New Strategies for Contact Centers

In this special feature Steven Grant, Managing Partner at the

Customer Research Center shares his views for creating new


The traditional view of the contact center as an interchangeable

assemblage of talking automata who disseminate minimal

information to the calling masses within the shortest possible

talk time is equal parts outmoded and ubiquitous.

This underestimation of the contact center’s role deserves

rethinking–particularly given the wide range of process

improvements and technological advances in recent years that

extend a center’s capabilities. Taking full advantage of the

contact center’s expanded capacity to enhance revenue and drive

customer loyalty requires contact center leaders to develop new

strategic perspectives.

Contact center leaders can extend their strategic role within

the corporation by understanding the many advances and

improvements that are reshaping the center’s impact on

innovative business strategies. The focus here is on business

transformation. Certainly, there are always opportunities to

improve the day-to-day operating capabilities in a contact


This is an important and continued focus of any effective

leader. The suggestion here is to also jump up a level and

position the contact center as a fundamental engine of change

for the entire business. This strategic reassessment outlines

what is changing, what is unique, what capabilities can be

effectively leveraged to support broader business goals and how

to think about these advances in a way that optimizes the new

role of the contact center.

Viewed from a fresh perspective, the contact center’s principle

strategic roles in a business are threefold: 1) increase the

accuracy, impact, and reach of a company’s market intelligence,

2) serve as a collaboration engine for continuous improvements

in client loyalty, and 3) radically alter the economics of

client interactions that ultimately drive revenue growth.

First, market intelligence, broadly defined, encompasses a

company’s knowledge of client needs, relationship management

insights, product development savvy, and the processes or

workflows that generate value for customers and clients.

Thinking about marketing knowledge in this broad context

highlights the new role of the contact center in disseminating,

collecting, and leveraging knowledge. Market intelligence, in

the past, was primarily generated by the company for subsequent

application to targeted clients and customers.

The contact center was used as a response mechanism to answer

specific product inquiries or fulfill offers; more advanced

centers developed telesales departments using rudimentary

triggers to identify cross-sell or up-sell opportunities. The

proposed new role incorporates the contact center both as a

listening post and as a source of information gathered through

social networks and in-market product testing.

Massive quantities of purchasing advice, innovative applications

that extend a product’s capabilities and intensely technical

product information developed by expert users are now exchanged

through purpose-built Internet discussion groups and social


Nielsen Online reports that Member-communities have overtaken

email as the fourth most popular online activity, behind only

search, general purpose information portals, and software

applications. Companies now have an opportunity to plug in to

these member communities, evaluate current products as well as

proposed enhancements in the crucible of unrehearsed and

unrestrained public opinion, and conduct broad scale in-market

testing using the contact center’s capabilities.

Contact centers are routinely connected to customer relationship

management (CRM) databases, but these databases are often

extracted specifically for the center and do not connect back to

the marketing databases that drive offer analysis. By extending

the concept of CRM to include some elements of marketing

analytics, the fundamental capabilities of the contact center


The contact center, with its advanced skills and infrastructure

for texting, chat, email, and web inquiries becomes the natural

place for the core marketing group to embed their listening

capabilities by leveraging the lower cost, high production

controls, and expertise of the contact center to reach out to

social networks, engage member communities, and conduct broad

scale in-market tests of new concepts and products.

Traditional focus group research, with its high costs and small

sample sizes, can now be bolstered by a willing public that will

comment, criticize, and improve market intelligence with

reactions from thousands to hundreds-of-thousands of

consumers—without paying any participation fees.

Second, the contact center infrastructure is now capable of

serving as a collaboration engine to drive continuous

improvements in client loyalty. Part of the shift here is driven

by newer on-demand, or “cloud,” software architectures that hide

much of the development complexity from the developers. Just as

spreadsheets shifted the focus from doing math to analyzing

business results, the “soft” architecture underlying contact

center applications shifts the focus from years of development

to days of table changes.

The contact center can afford to change workflows to reflect

process improvements requested by consumers and employees

because many of the changes are now point and click rather than

code and debug. Equally important, the contact center is

continually receiving a sufficient volume of client feedback to

effectively evaluate the needed changes.

Again, in-market tests with a small percentage of the production

traffic can quickly evaluate and sort through the various change


For example, increasing first contact resolution is always one

of the superordinate goals of any contact center because of the

beneficial impacts this has on staffing levels, costs, client

loyalty, and business margins.

However, finding the right combination of self-service

capabilities, IVR prompts, transfer capabilities, and dialogue

that will consistently improve first contact resolution can be

elusive outside of a structured, carefully measured, high volume

contact center. The quality measurement structure that is an

integral element of most high volume contact centers is

perfectly suited to this critical role of driving client loyalty

to exceptional levels through constant iteration and improvement

of the client workflows.

Third, the contact center will continue to fulfill its

traditional role, significantly improving the economics of

customer interactions, but the strategic opportunity is now open

to extend this technology across much more than the “back

office.” The development of fully distributed, VoIP, cloud, and

outsourced technical capacity that can be purchased on demand

has changed the definition of “center.”

The center of the contact center is now strategic rather than

tactical, virtual rather than instantiated in a particular pile

of bricks and mortar. In the past, the automatic call

distributor, one of the first pieces of special purpose contact

center technology, was designed to equitably connect calls

across a waiting queue of available telephone representatives

performing repetitive tasks (although often highly complex) in

an anonymous pool of similarly trained staff.

This advance over previous distribution schemes eliminated

overloaded representatives and enabled detailed measurement of

workloads–since every representative was presented with an

equal opportunity to complete a fair share of the incoming

traffic. With the addition of email, integrated voice response,

voice recognition, chat, and assisted self-service the core

capabilities of the contact center have been extended across a

wide range of customer access channels.

These capabilities can now be extended beyond a narrow

definition of “telephone service representatives” to incorporate

many functions across a corporation. Skill-based routing was a

first step in this evolution. However, an overly narrow

definition of “skill” prevented the contact center from

demonstrating its full range of capabilities. Skills were always

defined within the center, across a very tight, operational,

compensation range, rather than across the company as a whole.

Contact centers are now virtual—the connection between the

client and the representative can be from anywhere to anywhere.

Contact center software is now collaborative—knowledge is

accessible across multiple organizational levels. Contact center

workflow automation includes a wide range of contact and case

distribution rules, review steps, and intelligent queues (i.e.,

retrieve and reroute if the delay is > x).

These capabilities extend the center in two directions. Outward,

because the center can now leverage resources across the

organization to resolve client issues that were previously too

infrequent or too complex to become part of the center’s

retinue. Inward, because “front office” functions that required

highly compensated professionals to resolve can now be shared

with the contact center.

A simple example of this is the migration of tasks away from a

front end sales force and toward the contact center. Most sales

people spend 30-40% of their time on non-critical, non-client

facing tasks. Relocating these tasks to a contact center nearly

doubles the productive face time with the clients. Advanced

routing capabilities and virtual center capabilities mean that

the actual configuration of the center can conform to the

traditional operational modes of the sales force—e.g., the

assistant can still be in the next cubicle, but the work queue

becomes enormously more efficient as it is shared across the


These three strategic capabilities of the modern multi-channel,

collaborative contact center provide a starting point for

rethinking the design and distribution of work across a

corporation. By fully leveraging the distributed resource model

found in virtual call centers, taking advantage of the workflow

automation tools, strong production controls and collaboration

tools that are now available off-the-shelf, there are a range of

strategic choices opening up to build client loyalty and drive

revenue that have not previously been fully utilized..

About the Author

Steven Grant, CRC Managing Partner, was formerly responsible

for 15,000 representatives in American Express’s North American

contact centers. During his tenure the contact center’s role

evolved to handle the Internet, email traffic, chat sessions,

and triggered sales interactions on inbound traffic. In his

current role with CRC, Mr. Grant is focused on helping contact

centers develop extraordinary customer experiences and optimize

their service workflows through the application of CRM

technology. Contact Mr. Grant at

or phone: (646) 325-3329. Website:


This is the heart of the matter: “Viewed from a fresh perspective, the contact center’s principle strategic roles in a business are threefold: 1) increase the accuracy, impact, and reach of a company’s market intelligence, 2) serve as a collaboration engine for continuous improvements in client loyalty, and 3) radically alter the economics of client interactions that ultimately drive revenue growth.”


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