Debate Results: Will Technology Kill the Call Center?

October 05, 2012 Jim Iyoob

Last month, we told you about a live Google+ debate called “Will Technology Kill the Call Center?” Event moderator Software Advice chose Etech Global Services Senior Vice President of Global Development Jim Iyoob to participate in the event, where speakers discussed consumer contact channel utilization, technology and the impact of these trends on the future call center.

The panel answered four scripted questions before the discussion was opened up to the online audience.

Snapshot of comments from the audience

Iyoob offered advice to viewers about contact channel strategy and prioritizing technology service spend. Below are the prepared questions from the debate:

  • How have you seen consumer contact channel utilization change in the last decade?
  • What role has technology played in this change?
  • How do you see technology impacting the way customers contact a company in the future, and the kind of service they receive?
  • Will technology eventually render call centers irrelevant?

Here are several takeaways from the panel’s responses.

Utilize Contact Channels Together

All of the speakers agreed that consumers are embracing newer contact channels, such as virtual agents and self service, at a pace never seen before in the contact center world.

For instance, Iyoob said that his contact center clients have seen virtual agent traffic rise to as high as 30 percent of interactions. That’s up from zero just a few years ago. He compared this to phone traffic, which is steady at about 69 percent, and email that hovers around 55 percent.

This doesn’t mean customers are choosing these new channels instead of voice. Rather, they are using self service, FAQs, mobile and other channels in addition to the telephone.

In response, companies need to do more than just make these channels available. They should leverage each to better serve the customer. This increases efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Respond to The Customer’s Choice

The panelists said they’ve witnessed a sea change in the way organizations interact with customers. This is due in large part to advancements in technology.

“I think more and more what is happening with the innovations in social media, Web chat, email fulfillment, virtual agents, it actually lets the agent have greater flexibility and choice in how communicate with customers,” Iyoob said.

Technology for new contact channels has leveled the playing field for user experience. The customer is empowered to choose the communication channel they want, when they want. It’s up to the company to “right channel” their business–to determine which channels are most important to its customers and invest in those technologies.

“It’s the customer’s choice how they want to contact you. It’s up to the contact center to accommodate,” Iyoob said.

The Call Center Died and Was Reborn

All of the speakers agreed that customer contact preference is shifting away from voice. But this won’t kill the call center because consumers will always want the option to talk to a real person.

“Would you open a brick and mortar store leave the doors unlocked and have no one there to check out? That’s what you’re doing if you have an online business and have no one there to help,” Iyoob said.

The concept of a call center comprising phone agents has evolved into a contact center comprising ”command teams” who manage customer interactions through multiple channels. That’s because today’s consumer demands instant gratification, and the reborn center is expected to support those demands, whether they come through Twitter, live chat or a phone call.

“At the end of the day it’s the agent behind the technology that’s going to make the difference. While technology will enable agents to be better, faster, more efficient. It will not replace the contact center,” Iyoob says.

Jim Iyoob

Jim Iyoob is the Chief Customer Officer for Etech Global Services. Jim has 30 years of experience in inbound, outbound, chat, analytics, AI, and social media. Jim has an impeccable track record of innovation and advanced business intelligence. Based on his level of expertise, Jim has been featured in numerous publications including CIO Review, Contact Center Pipeline, Connections Magazine, and was also listed as one of the ‘Top 20 Influential People to Follow’ on Twitter by “Iwantitnow”. He has co-authored three books on the call center quality monitoring.