Tuesday, 23 March 2010 18:06

Prominent contact centre identity calls for emphasis on connection and conversations


Call centres morphed into contact centres as additional communication channels were taken onboard. Is it now time for them to be transformed into connection centres?

Customer satisfaction is no defence against churn, and a  net provider score doesn't measure the durability of the relationship, cautions Kevin Panozza, former CEO of SalesForce and currently a conference and event speaker ('chief engagement orator') at his new business Engagement Matters.

Engagement depends on connection, he argues, something contact centres  don't always - don't usually? - achieve.

"The contact centre industry is notorious for making changes that are about efficiency [rather than about the customer]," he says.

What's needed is to make it easier for the (current or potential customer) to engage with the business. So if they're using your iPhone app and decide they need to talk to an agent, Panozza suggests it is a mistake to simply drop them in at the end of a queue. If no agents are free to talk at that time, it's better to offer to return the call at a convenient time.

Similarly, someone visiting a company's web site is probably actively thinking about an issue, so it is an ideal time to start a conversation with them, Panozza suggests.

So how can you determine exactly the right time in on online interaction to initiate person-to-person communication? See page 2.

Robert Lattuca, vice president strategic solutions at Genesys Laboratory, says the integration of LivePerson's software with Genesys' Customer Interaction Management platform is one way of achieving this.

For example, research shows that if someone is using an online mortgage calculator at 11pm, they are likely to finalise a mortgage within the next two weeks, he says.

Timing the offer of a person-to-person conversation (whether via online chat or voice) is important in real life or online, Panozza says. Since LivePerson handles around one billion conversations a month, "it's possibly got a better chance than a real person to 'tap the customer on the shoulder' at the right time," he says.

The online departments of companies in the Australian finance industry put a lot of effort into the "hygiene" (terminology, phrasing, etc) of their web pages and online forms with the assumption that this will mean customers won't require any help, says Lattuca. But research shows that people are likely to want to talk to someone at some stage during a transaction.

That's not to say that phrasing isn't important: getting the language right and offering customers a choice ("Do you want to chat online now, have one of our people call you now, or schedule a call for later?") does affect their response, he says.

Lattuca also believes the emergence of devices such as Apple's iPad presents an opportunity for customer contact, for example by shortening the time between the emotional response to an advert and the opportunity for action. So a car ad might include a link that connects the reader with a representative to book a test drive - or even have a demonstrator car brought straight round.

So what's ahead? Please read on.

This contrasts with the current situation were, Lattuca says, figures from Omniture suggest that for every $92 spent online to acquire traffic (banner ads, sponsored search results, and so on), businesses are only spending $1 to convert the resulting traffic into sales.

The industry hasn't evolved past "call this number now," observes Panozza, who says the customer contact and advertising worlds are on a collision course, and predicts the proliferation of a new "conversation paradigm" over the next year or two.


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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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