Multi-Channel (and Not in the TV Sense)

So which is it, a call center or a contact center? Aren’t they the same thing?

Today you very often hear people refer to their center as a call center or a contact center and often interchange the two as if they are one and the same.

I would argue that there is a very big difference between the two and multi-channel is that difference.

Back in the day (I won’t define when, because it makes me feel older than I already do) it was common to see call centers sprouting up throughout the United States and abroad. Some were inbound centers, and some outbound, but regardless they were "call centers" because they handled telephone calls and that’s what they were focused on; making and taking telephone calls.

As the years went on we realized that customers desired other means of getting help from a company with which they do business and these centers began handling faxes too. Soon email became a channel and so on, launching us into the world of contact centers, where it was not just about telephone calls any longer.

Certainly in most centers today, telephone calls are often still the majority of the contacts handled but we are starting to see many more channels being added by companies as available options for a customer to reach a company.

I recently co-hosted a webinar and during the session we polled the audience of around 200 contact center specialists and found that about 75% of them had more than 2 channels and 43% actually had 3 or 4 different channels or options for customers to get help.

These channels likely consist of calls, faxes, emails, and chats. What I expect to see being added shortly are SMS (text messaging) and social media.  Video is certainly possible but I don’t see it going mainstream for many more years. This is likely a very niche channel that will apply to certain products or companies, but I can certainly see the day, with the abundance of smart phones that you can video conference with an agent, showing him or her the problem with the widget they wish to get help on.  Or even taking a video of a widget and uploading it to a company website along with a trouble ticket that shows the problem they are having without going into a lot of detail over a chat or phone call.

The key to multi-media in your contact center is to use the right kind of contact for the right product or service and make many options available to your customer.

For example, you may choose to only service your high value customer with a live agent, and the best agent at that.  But your tech support group may utilize chat as the customer is more comfortable speaking about a technical problem over chat. Finding the right balance between agent served contacts and self-service is critical too, but that is a topic for next time.

For now, the goal is to get a benchmark of your customer base.  Understand who they are and how they want to communicate and create channels that suit your customers instead of focusing only on how to solve your own internal contact center pain.  Fix problems from the outside in rather than the other way around, and be willing to test your channels to understand customer experience.

Call into your center with a billing question.  Chat with an agent and see if they are courteous (and good spellers) or browse your knowledge base with a specific problem and try to solve it with the information available.  If it does not go so well, you have some quick wins you can go after to improve customer experience.

Remember, it needs to be about the customer and how they wish to be helped.