Contact centers evolve
() - December 12, 2011 - 12:00am

SINGAPORE - Traditional contact centers are set to be replaced by customer management centers as more organizations focus on expanding contact services beyond telephony and e-mail offerings.  

According to research results published in Dimension Data’s 2011 Global Contact Center Benchmarking Report, of the 546 contact centers surveyed in 66 countries, 64 percent are already handling Internet, with 40 percent managing SMS interactions and a quarter offering Web chat - all via the contact center.

This year’s report also reveals that social media interactions are high on the agenda of contact center businesses. Just over 18 percent of research participants reported that they are already managing these interactions, with 32 percent indicating plans to do so over the next two years. 

With products becoming more commoditized, service is increasingly being used as a differentiator as organizations recognize the contact center as the heart of the business.

“The evolution of the contact center to a full service customer management center confirms that organizations view contact centers as profit generators. Where contact centers were traditionally regarded as cost centers, almost half (47.9 percent) of respondents said they regard them as profit centers - 18.4 percent of them based upon sales revenue generated (up from 8.6 percent in the 2009 report),” says Nagi Kasinadhuni, general manager of customer interactive solutions of Dimension Data Asia Pacific.

The research results also show that improved service is the top priority commercial driver for contact centers.  

“But navigating this evolution will require a strong focus on process automation,” cautions Nagi. “Smart devices are dramatically changing the communication landscape and enabling customers to help themselves and decide how, when and where they engage.

“Organizations will need to embrace smart applications as self-service is fast becoming the accepted standard for customers to engage and interact with the organization,” says Nagi.

Meanwhile, the top priority issue affecting contact centers across the globe is the drive to encourage customers to use these broader self-service channels.

“We see a new focus on customer lifetime value (CLTV) management with a high number of respondents ranking it as the number one issue. CLTV, along with improvements in customer satisfaction, is set to replace cost reduction as the prime self-service driver and underscores a renewed business focus on overall profitability,” he explains.

In line with this trend, there is a significant increase in the number of infrastructure upgrades being planned across contact centers as technologies become more affordable and advances in communications technologies continue to drive flexible change. 

According to market researcher Frost & Sullivan, to achieve superior customer service requires adherence to the 4Cs of customer engagement: convenient, comfortable, consistent and customized service.

With the Generation Y population in the region estimated to reach 1.075 billion by 2020, contact centers in the Asia-Pacific need to gear up themselves to the changing communication landscape.

“Contact centers are likely to enhance self-service not limiting to just IVR (Integrated Voice Response) but also on Web self-service and mobile self-service; investment in social media applications, implement multi-channel service for customer engagement, and leverage analytics to truly live up to expectations in future,” said Krishna Baidya, industry manager of Frost & Sullivan.

Nagi also acknowledges that businesses are pro-actively responding to customer demand while recognizing improved service as the top commercial driver. In turn, they are using customer management centers as the vehicle to generate better service and revenue opportunities.

Sidney Yuen, chairman of the Asia-Pacific Contact Center Association Leaders, agrees with the need for contact centers to remain customer-centric by using available tools and technology to establish and maintain close engagement with customer.

“Best practice contact centers in Asia have embraced social media, text chat and dynamic response into their operation putting themselves ahead of the game by becoming truly customer-centric and embracing customer input to fully understand customer wants and needs. The people working for these contact centers are customer management specialists rather than call center agents,” said Yuen.

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