I am a firm believer that as technology changes the language we use to describe things is important. This applies not just for individual products and services, but to markets as well. The generic area of “Call Centers” which not that long ago morphed into “Contact Centers” is a case in point. Thus, it was with intense interest that I read a recent blog by Art Rosenberg at my good friends Unified Communications Strategies. He made an insightful and reasoned case to now change the name of “Contact Centers” to “Interaction Centers.”
I heartedly agree for the need to update the name for the market, but with some caveats. If we care going to change the name, why not make it “Customer Communications Centers?”
Customer-centricity is Key
I will brief. Rosenberg presents why the advent of 360 degree customer engagement—enabling agents to interact with customers according to customer communications preferences, i.e., IM, chat, interactive video, via mobile device, etc.—has ushered in an era where embracing all of the touchpoints will be a competitive necessity. He correctly points out that we have gone way beyond voice calls for communications with customers. Voice will always be an important and probably dominant part of the mix. However, even there, how voice communications are handled is in the midst of dynamic change.
I have two issues. The first is, why not include “Customer” in the naming equation? After all, they are the ones initiating communications. It is making them happy that is what all of the concentration these days about “improving the customer experience” is all about. The objective is to create compelling experiences that in a distrustful and increasingly disloyal world enables enhanced communications center capabilities to turn skeptics into not just loyal customers who will purchase more, but potentially brand advocates.
In my own past, just after what was then named Lucent Technologies, Corp. (formerly AT&T Network Systems and Business Communications Systems and now Alcatel-Lucent), was formed. A leading executive called me and asked my thoughts on their tag line, “We Make the Things that Make Communications Work.” My reaction was that I liked it but that it would have been vastly improved if they had added the word “YOU” at the end. I was looking for a connection between what they would do and why I should care. I was politely informed that the marketing materials were already produced and on their way out the door.
The point was similar to the reason why I like the Rosenberg suggestion for a name change, and why the word “Customer” needs to be included. If we are going to say that the manifest destiny of successful businesses will be to provide sustainable differentiation based on putting the customer first then let’s put the customer first.
The second issue/suggestion is the use of the term “Interactions.” This is not as important as the insertion of “Customer.” It is more a matter of my personal preference. It seems to me that "Communications" as a term implies knowledge exchange that leads to a resolution and is more inclusive a term for the activities being described.
As an aside, this in no way should be construed as questioning Interactive Intelligence’s trademark of its flagship product the Customer Interaction Center™ (CIC). Quite the contrary, they were very much ahead of the curve in terms of marketing and positioning to adopt the word “Interaction” in their product naming. They also deserve recognition for their thought leadership in using the term “Contact Center” rather than “Call Center.” It has served all of us well.
It just seems that if we are, and I think should be, renaming the generic space, and not the products and services that occupy it, then there is an opportunity to be as expansive yet more precise as possible in describing it. Putting aside the Interactive Intelligence foresight in trademaking their product portfolio, “Communications” from my perspective fits the bill better in any case.
In discussing the future of Contact Centers with various leading vendors and subject matter experts in the past few weeks, I have tested a phrase I heard from one of them on everyone else. It goes as follows: “The contact center is the front door of your value chain.” I have received universal agreement. In fact, term captures the essence as to why enterprises of all shapes and sizes need to not only focus on improving such centers to do traditional things like cutting the time to resolution, but also need to make such centers integral parts of business automation projects. They are key components for generating valuable big data and machine learning that can be leveraged through better communications to improve all aspects of business optimization both internally and throughout an enterprise’s value-chain.
It may seem like semantics to insert the word “Customer” in the market renaming process, but it is not. At the end of the day, words matter! Since we are starting with what should be viewed as a great opportunity with a clean sheet of paper, why not get it right the first time? Like I said, not including “Communications” in such an effort would not be a deal-breaker for me, but leaving out “Customer” would be a grave oversight and a huge missed opportunity.
Thank you for the suggestion Art and the articulation of why we need a change. Hopefully, the industry agrees and we can start using a term that accurately describes the space and the value it delivers, “Customer Communications Centers.” I look forward to hearing your comments.