Contact centre integration: what and why?
The need for integration in a call centre is not a new concept. The reasons for integration, however, have changed considerably over the last two decades as technology, communication and the relationship between business and customer has evolved.
At the outset, PBX systems in call centres took care of telephony requirements, while many other systems collaborated in order to create a point solution. The intrinsic issue with this solution was that it required frequent updates and customisation, making it costly and out of reach, particularly for players in the call centre space.
The introduction of all-in-one and software-based solutions revolutionised integration for call centres and enabled affordable pre-integrated solutions for organisations of all sizes.
But, while integration has become more affordable and easier, the year-on-year growth seen in the South African call centre industry as highlighted by the BPeSA Key Indicator Report, and the shift from call centre to contact centre, has created a more complex technical environment.
With online retailers such as Takealot.com becoming more popular, multimedia interactions and omni-channel functionality are becoming dominant. What's more, integration itself may mean different things to different people and organisations, making it challenging to compare solutions from different vendors and to identify the most appropriate solution in a particular context.
To simplify this, 1Stream has identified 4 key areas that should be considered, and it has highlighted the detail around what features the integration can provide, as well as any operational benefit.
1) Customer relationship management and ticketing systems
Customer relationship management (CRM) is at the heart of good customer care and a modern contact centre should have some form of integration between the telephony system and the company CRM.
The driving factors behind this integration are productivity and quality. Productivity enhancements through integration include customer details appearing on the agent's screen, saving time through click-to-call or tracking agent productivity by capturing all work completed in the CRM system. Quality is also improved by the agent being able to offer a more personalised service that includes greeting the customer by name and having a complete history of the customer easily accessible to enable efficient processing of queries.
There are many options of CRM and ticketing systems available, many of which offer a cloud version. According to market research, hosted or cloud technologies are moving away from being a 'nice-to-have' towards being an essential part of any contact centre operation. This is because they offer integrated platforms, emerging functionality, speed to market, flexibility and cost modelling that can be implemented in a way that meets the unique operational needs of an organisation.
Importantly, modern cloud technologies also offer the advantage of being browser based, with modern Internet-based APIs.
The fundamentals of this integration are:
The caller line identification (CLI) of the incoming caller is matched against the CRM database. If an account or contact matches the CLI, it appears on the agent's screen. Should there be more than one account associated with the caller's number, the selection of accounts is listed so all relevant information is easily accessible to the agent. For calls with no associated account, the standard CRM search page is displayed. While some of the success in screen pop lies in the quality of the CRM data, this functionality has the potential to offer the contact centre and agents a mixture of productivity and customer service enhancements.
Click to call
A simple yet hugely effective productivity improvement, click to call means that a customer's telephone number that is displayed on the CRM accounts or contact pages can be dialled directly with a mouse click. This function has the added benefit of ensuring that the correct number is dialled and triggering the creation of a history page so that important customer data is stored and tracked.
Embedded call control
Embedding the telephony features into the CRM application means there is only one application to load and manage. This streamlines the agent's desktop, making it more manageable while also adding a valuable layer of security to the workflow.
Having a detailed call history provides valuable information that can help offer better customer care. Each call, whether inbound or outbound, is logged in the CRM or ticketing system. This log typically includes information such as the date and time of the call, the customer's contact number, the queue that was called and the name of the agent who took the call, ensuring a clear audit trail is available should it be necessary.
Call recording link
While some systems attach the full call recording to the CRM history, this can prove cumbersome as these files tend to be very large. A more feasible option in many cases is to store these recordings in a separate repository and simply provide a link to the relevant recording in the history page. Clicking on this link allows the agent or manager to listen to the call recording directly from the CRM page.
2) Multimedia contact centres
As the prevalence of multimedia channels in contact centres continues to increase, the need to ensure complete integration becomes ever more crucial. Without comprehensive and effective integration, the use of disparate systems for each channel such as voice, e-mail and chat makes it near impossible to access meaningful productivity reports for work done by an agent or to effectively manage customer interactions.
The aspect of managing productivity and quality is paramount for contact centres to ensure success, and system integration is key to making this possible.
Where multimedia is managed by the CRM system, integration is focused on updating the CRM records with the history of telephone calls so that all reporting can be managed from the CRM reporting system. This means, regardless of the channel of communication, an agent is able to access the query history and is better equipped to provide a seamless and positive customer experience.
Big data has become commonplace within business and, with it, a new generation of business intelligence (BI) tools. The opportunity to merge data sources, rapidly generate complex reports and produce a selection of graphics that make specialised reporting easily understandable to contact centre managers, has revolutionised BI. Although the contact centre industry has been relatively slow to take up the new BI tools on offer, CRM solutions usually offer a selection of live monitoring, historical statistics and a variety of analysis tools that are used to drive KPIs and goals in a company.
As previously mentioned, where disparate systems such as voice, e-mail and chat are being used in a contact centre, merging data sources to provide productivity reporting has become an operational imperative. Doing so brings all the data to one place and produces a consolidated set of reports from one reporting engine.
Reducing the quantity of calls remains a core focus for contact centres as a means of keeping operational costs under control and ensuring a high standard of customer assistance is maintained. There have been numerous technologies implemented over the years to help customers manage their own queries without the need for speaking to an agent. However, while there seems to be a desire for self-service options from customers, the technology has never really hit the mark: IVR solutions (eg, to access your bank balance or get a parcel delivery update) are clumsy and often not mobile friendly; redirecting callers to Web sites and other channels to handle their issue has limited effect, as this feels like an added and unnecessary step to the customer who is already on the phone.
The emergence of cognitive services, along with vast improvements in artificial intelligence and speech analytics, have created a new generation of self-service options. Chatbots, where the customer interacts via chat with a computer, has changed the landscape of customer care, and voicebots, where the customer speaks in real-time to a virtual agent, are just around the corner for mainstream contact centres.
The challenge with this technology, however, remains in the knowledge base and the quality of the data that it has to draw on. A chatbot's ability to provide competent, relevant and useful answers lies in the depth of information available, and at the heart of these knowledge bases is machine learning, allowing automatic constant improvement. This needs a high level of integration to databases, CRM and any other data repository that offers profiling of the customer, the agent, the issue in question and the most relevant answer.
Regardless of the approach taken or the business focus of an organisation, the trend that remains paramount for any contact centre is that of customer experience. With this comes the need to find the delicate balance between agent productivity, service quality and cost, which can be best achieved through looking closely at the integration options available and implementing a carefully considered solution that meets the unique needs of the organisation.