Quick, where is your contact center located and how many agents do you employ? Twelve months ago, you might not have been able to answer these questions. As far as you were concerned, the contact center was somewhere on the third floor ... or, was it the second floor? In either case, it certainly didn't have any impact on your IT decision-making or your company's CRM (customer relationship management) strategy. But at the ICCM (International Call Center Management) 2002 show, contact centers took center stage as one of the enabling tools within successful enterprises.
You frequently hear that 60% of CRM implementations fail to meet their objectives. It's just one of those statistics that's cited so often it's hardly ever sourced. (Actually, the number comes from a Gartner report.) The number is bandied about by CRM vendors that claim they know why so many implementations fail and, presumably, how to avoid becoming a statistic. It's used by consultants who want to prove their worth to end user companies. And, it's used by editors - guilty as charged - to promote a story angle or grab attention. But, for all its overuse, no one I've talked to really disputes that the statistic is credible.
There are many reasons why CRM implementations don't meet their objectives (e.g. poor front end to back end integration, vendor-hyped objectives are not realistic). Not taking advantage of the tools within contact centers, however, is quickly rising to the top of the list.
Build Quality Into Your Processes
Today, smart enterprises are looking at their contact centers as both critical to the success of CRM and sources of revenue. All of the end users and vendors I spoke with at ICCM 2002 told a similar story. Contact center managers are wielding less budgetary authority and are increasingly having to answer to IT and upper management. In short, contact centers are no longer fiefdoms. They are just as much a part of the enterprise as the logistics, sales, and accounting departments.
One vendor relayed to me that the contact center industry is shifting its focus from efficiency (taking as little time as possible to handle a call) to effectiveness (handling the call right the first time). This trend seems to be directly related to the need of enterprises to improve the overall success of their CRM strategies. Instead of handling problems only as they arise at the end of the "production line," contact centers are now helping enterprises build quality into all of their business processes.
Contact centers handle the majority of interaction with customers and go a long way to form the overall customer experience. The information gleaned from contact centers can be used for such things as aiding product development, shortening billing times, and affecting marketing campaigns.
One-To-One Marketing In Practice
The contact center is the one place within your company where your customers turn for answers and information. It's the place where marketing messages are relayed on a one-to-one basis. (This is not one-to-one marketing in theory. It's one-to-one marketing in practice.) It's the place - precisely because of that personal interaction - that you can lose a good customer in a matter of seconds or secure a customer for life.
Contact centers are a vital part of enterprises in general and specifically when it comes to CRM strategies. Finally, companies are realizing this fact. For those that are just having this epiphany, congratulations. What took you so long?