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Investing in Call Center technology

In this article we examine how the investment justifications for the new technologies has shifted from being based strictly on ROI and looking more at improving customer experience.  

Investing in Call Center technology based on ROI or Customer Experience?

Since the inception of Call center operations, there have been a wide variety of new technologies introduced into this market that have been aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the call center. The technology history includes the original Automatic Call distributors (ACD), with skill-based routing, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Computer-Telephony Integration (CTI), and a variety of additional software applications to improve call handling quality, agent productivity and scheduling optimization.

In this article we examine how the investment justifications for the new technologies has shifted from being based strictly on ROI and looking more at improving customer experience.

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ROI analysis

From the introduction of the ACD system, the investment justification for virtually every new technology has been based on “agents being able to handle more calls in less time”. The simple calculations reflected literally the seconds saved in handling a new call and the savings were dollarized based on the fully loaded cost of an agent. The justifications were rationalized on the basis of being able to handle more calls and ultimately on reducing the number of call center agents required. The investments were focused on an accounting justification of being able to save time and reducing the labor costs in the call center. From the management perspective it was a means of being able to handle more calls without having to increase call center staff.

For example, as CTI was introduced, we could show that the 10 seconds saved by not having to have the agent enter the customers telephone number or customer ID and being able to automatically pull up the customer records, dependent upon the volume of calls, could reduce the agents required by 5 to 10%. This same logic was applied to virtually every technology investment and any other consideration such as improved service levels were considered “soft benefits” and could not be measured. Today, the importance of those “soft benefits” have shifted the focus considerably.

Customer Experience

Today more companies are focused on making a paradigm shift in the area of customer support and customer service. The advent of new business models exemplified by Uber, Amazon, DoorDash and many others is forcing management to consider the true “customer journey” and look at all the ways that a customer or prospect interacts with a company and not just what it means to their call center. This has also generated new measurement considerations such as Net Promoter Scores (NPS), Customer Satisfaction and Yelp ratings and many other non-traditional means of measuring levels of customer ratings.

What this means to the call center team is that they have to be aware of all the ways in which a prospect or customer can interact with the call center. It’s not limited to voice calls anymore, but prospects now want to have the option to be able to chat, email or interact through social media to find the information they are looking for. Today, technologies such as CTI are not considered a time saver, but are expected by the customers, so they don’t have to repeat to the agent what their telephone number is, in order to get service.

For some prospects and customers, their idea of an excellent customer service involves not having to talk to anyone and being able to use technology such as smart search, Artificial Intelligence and voice detection to be able to solve their own problems or get the information they are looking for without any agent involved.

Although we no longer need to use antiquated time-motion analysis to justify investments in new call center technologies, we now have to look at the net improvements these solutions provide as measured by the NPS and customer satisfaction ratings. The shift to customer experience and being able to deliver an excellent experience needs to be a part of the new call center strategy.

Author: Bob Tatemichi has been in the call center and software application business for over 25 years and currently works as an IT consultant with Xcel Services Group focused on deploying call center and voice-based applications with key customers throughout North America.

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