Business changes fast, but some departments change faster (and slower) than others. While operations may change from month to month in accounting and legal departments, and from day to day in research and development departments, the call center usually had a solid reputation as the part of the business that remained unchanged: some might say “boring.”
That was then and this is now. The call center, once a reliable, stodgy old operation where phone calls were made and taken, has become a customer care dynamo, adding new media and new technologies regularly. In some organizations, it may have disappeared entirely and turned into a virtual, distributed entity that spans multiple locations and even people’s homes.
So as we begin 2013, what are some trends and changes we might see in the customer support industry in the coming year? This year, it might depend on who you ask, most analysts are in agreement on the challenges ahead for the contact center, and it goes something like this: social media, mobile apps and video, though not necessarily in that order. Here they are, as follows:
The Internet of Things. This is the idea that increasingly, our lives are connected to the Internet not just through computers, but in many other places as well. In the near future, our cars, our homes, our televisions (this is already happening) and even our appliances will be Web-enabled.
“Today, more than 99 percent of things in the physical world are still not connected to the Internet,” writes Cisco’s John Hernandez in a recent blog post. “In seven years though, that will drastically change as 37 billion intelligent things will be connected to the Web. So what does that mean for consumers? It means a home where devices tell you when they need service.”
Social media in the call center. When customers began communicating with companies via social media (and expecting a response), most companies put the responsibility on the marketing department. Increasingly, this doesn’t make sense. Social media is becoming simply another customer support channel, and it’s critical that it be merged with the complete customer experience. This means it belongs in the call center, though marketing still needs to retain an interest and responsibility.
“This is akin to the shift that happened when email took off in the mid-90s as a way to talk between customers and companies,” writes Hernandez. “Marketing departments owned e-mail communications at the time and started getting flooded with service requests, which forced contact centers to take on new channels and responsibilities.in the call center.”
Mobile and video will combine for top-tier customer service. While many companies are still struggling to support customer service via mobile apps properly, many others are taking it further and including video.
“Cisco is currently trialing technology to connect consumers with video experts via mobile devices both in-store or on the road,” Hernandez writes in his blog post. “By pulling intuitive information based on location and what detail the customer has recently looked at on the Web or mobile device, this technology will route customers to the right expert to help them get the additional detail they need in a simpler and more efficient manner.”
Those call centers not quite ready for mobile video (or those who sell a product that really doesn’t merit it) aren’t off the hook completely when it comes to mobile apps. More and more customers are carrying smartphones, and these customers are expecting robust mobile apps that grab a rapid response from the companies that provide them. These apps are simply one more channel that must be included as part of the customer support media mix.
Sounds daunting? It certainly is. But if you can’t meet customer expectations, chances are…your competitors can.
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