Voice in the Contact Center: The Heart of the Matter

FROM THE OCTOBER 2019 ISSUE

Challenges and Priorities Survey

On his third solo album, The End of the Innocence, former Eagles drummer and singer Don Henley recorded a song called “The Heart of the Matter.” Originally written by Mike Campbell, who was a guitar player and principal songwriter in Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers band, Henley first heard the song during a visit to Campbell’s home studio. He took the song and, along with longtime Eagles collaborator J.D. Southern, added some words and made the song his own. The best thing about the song, according to original writer Campbell, was “a lot of girls like it.”

There is an interesting phenomenon that seems to occur when this song is played live. The “hook” in the song, if you will, is a simple D chord progression on the guitar that is played at the beginning of the song and at a couple of points during the body of the song. For you guitar players, it’s a D followed by Dsus2 then Dsus4. For some reason, whenever that D chord progression is played live, the crowd goes wild. I’m not kidding. It’s just basically a D chord, but the audience reacts like it’s some sort of musical magic. Listen to a live version of the song on YouTube and see if I’m not right.

As a guitar player, I guess I’ve overlooked the power of simple, basic chords like the D chord. It’s one of the first chords any player learns and it’s in most songs I’ve ever played. I suppose most players take for granted the importance of basic chords, like the D chord, but in fact it is critically important in the composition and performance of most songs.

In the contact center world, call routing is much like that D chord on the guitar. Call routing is at the heart of operations in just about every contact center. But, like the D chord, call routing is often just taken for granted in the overall scheme of things, especially when we have such buzzworthy topics as artificial intelligence dominating today’s industry headlines.

Call routing is one of the basic tenets of customer care, going back to the first automatic call distributor (ACD) in 1973. Unlike just about any other contact center solution that I can think of, call routing received little or no attention for years. In fact, the next innovation in call routing, i.e., skills-based routing, dates back to about the same time Don Henley was recording “The Heart of the Matter”—1989. That’s a long time for any contact center solution to go unnoticed and without attention.

Basic call routing to the first available agent, or the longest available agent, and eventually the best qualified agent skills group, has been practiced since the inception of the industry. But I question whether this call-routing strategy is still valid in today’s customer experience (CX) economy.

Like it or not, the contact center industry is poised to charge head first into an era of personalized service, automated task management, and simplified assistance. And the technology well past due for updating in the majority of contact centers today is call routing. Just like taking that D chord and adding a couple of suspensions changed everything for Don Henley’s song, analytics is changing everything in today’s contact center, including call routing.

Analytics has brought an unprecedented degree of intelligence—yes, I’ll say it—artificial intelligence (AI), to the call-routing process. Machine learning has made possible an entirely new dimension in the call routing process. Rather than being routed to a random agent, an idle agent or a loosely qualified agent group, incoming customer calls are routed to the agent with not only the right knowledge to serve the customer, but the right personality to best serve the customer.

Instead of relying on IVR and rules, call routing now relies on analytics and AI to get customer calls to the best qualified available agent. Machine learning also enables the improvement of this process with each call. Call routing gets smarter with each interaction, the net result being reduced handle time and increased first-call resolution. Not to mention the positive effect it has on the customer’s experience with each call.

Michele-Carlson
Michele Carlson

“An ideal customer experience is predicted and delivered without a customer needing to ask for what they want,” said Michele Carlson, Senior Product Marketing Manager, NICE Nexidia. “In contact centers, the opportunity to personalize customer experience begins with how a call is routed,” Carlson continued. “For example, Predictive Behavioral Routing allows companies to integrate personality, the understanding of each customer as an individual, from the first ‘hello’ on a call. The connection with an agent who can adapt to the customer’s ideal CX leads to better customer experience and improvement to business metrics.”

“Also keep in mind that one customer’s ideal CX is not the same as the next customer’s,” Carlson stated. “Predictive Behavioral Routing improves CX by treating customers as people, not as numbers.”

The benefits of modern call routing aren’t just limited to the customer. Think about the impact on job satisfaction that would result from an agent receiving only calls that he or she is ultimately qualified to address. Agent turnover continues to be the bane of the contact center industry. The positive effect intelligent routing would have on agent turnover has the potential to be extraordinary.

“An agent’s ability to answer a question is no longer enough,” NICE Nexidia’s Carlson remarked. “Instead, how an agent answers a question changes an interaction into an experience. Employing analytics, Predictive Behavioral Routing listens to customers by turning language into data, and then connecting customers with the experience best for them. Avoiding the inevitable communication mismatches resulting from random routing also creates a better experience for agents. When agents connect with customers, they benefit from easier and more engaging conversations.”

When you think about it, analytics is the driving force behind most of the revolutionary changes occurring in the contact center today, including the much-needed modernization of call-routing strategies. Call routing really is the “hook” in today’s customer experience. Just like that D chord hook in Don Henley’s song catches the ear of listeners, analytics is the creative force behind the contact center hook that is catching the attention of customer service professionals. In the contemporary customer experience, call routing is still the heart of the matter.


The National Association of Call Centers

Did you know columnist Paul Stockford is also the editor of In-Queue, the monthly newsletter of the National Association of Call Centers? Get your free subscription and read more of his provocative commentary every month!