Call Centers

Customer Service Sucks? Blame Outdated Gear

It’s a business truism that customer service can make or break customer relationships, so it stands to reason that contact centers should be considered a critical part of the enterprise and equipped accordingly.

However, half of 225 global contact centers surveyed in April were using agent desktop technology that was more than five years old, Forrester noted in a report released this week.

More than half of them planned to upgrade in the near future.

Aging systems make it more difficult for contact center staff to deliver quality service across self-service and agent-assisted channels, as well as manage front-office to back-office servicing, found the study, which was commissioned by Pegasystems.

In fact, only 21 percent of those surveyed considered their companies “excellent” at delivering multichannel customer service.

“Most companies have grown their customer service groups organically, tacking on software and hardware individually as they supported new channels,” said Jeff Foley, director of product marketing for customer service applications at Pega.

The result is a patchwork assortment of technologies that don’t communicate with each other, he told CRM Buyer. That prevents the end-to-end customer journey and experience that are now the holy grail of customer service.

The Downside of Old Equipment

The goals of contact center decision makers often appear to differ from the goals of business decision makers, but antiquated systems can hamper both.

Those who run the contact centers place improving the customer experience as their top priority, and aging systems get in the way of that.

Those in charge of company purse strings often place cost reduction as their highest priority — and an outdated infrastructure can cause costs to skyrocket, the report notes.

There are three vectors to consider when calculating the losses incurred from outdated technology, Foley said.

One is operational costs. Automation can help by reducing the average time required to handle calls.

The second is revenue from cross-selling and upselling. Newer technology “can better anticipate a customer’s needs based on history, to present the right offer at the right time,” Foley pointed out.

The third is customer loyalty.

“A good customer experience with a contact center can foster and sustain customer loyalty and advocacy,” the report says — and that can translate into “increased topline revenue, increased retention, enrichment and advocacy.”

Fixing the Technical Issues

Companies’ options when their equipment is outdated are to do nothing, to maintain existing hardware, to rip and replace it, or to undertake a contact center transformation, which typically involves keeping existing systems operational while building up a new system and then replacing the old equipment piecemeal.

Doing nothing is “sadly a common option,” Foley said. Maintaining existing hardware “is often the choice for companies that build their own systems.”

Ripping and replacing takes enough time and money to be “an unpalatable path, except in extreme circumstances,” he said.

However, “transformational projects don’t involve boiling the ocean,” the report points out. “Transformation is a journey, not a destination.”

Companies should envision the kind of contact center service they want to provide and then choose one that’s capable of adapting with them as their business evolves, it advises.

Any means of upgrading the old equipment will help build customer loyalty, and “loyal customers stay with a company, recommend friends, and buy more from a company,” Foley said, thus “increasing their customer lifetime value.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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