Boosting Innovation in the Contact Center

Learning from your peers is an ideal way to troubleshoot, improve operations and advance innovation in the contact center. That’s something IAUG members have known for years, and one of the many reasons for attending regional chapter meetings and the annual Avaya ENGAGE conference.

Now a recent report by the UK-based Call Centre Management Association, “Breaking Barriers and Accelerating Innovation in the Contact Centre,” emphasizes that same point as one of the key steps in serving customers effectively in national and global markets. [For consistency, U.S. spellings are used in this article.]

Inspiration can come from examining what other IT professionals are doing, through membership associations or networking, said the report. “We’re very conscious that we don’t know everything,” said Kate O’Loughlin, effectiveness manager, British Gas, in the report. “We’re looking at other companies around the world for inspiration on how we can do better.”

What is innovation?

Whether chatting with a service bot online or messaging a customer service representative in-app, customers today rely on multiple channels to reach support agents and expect greater human interaction than ever before. They want you to know their needs, understand their problems, and help them quickly resolve any concerns they may have with your product or service, according to the report.

Therefore, innovation in the contact center is aimed at achieving easier, quicker and cheaper ways for agents to help customers. “Innovating the customer experience is different from improving the customer experience because it is forward-thinking and about exploring new experiences to add rather than updating and changing existing ones,” said Vasili Triant, COO, UJET, Inc., supporting partner for the CCMA Research Initiative. “It is pairing modern technology with processes that make your customers feel seen, valued, and connected to your organization’s core values.” 

Five steps for success

While there is no guaranteed formula for success, innovative contact centers share five core characteristics:

1. Begin with a clear definition of the problem(s) to be solved. For example, many contact centers strive to reduce demand on human agents through automated bots, or artificial intelligence applications. “Speech analytics is fantastic because it helps you understand and fix the root cause of failure demand,” said Tracy Sheldon, head of continuous improvement, Customer Operations, Ageas UK, in the report.

2. Understand the business case. Identify the problem up front that innovation will solve. “Innovation is not about shiny things. You’ve always got to be goal-focused. What problem are we trying to solve? What difference are we trying to create?” said Sheldon.

3. Have the right KPIs in place to drive desired behaviors. For instance, shortening agents’ time per call may not be beneficial, if the goal is to resolve a complex issue. “There’s always someone to learn from and everyone’s always trying to get better,” said Alan Mullen, customer services manager, Superdry.

4. Listen to colleagues and keep them updated on how their feedback has been used.

“Most of our good ideas come from the team,” Mullen said.”It’s a real differentiator as we see the end-to-end customer experience. In the contact center, everyone can influence change and make a difference in the customer experience.”

5. Engage business units and other stakeholders to secure buy-in and collaboration. “Getting directors down here regularly, listening and doing sit-bys on the phones makes a big impact in driving change,” said James Blackwood, head of contact center, Eurostar.

Overcoming the challenges

Systems fragmentation is one of the biggest challenges to innovation in the contact center. Even when this is not visible to the customer, it causes stress for colleagues who must switch between multiple platforms and screens while handling an inbound query.

The CCMA report recommends analyzing your current platform and maximizing existing resources before spending on new ones. Throwing money at a problem may not always be the most efficient way to solve it, as the raw ingredients for the solution may already exist, said the report.

In summary, technology can only take the customer experience so far. “Your investments should be paired with a new mindset and new operational ideas,” said the report. “Mastering technology and business process change opens the door to a whole new way of solving your customer’s problem before they even realize they have one.”

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