Wow, in the blink of an eye, we have gone from telling customers they need to call us to the customer turning the tables and telling us how they want to communicate and do business with us. What a turn of events! The customer is now dictating their terms of engagement versus the simple call center of the past.

Back in the beginning, the term call center invoked an image of someone wearing a corded headset, sitting in front of a small monitor, at a small desk, with almost no information in front of them except a binder of printed material or a bunch of sticky notes on the cube walls.

Call centers were once a needed cost center, enabling a connection from the consumer to a provider without having to walk into a brick and mortar location. The key word was cost. Providers and retailers treated the call center as a necessary evil for doing business. It was the price to pay for having customers.

In the 1990s, the library of call center metrics started to grow. It was all about how quickly we could answer, or not answer, and how quickly we could get on to the next call:

  • Number of calls.
  • Wait time – how long it took to get to an agent once a caller decided they wanted one.
  • Handle time – how long it took the agent to finish the call and take notes.
  • Service levels – measurements of what percentage of calls could be answered within how many seconds; these were like windows of excellent, good, fair and poor service.
  • Abandonment rate – percentage of callers who gave up and hung up before an agent answered.

Sales of new technology centered around controlling labor costs. It was important to figure out how many calls could you deflect and how to reduce handle time, so agents could handle more interactions.

There became a growing list of demands, and the desire for visibility quickly transpired into a need for customer satisfaction. As customer satisfaction rose to the top of the list for success criteria, the call center developed metrics accordingly, and so was born the customer satisfaction score, or CSAT.  This shown a bright spotlight on customer experience and, by nature, forced the call center to evolve. 

Improved customer satisfaction came with several new considerations:

  • Agent experience and retention (gamification) – tenured agents improved CSAT.
  • First contact resolution – did we resolve the customer's issue/inquiry on their first attempt to get it resolved?
  • Additional channels (chat, email, fax… yep, we used to route faxes to agents!).
  • Quality assurance (call recording and scoring) – at the time, this was a subjective measurement of how a supervisor felt the agent performed during the call.
  • Screen pops of customer information.
  • Reason for calling (whisper) tones.

The call center wasn't just a call center anymore. It was transforming into a contact center, capable of handling multiple channels, tracking success, scoring customer satisfaction, measuring agent satisfaction and creating meaningful and measurable improvement objectives. Contact centers started to grow roots in customer retention, so they weren't simply cost centers at all!

Then, in the 2000's, Net Promoter Score (NPS) became a thing, and Amazon showed up to change the world. The notion was born that every consumer should measure engagement experiences based on their last best experience – this wasn't only about an experience interacting with a person; it was about an experience interacting with a brand. The last best experience was a repeated measurement of interactions with Amazon.

Amazon became the gold standard by which any organization would measure their success in creating delightful experiences for their customers. In some cases, that last best experience was completely fueled by self-service, no agent needed at all!

Customer expectations and experiences drove demand for improved access, new applications, better web presence, mobile apps and social media presence. It created a need for companies to gain visibility of their customer journeys with queries like:  

  • Where have they been?
  • How do they prefer to interact or engage with us?
  • What does this customer do most of the time when they connect with us?

Customer journey mapping created new insights. We started to see consumers shifting from voice interactions to chats, to SMS (texting), to social media platforms. Digital engagements became more important than ever. Personalized experiences reduced customer effort. Remembering customer preferences and habits and tailoring their level of digital engagement were now the hallmarks of customer experience leaders.

We had to give consumers a digital "help yourself" option, and agents had way too much information to sift through. So, we had to help them, too. We needed a single solution that provided self-service information to customers and agents.

There were a lot of tools, channels, and tons of data, and things were getting a little disjointed. We worked hard to make the customer experience effortless and streamlined. Then, we worked on making the life of an agent easy with tools to help customers, measure success and grow their skills.

But we couldn't quite get the two sides working effortlessly together. When a customer had to engage with an agent it still wasn't quite the experience we wanted to deliver. We were on the cusp of greatness, but we were coming up short when we needed to provide personal assistance.

Integrations between journey-mapping technologies and agent-facing technologies evolved to connect the agent with relevant information about the customer's recent journey. They are embedded in the user interface, whether it be a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that we're popping for the agent or an agent interface native to the contact center platform. Were they just on a webpage trying to order something? Were they browsing products on an app? Did we call them to collect a debt recently? We could give the agent relevant details, so it was easier for them to understand why the customer needed help.

We are now watching contact centers evolve into omnichannel engagement centers. They aren't cost centers anymore – that notion is long gone. They are revenue generators now. Through three decades of evolution, we've gone from call centers that cost money no one wants to spend to omnichannel engagement centers that retain customers, generate revenue and grow brand awareness through excellent and effortless experiences.

This is made possible by the marriage of customer experience and agent experience through collaboration technology solutions that create the total experience. 

So, what happens next? Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to create another wave of innovation and another chapter in contact center evolution. AI has some obvious customer facing benefits. Bots can help with self-service. They can make things "conversational" to ease the effort of the interaction. They can also provide value for the agent. They can listen to conversations in real time and pop knowledge management content for agents automatically. They can suggest the next best action to take in real time on a call and even write up the call notes! 

AI technology will carve a new path toward improving self-service (call deflection) and agent efficiency (labor costs).  But for now, it's all about providing excellent total experiences.

Interested to see how evolved your contact center can be?  Request Workshop

Our contact center advisory services team at WWT has an average contact center tenure of over 25 years.

We've been in the trenches for decades of evolution and are positioned to help you navigate your maturity curve and evolution to provide excellent experiences for your customers and your teams. Contact us now to learn more about how we can help you achieve your evolutionary objectives!