Deon Scheepers discusses how smartphones and tablet devices are shaping the future of the contact centre.
The concept of integration in the contact centre has been widely discussed in recent years, with many companies having made great strides towards achieving a more unified environment. SMS, e-mail and web chat are gradually being incorporated into contact centres, and now afford customers the option to have their queries dealt with via a variety of channels.
But as businesses work to ensure that their contact centre offerings remain current, the increasing popularity of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets is about to change the face of the contact centre as we know it.
More smartphones were sold last year than PCs and tablets combined, and a new Forrester study indicates that mobile Internet users will outnumber those accessing the web via PC by 2016. As more consumers begin to search, browse and make purchases from their mobile devices, a new kind of contact centre will evolve in order to meet their ever-rising expectations.
The rise of the mobile consumer
The surge in popularity of smartphone and tablet devices has created an unprecedented culture of immediacy. Users are now able to enjoy the convenience of checking their e-mail, downloading weather reports or conducting business transactions at a moment’s notice.
Additionally, the applications today’s customers use are becoming increasingly personalised, capitalising on built-in features like location monitoring to tailor offerings to a user’s specific requirements.
As a result, mobile devices are rapidly becoming the consumer’s number one choice for conducting all forms of business. The thought of having to turn on a laptop or pick up the telephone is almost inconceivable, particularly for a new generation raised in the information age.
As this type of empowered mobile user becomes the norm, contact centres are being forced to restructure their offerings in order to provide more immediate, intuitive service, or risk becoming obsolete.
The rise in popularity of Internet banking and other self-service platforms reflects the mobile user’s growing inclination to resolve issues on their own where possible.
Unlike early mobile phone users, today’s consumers generally only decide to contact an agent as a last resort.
As such, companies need to start making allowances for this, and move towards the development of more intuitive, self-help applications.
By extrapolating location and device-based data, these applications have the potential to provide the user with a greatly enhanced experience, whilst at the same time alleviating pressure placed on the contact centre.
By moving more customer service queries into the self-help space, contact centres will be better able to streamline proceedings, whilst at the same time offering the customer the kind of personalised experience they would ultimately prefer.
Whilst many customer interactions can be predictably automated or guided via a mobile application, there are just as many that are likely to be complicated, with variable solutions dependent on a customer’s specific situation.
As a result, contact centres need to find a way to incorporate both self-help and agent assistance into the mobile environment, creating a seamless process whereby customers can elevate their query to an individual in the contact centre.
Despite growing mobile user numbers, communication is rapidly moving away from the traditional telephony environment, with consumers tending to prefer the cost effectiveness that applications such as Skype afford them. As a result, it is imperative that companies begin to offer a greater variety of ways in which their customers can take action.
Rather than directing customers to a number which they can then dial from their phone, companies will need to begin to incorporate live assistance features within their application structures, using VOIP or video chat to allow users to make immediate contact with someone from the contact centre while at the same time providing agents with the customer’s interaction history.
This type of contextually aware escalation will allow customers to bypass standard IVR menus and be connected directly with a subject matter expert within or outside of the traditional contact centre. They can also be directed to agents that are specifically skilled and trained on various channels of preference, such as call, chat, text, social or video.
Not only will this type of application provide customers with a greater array of communication options, but it will also enable contact centre agents and other subject experts to be better equipped to deal with incoming queries, and allow the contact centre’s systems and processes to be streamlined accordingly.
Establishing a competitive advantage
In an increasingly cluttered marketplace, companies that set about providing their clientele with mobile customer care options have a real opportunity to set themselves apart from the competition.
Locally, organisations like FNB and Vodacom have already launched self-service applications that are proving increasingly popular, and are setting the standard for customer service in the South African market.
Companies need to realise that the shift into the mobile environment is not a distant eventuality that can be dealt with when the time comes. The mobile revolution is already well under way, and it is the companies that embrace this reality that will be the ones that succeed in attracting and retaining their customers in years to come.
Deon Scheepers is in business development at Interactive Intelligence Africa