Closing the Customer Service Gap


Closing the Customer Service Gap

Technology cycles come and go, but with cloud and digital transformation becoming so pervasive, the contact center space has never been poised for so much fundamental change.

Legacy-based contact centers have long operated separately from the rest of the organization, using purpose-built technology, and managing customer-facing staff who had minimal interaction with internal employees.

This model worked well when customer service was essentially the domain of the contact center, and telephony was the primary channel of communication.

In this world, premises-based technologies provided IT the control needed to manage large-scale operations, along with high availability of service to support agents.

…the contact center space has never been poised for so much fundamental change.

The technology landscape has evolved considerably recently within the contact center and also among consumers.

This would not be problematic if everyone adopted new technology at the same pace, but consumer adoption has outpaced contact centers, with the result being a customer service “gap” that is not easily narrowed.

To better understand why that gap is occurring – along with how contact center leaders should respond – there are two important drivers to consider.

Driver 1 – Changing Customer Expectations.

The concept of customer service has long been built around a reactive model where customers would call the contact center and attempt to address their concern either with an agent or an IVR menu for self-service.

This approach was highly transactional, and really only well-suited for a narrow range of needs. To a large extent, this model is still pervasive, but as customer expectations have changed, the shortcomings have become more pronounced.

Today’s customers are more tech-savvy, where everything is at their fingertips, and they don’t want to wait long for anything.

  • Rather than wait on hold in a call queue, they’ll try to bypass that by using text or social media channels.
  • Rather than accept slow or poor-quality service, they can just take their business elsewhere, and perhaps even share their breakup stories on social.

Digital technology gives customers more choice and more control, and with that comes a sense of empowerment.

This has given rise to the notion of customer experience (CX), where contact center interactions are just one factor driving their overall satisfaction with your products, your brand, and even your organization. Customers expect more now, which means they cannot be taken for granted, and every interaction with them is a “moment of truth” to earn their business.

Driver 2 – Impact of Digital Technologies.

Many businesses now recognize what these higher expectations mean, and in response, have made CX a strategic priority.

This requires different thinking about the contact center and moving beyond the reactive model of customer service.

To fully meet customer expectations, agents need to understand their journeys, and to interact based on customer preferences.

This requires having the ability and flexibility to communicate with customers on the channels of their choice. And it also mandates having real-time access to information that help them provide proactive, empathetic, and personalized forms of customer service.

While CX is ultimately about human interactions between customers and agents, digital technologies are key enablers on many levels. Likewise, their absence creates constraints, and contact centers are learning that continued reliance on legacy, analog world technologies is giving rise to the customer service gap.

Customers have embraced digital technologies because these tools are readily available, easy to use, and either free or affordable. Not to mention that they’ve become indispensable for today’s digital world.

Moreover, digital natives are now the dominant demographic. They now expect contact centers to follow suit by having–and the agents fully conversant on–these technologies.

How to Deliver Digital CX

A key part to thinking differently about the contact center is recognizing what technologies need to be adopted to deliver a more digital CX and to close the customer service gap.

The starting point is to look beyond legacy contact center solutions, as those technologies were built for a different type of CX. These solutions may still perform well for their intended purpose, but they lack the flexibility and integrations needed for today’s CX.

One option is for contact centers to keep those solutions in place, largely because it’s too daunting a task to make a wholesale change to modernize.

Systems have to be taken down and software, and in some cases hardware, installed and tested. IT staff and agents have to be trained on the new solutions. Meanwhile customers may face unwelcome service delays and outages.

Instead, patchwork updates can be made by bolting on other premises-based elements that add digital capabilities.

…look beyond legacy contact center solutions…

There is no shortage of point solutions for every application related to the contact center, and that may seem easier and more familiar for IT than starting with new technologies they may not be ready for yet.

On the other hand, this approach puts more onus on IT to make sure these new additions integrate effectively, not just with the existing infrastructure, but also with each other.

Yet another option would be to consider cloud-based platforms and adding some pieces that way. These would be paths of least resistance, and so long as the customer service gap isn’t too big, this will at least be a step in the right direction.

Why Cloud Migration Is the Way Forward

A more holistic view here goes beyond point solutions and trying to keep building on a foundation that isn’t built to support today’s CX.

There’s a bigger picture to consider; namely to stop viewing the contact center as an island and as a cost center that is not worthy of more than maintenance-level investment.

A good precedent to follow here would be the PBX. For decades, these systems were the gold standard for enterprise telephony, but they required a separate dedicated network that did not integrate with anything else.

With the advent of VoIP, telephony could move off the PBX island and integrate with other applications, paving the way for what would become unified communications (UC).

Businesses have never looked back, and telephony has become almost entirely cloud-based. The installed base of PBXs remains large, but nobody buys them now, and the vendors cannot move away fast enough from having to support these phone systems.

First-generation UC offerings have evolved into UCaaS (unified communications as a service), which is now a standard offering for all the PBX vendors as well as countless cloud service providers. This exact scenario is playing out now for contact centers, albeit a few years later.

Given the success that vendors are having migrating businesses from premises-based UC to cloud-based UCaaS, it’s not surprising to see contact centers now following suit with solutions incorporated as CCaaS (contact center as a service).

As with UCaaS, CCaaS is a cloud-native version of premises-based platforms. Both fall along the growing spectrum of XaaS (anything as a service) solutions, all of which are based on the SaaS model (software as a service).

Whereas legacy, premises-based solutions – like contact center – are hardware-based, capitalized assets, SaaS offerings – like CCaaS – are primarily software-based and reside in the cloud.

There are several flavors of “cloud” (private, public, hybrid), but all work on a common business model where the applications are provided on a subscription basis. So, with CCaaS, the contact center does not “own” the platform, and instead accesses the applications on an on-demand basis.

The CX Imperative

Not only is cloud migration critical for contact centers to modernize their operations, but also to be part of the broader imperative for the organization to provide great CX.

Given today’s customer expectations, this requires more than having a high-performing contact center. As with the PBX, the island mentality must give way to the contact center being just one driver of CX.

Agents rarely have all the answers at their fingertips, and often need to draw from subject matter experts across the organization. Not only must they be able to find these people on the fly, but also to interact with them in real time while dealing with customers.

This requires a high level of integration between the contact center and the rest of the organization and can only be supported with a cloud-based infrastructure.

…the rationale for an integrated solution is clear.

Premises-based systems are too difficult to integrate this way, and without cloud migration, contact centers will remain islands, unable to connect with the very resources needed for today’s CX.

Cloud-first vendors have recognized this, and many now offer integrated UCaaS and CCaaS solutions. These platforms continue to be widely-deployed as standalone solutions, but for businesses committed to next-level, digital CX, the rationale for an integrated solution is clear.

What’s Your Sense of Urgency?

Technology is constantly changing, and with today’s pace of business, it’s a major challenge for IT leaders to keep pace.

This is another reason why the appeal for cloud migration is so strong – as with outsourcing, IT can shift the burden of managing all this complexity to a cloud provider.

For contact centers operating with deep legacy roots, these newer technologies come with risk and uncertainty. When faced with pressure to reduce operating costs, inertia can set in, making it difficult to change the status quo from within.

This response is understandable, but at some point, the customer service gap will become too big to continue this way.

External factors will dictate a different response, such as when the top line declines, the customer base shrinks, agent turnover rises, CSAT scores drop, brand equity erodes, etc.

Now top management will mandate change, in which case contact center leaders will have a new sense of urgency. When the problem set becomes more than just a contact center issue, a bigger response is needed, and that’s where a holistic re-think about customer service becomes so important.

Why Migration Is Worth It

If cloud migration was so easy, you would have adopted CCaaS by now. When you have a mature contact center deployment and lots of complex integrations, cloud migration will in fact, not be easy.

These legacy systems have usually taken years to implement and fine tune, and IT often maintains a delicate balance to keep everything performing at a high level.

Most of these elements are purpose-built, requiring specific expertise to deploy as well as manage, so it’s easy to see how the prospect of moving away from that with a possible forklift upgrade would be daunting.

However, this isn’t a reason to rule out CCaaS, even if you feel confident about adding new pieces to the current system as you go.

Just remember, it’s much easier for individual customers to adopt the latest digital technologies than for your contact center to do the same.

Digital CX will always be evolving, and new customer engagement tools will keep coming, so unless you get on a level playing field technology-wise, you will constantly be behind, and the customer service gap will only grow.

The first step for closing that gap will be getting cloud migration on your contact center roadmap. There will be complexity involved, but the good news is that all CCaaS vendors offer migration paths that can go at your pace, not theirs.

The main idea is getting on the right road, and from there the challenge will be finding the right cloud migration partner to work with.

Cloud migration will not happen overnight, but the benefits should materialize quickly.

When agents start telling you they can finally provide the kind of service customers have been asking for, and when customer sentiment on social media starts trending positive, the only question you should be asking is “why didn’t I start our cloud migration sooner?”