Technological advances are pushing the boundaries of the traditional call center into the realm of the contact center: a holistic consolidation of all the ways you interact with customers, whether by phone, e-mail, your Web site, or even instant messaging or chat.
In a contact center, companies use one or more of these five components:
- Telephone (customers call in or agents call out)
- Web (customers visit the Web site and then press an icon that connects them to an agent and allows them to type in a phone number for a return call)
- E-mail (customers request information via e-mail)
- Chat or instant messaging (customers can open a chat window with an agent)
- Integration with customer database or customer-relationship management software (agents can see customer history as they’re talking to customers)
Whether your business will focus on inbound or outbound calling, or both, technology is bringing the cost of offering call-center capabilities down and increasing the number of those capabilities it can offer. In addition to opening up new channels of communication with customers, another benefit of the contact center is that it allows customer service agents to see all of the ways your customers interact with you. For instance, if a customer has been surfing your Web site, looking without success for a particular item, contact center software should deliver to the customer-service agent a history of that person’s search.
Being able to track and display a customer’s search history is important for a variety of reasons. First, the agent can be aware that the customer may have a higher-than-usual level of frustration and apologize; second, knowing what the customer was looking for and how they looked for it can help you improve the layout of your site.
With a suite of contact center technologies, you can put together an integrated communication system that gives agents enough information to be problem-solvers. Thus you create happy customers out of angry or apathetic ones and empower customer service representatives to be problem-solvers rather than just order-takers.
This kind of contact center technology is also available by more than one arrangement. Now, through hosted or outsourced solutions, small businesses can offer their customers high-touch, personalized service through a customer service representative, or fast self-service through their Web site.