Contact Centres – Does One Size Really Fit All?

12th July 2013 - This article by Alex Black, chief technology officer Enghouse Interactive examines the widespread misconception that continues to persist across the contact centre marketplace that a one-size fits all approach is the right course to follow – and goes on to argue that what most businesses actually need above all from their contact centre solutions is scalability and flexibility.

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There remains a widespread misconception among both vendors and end customers operating across the contact centre marketplace that a one-size fits all approach is the right course to follow. For large enterprises, in particular, that chosen size is typically big. Often, they fall into the trap of putting the desire to implement a complex, expensive and functionally rich technological solution ahead of considering their business goals and strategy and the likely future needs of their customers.

Many companies fall into the request for proposal (RFP) trap and focus on covering all the bases. The temptation is to buy the latest next generation technology including all the possible bells and whistles. The rationale is that they will now have a truly future-proofed solution but the truth is often very different.

Typically, they end up with a solution of which they will only ever use 60-70% of the functionality available but may incur very high cost of ownership associated with all that functionality. The more flexible or complex the solution, the more an organisation is going to have to manage a potentially complex and difficult professional services engagement.

Horses for Courses

The truth is, of course, that contact centres come in all sizes and varieties. At the bottom end, organisations could have an internal IT helpdesk, featuring two to three people, servicing a small to medium-sized business. At the other end of the spectrum are large multi-national companies, wanting to create a multi-tenanted cloud environment and looking for sophisticated functionality like skills-based routing, for example. And there are a vast range of sizes and types of contact centre in between.

What most businesses need, above all, from their contact centre solutions is scalability and flexibility. They need a solution that meets their requirements today but they also want one that will expand in line with their growth as a business and that will give them both the business agility and the best possible cost of ownership for their current and future requirements. Vendors can help the process here. By ensuring that their client’s TCO is kept in line with the requirements that they have and that they only pay for both the capacity and the level of functionality that they need and use, providers can help them save significant sums over the long-term.

Of course, all businesses that invest in contact centre technology will ultimately want the freedom to pick and choose solutions that best match their requirements. Vendors need to provide this diversity to meet the needs of all of their customers and those vendors with a comprehensive end-to-end solutions offering will be best placed to do this.

There also needs to be a recognition that as their business grows, customers are likely to crave the freedom of being able to switch from one platform to another. Vendors need to be able to accommodate this need by putting in place a combination of an open standards approach and industry-standard connectivity, allowing a much easier migration for the customer if it outgrows the capabilities of its incumbent solution.

In addition, end customers can also benefit significantly from being able to work with an extensive portfolio of on- the-ground reseller partners who have local and domain expertise and a range of technology skills that can augment what the vendor or solutions provider has to offer. Again, vendors that offer this breath of capability will be best placed to achieve competitive advantage in this marketplace.

In an ideal scenario, the vendor will have a network of channel partners in place who understand all of their different solution sets and can work with the customer to deliver those. So, if the customer starts off owning their own low-end helpdesk product and then changes their mind a few years down the line, the vendor can point them to a channel partner who will best be able to provide them with the right solution. And the reseller will of course also be able to play a major role in ensuring that the end customer is able to scale up and down as required to match business growth and market demand.

The Right Approach to Building the Product

As we have seen, being able to deliver a comprehensive breadth of offering, both in terms of solutions portfolio and of services provided through reseller partners is a key differentiator for vendors in the contact centre marketplace and helps deliver scalability and business agility to their end customers. A less well understood but equally critical requirement in driving scalability and ultimately in ensuring a future-proofed solution, is the need to make certain that solutions are architected and designed from the outset to match the user’s business plans and strategies.

The designer of the Land Rover Defender, for example, would have designed it as an off-road vehicle for farmers, not as a racing car. And once the design was in place, modifying it to change it into a racing car, for example, would have been all but impossible as the new design process would have been starting from the wrong point. So the initial technology choices that are made in the design of a product and the aim of that product to fit a particular set of market requirements actually dictate where that product can be developed into the future. From the contact centre perspective, a good example is the concept of multi-tenancy.

If, for example, a product is designed as a single-tenant application, i.e. it is designed for one customer and all the tenants are part of that one customer, it will require a great deal of work to then turn that product into a multi-tenant application. Some might argue that to get around these shortcomings organisations could simply virtualise multiple instances of the product. It might seem like a quick fix but in reality every time the organisation subsequently wanted to upgrade that software it would then have to persist the change across all those different instances.

The most important issue here is again cost of ownership. The situation becomes very inflexible. The customer ends up with a difficult to manage cloud environment where all processes are disjointed. The converse is to design everything from the ground up for the purpose for which it is required. In the context of our example, it could be designed as a multi-tenant cloud application and as a result have all the management and administration already built into it.

The original basic architectural decisions therefore dictate the long-term prognosis for the contact centres and it is difficult to get away from the implications of these decisions. However, by having a range of products, a vendor can make the optimal architectural decisions for a range of different platforms and therefore offer better value for money and lower cost of ownership. And if one provider owns this range of solutions it can commercially help a user move from one platform to another.

Of course, if the vendor is pursuing a channel-focused strategy, it also needs to ensure that it builds its solutions with the channel in mind. The solution set needs to be scoped in a way that mitigates risk. If the software is designed with the mindset that it is highly sophisticated and the vendor’s own expert in-house staff are going to install it, that vendor is likely to pay less attention to the packaging and implementation side of the process.

If, thanks to changing business strategy or market conditions, the vendor finds itself having to push the product through the channel in specific countries, it is likely to find itself in a situation where partners are trying to implement a highly complex product that they don’t have the right competency and skill set to deliver, the professional services engagement is likely to spiral out of control and expert staff may have to be brought in to sort out the mess, ultimately end causing a major issue for the customer.

Engaging with the Customer

Further highlighting the shortcomings of the one-size-fits-all approach to contact centre implementations, businesses need to adapt their strategies to fit the profile of their customer base. The key is defining your target market and then picking the right communications mechanisms to engage effectively with it.

If you are communicating with a predominantly youthful demographic, for example, you are likely to be engaging digitally via email or a web chat facility rather than by a traditional voice-based mechanism. If you are dealing with older, high net worth individuals, you may look to engage with them by setting up a voice connection to a personal banker or relationship manager - a trusted individual with whom they have previously dealt.

Businesses also need to ensure that they put in place a defined approach for managing their customer engagement. Typically, about 80% of interactions pass straight through a company anyway without any problems and there are around ten basic enquiries that customers make to businesses. So in the digital environment, in particular, the business needs to ensure it is prepared to handle these enquiries in the most cost-effective and empathetic way possible. The next generation auto agent has a level of intelligence built into it so that when it realizes it can’t answer the question it escalates it to a human seamlessly, who then picks up that web chat and carries on the engagement. This kind of approach can result in significant cost savings for the business and the customer experience is not impacted negatively in any way, in fact it is enhanced by the increased level of responsiveness that can be provided.

The Right Way Forward

Ultimately, businesses need to understand their customers, then put in place the technology to interact with them. That’s the right way of managing this issue. A lot of businesses, however, still miss out this crucial stage and go straight to the RFP of buying the technology. However good, no technology will answer all of a business’s problems. The success an organisation has in engaging more effectively with its customers will ultimately depend on its engagement strategy accompanied by the right type(s) of technology.

A one-size-fits-all approach to the contact centre will never support an approach sufficiently efficient, flexible and agile to enable businesses to achieve this success.

However, to deliver this more flexible approach and effectively map the technology to customer requirements, all businesses will draw on the service of vendors equipped with a comprehensive set of contact centre solutions capable of scaling as they grow and ideally a network of resellers capable of delivering advice and supporting them in territories around the world and helping with any technological issues that they may have.

Added By: Sam Heggie-Collins on 12th Jul 2013 - 17:11
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