less transaction handled by the contact center. Yet forward-thinking contact center managers see two opportunities.
The first is that contact centers are in the best position to know what issues self-service should address. Poll agents, and the top ten needs for self-service will quickly emerge. The contact center should assume the position of advisor for self-service topics. Better yet, take the lead role, actually producing and then administering the self-service content.
The second opportunity is providing backup for self-service. Self-service cannot help everyone, every time. The contact center should catch those who self-service drops. As a bonus, these calls, taken in aggregate, then provide fodder for additional self-service content.
Whatever channels your contact center covers, keep in mind that it’s not about the technology used—it’s about the connection. To that end, Connections Magazine is here to help.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.
[From Connection Magazine – December 2013]