Issues and answers for contact center managers
AT&T subject-matter expert discusses challenges and best practices
Contact center managers deal with dynamic environments every day.
Routine management issues can be compounded by the nature of the contact center itself — services offered across multiple sites, multiple time zones and multiple users with different requirements, platforms, infrastructure and devices.
Recently, I talked with Ted Cart, AT&T consulting practice director, about the challenges contact center managers face, solutions to those challenges, and some of the best practices that could help their operations become more efficient and effective.
Mike Rajich: The demands on a contact center certainly have changed in recent years. Today’s customers not only expect to be able to engage your business through the contact center any time, day or night, but they also expect to get the same level of services at midnight as they would at noon. And many more businesses are selling internationally — even small businesses. If you’re based in Texas, you could have customers in Australia who need to reach you in the middle of your night. How can companies effectively implement round-the-clock customer service?
Ted Cart: Providing full-on 24/7 customer service is one of the today’s most common customer demands. And it can be one of the most challenging to meet. There are automated options, including some self-serve tools. But not all customer issues can be resolved with these options.
In the past few years, many businesses have implemented what’s called a “follow-the-sun” approach to providing 24/7 customer service. It’s used primarily by large, multinational companies, although now this kind of support is realistic even for smaller organizations.
In a follow-the-sun scenario, contact centers are set up in different locations around the world. As the business day is ending in one city, the workload can be transitioned to representatives in another city whose day is just starting. This helps provide seamless, continuous, full-on customer support, no matter what time it is where your customers live.
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MR: A follow-the-sun approach seems like an ideal solution to 24/7 customer needs. But I’m thinking it has its own challenges.
TC: Of course. For one, if you use an on-premises IP infrastructure, you’ll need to set one up in every contact center location. You also have to:
- Integrate applications into the shared infrastructure at each location
- Keep applications updated and customer centric
- Make certain applications utilize a common knowledge base so that your agents at each location have access to the same information
- Establish backup and recovery plans for each site in case of a natural disaster, extreme weather, etc.
For some large companies with several international offices, this may not be an issue. Companies without those kinds of facilities — and even some with them — may opt for cloud services. With a cloud set-up, you do not have to worry about maintaining multiple infrastructures, keeping them updated and secure, and sharing information across systems. And cloud-based contact centers can scale easily to handle things like seasonal spikes in calls.
MR: Beyond technology, what are the operational issues that contact-center managers have to deal with?
TC: One of the most common challenges is trying to prioritize the business outcomes of different customers with disparate requirements and perspectives on what’s important. The goal here is to collaborate on a core set of business drivers that are communicated and used consistently.
The factors you consider in defining business requirements depend on several variables: your industry, the product or service you offer, whether your client is internal or external, and more. Business outcomes affecting many clients or that impact operations should be assigned the highest priority. Application functionality should be aligned with the requirements.
Some companies use software that can route calls and contacts to agents based on severity. This helps alleviate wait times and get issues resolved faster.
MR: What are some best practices that all contact centers can implement that can help improve their function?
TC: First, as we just talked about, standardize contact management among the different groups in your contact center and your business. The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is an excellent source for beginning to standardize operations to align IT service with the needs of the business. It can provide guidance on basic issues like level setting your company’s definition of “severity,” as well more complex challenges.
Second, adopt an agile methodology mindset in your contact center. Based on the same concepts as agile software development, an agile methodology emphasizes innovation and cooperation. For example, do not work in a vacuum when developing new tools or writing new policies — include input from the business, customers and agents. Empower your representatives to solve problems, and make sure they have the resources they need. Do not be afraid to change procedures if a new way of doing things will provide a better experience for your customers and your workers. Embrace change.
Finally, set up a test or pre-production environment where you can develop and test new applications, features and call flows before rolling them out to the entire contact center. Test everything thoroughly, so that any glitches or incompatibilities are caught and corrected before your agents use the new capabilities with customers.
No matter what challenges your contact center faces, AT&T has a broad portfolio of solutions and consulting services to help efficiently connect your customers with service and support, reduce costs, and help your agents deliver an exceptional experience. AT&T contact-center architects, data scientists and customer-experience analysts draw on their industry-leading expertise to help you:
- Assess your overall contact center strategy
- Get valuable insight into when, why and how often your agents initiate sessions from each channel
- Save money by identifying technology and process problems and inefficiencies
- Identify issues that might affect the quality of customer interactions
AT&T’s consulting services draw upon the company’s extensive experience in contact-center solutions, including:
- More than 30 years offering 800/toll free and advanced feature services
- More than 20 years providing contact center premises- and cloud-based solutions
- More than 15 years supplying managed interactive voice response services
- Partnerships with other leading solution providers
- More than a decade of experience as a technology leader in developing IoT solutions.