Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

It's Called a 'Contact Center' for Good and Bad Reasons

August 04, 2015

There is an old saying about the necessity of learning something new every day. And, while maybe not completely new, a gentle reminder to behave in a manner that is more productive or enjoyable is never a bad thing. I think two such reminders might be worth sharing since they relate directly to the subject of improving the customer experience in general and the value of enhanced contact center engagements specifically. Let me explain.

There was an article on by Blake Morgan titled, “Why Everyone At Your Company Should Train In The Contact Center,” that rang a bell. Morgan’s point that interacting with customers has been, is and always will be the best way to understand several things about your company should resonate with “E”veryone in our increasingly connected world. This includes the perception of your brand, the reality of your brand in terms of complaints (and hopefully praise in our social media world), where expertise on fixing things in the company resides, and how business processes work or don’t work.

This posting reminded me of an experience I had many years ago with the top executive at one of the world’s largest communications services companies. Fretting about a startup eroding market share like crazy, this individual asked my opinion why company XYZ was succeeding where another startup company ABC was not.  I mentioned that customer service was a key ingredient—that if instead of this person’s entire executive team getting free service and VIP treatment when they had a problem, they actually had to deal with their own customer service people, they would understand company XYZ’s success.  All I got back was the comment, “interesting idea.” I switched my service contract based on that discussion alone.

The point is , Morgan is iterating why the television show “Undercover Boss” has a loyal following here in the U.S.  It never ceases to amaze the bosses when they go undercover just how bad business processes are, just how poorly customers can be treated and just how valuable trained and loyal employees can be. It is why as Morgan says, these days if you really want to improve the customer experience at your company than everyone should take a turn in the contact center as a frontline employee, i.e., one in contact in real-time with customers. 

Given that almost all of the recent surveys of C-levels around the globe now put improving the customer experience as one of if not the top business priorities, the contact center as an omni-channel environment serves that function, only amplified. After all, the modern contact center has become not just the place to interact with customers but also a key part of an ecosystem that must constantly update and evaluate the customer journey.        

Larry Lang (President and CEO of PLUMgrid, a really interesting Silicon Valley startup that is re-envisioning the IO infrastructure of data centers,) in an insightful piece on software-defined networking (SDN) uses the construct of a contranym—words that can have two contradictory meaning—to make a great point about misunderstandings regarding the use of the term ‘SDN’ in industry parlance. The same can be said about the word “contact” in contact center.

It was not that long ago that customer service centers were commonly referred to as call centers for obvious reasons. The way we got in touch with companies we needed support from was to pick up the phone and call them.  When this no longer became the case, as communication methods like chat, SMS texting, self-service portals and soon real-time video replaced the call as the preferred means of real-time interactions, contact became the right word for describing the activity. Customers, or companies, are reaching out to get in touch, i.e., establish “contact.”  However, the other meaning of contact as in all of the ways people bump into/make contact with while closely related in the context of sports implies combatants. In short, football in the U.S. is a “contact sport” characterized by violent collisions. 

Where the notion of contranym comes in is that organizations’ contact centers are supposed to resolve challenges and create opportunities and reduce contention rather than encourage it. Indeed, one of the reasons so much investment is being made in omni-channel interaction technology, real-time speech analytics, big data, integrations with other systems like CRM systems and sales, is to make the customer journey as frictionless as possible for vendors and customers alike. 

To quickly summarize, everyone really should at some point in their career be forced to spend some time engaging in real-time with customers. Indeed, there is no better place to do so than the contact center and this is going to become even more relevant over time. 

Call centers started as places that were developed so that executives did not have to deal with irate customers. In many ways the customer, except for the “best” or biggest ones were the enemy to be kept out of sight and to a large extent out of mind. Unfortunately, call centers did that job very well unless you were very persistent and kept asking for supervisor until you reached the top of the executive pyramid. However, the Internet has changed the relationship of buyer and sellers forever by giving buyers both instant access to options and information and a megaphone with incredible reach to share their displeasure or pleasure with millions. 

The customer now has to be treated not as a combatant but as something to be treasured not just in the moment but over time. What this means is that the enabling of compelling experiences—the good connotation of “contact”—must be encouraged over its contranym. Call centers made a bad name for themselves over time for good reasons, but contact centers can and should create a good name for companies for all of the right and best reasons. We shall see in some future online dictionary site which definition prevails.