Can Contact Centers Improve the Customer Experience?

Industry watchers sound off on the contact center, digital transformation, and the plight of poor customer experience.

Tom Kaneshige, Writer

June 20, 2018

3 Min Read
Contact center

If you’ve called customer support recently, it’s a good bet the experience wasn’t pleasant. Frustrating phone trees. Dropped calls. Repeated explanations. You’d think new technologies and a focus on the customer would have fixed this by now.

They haven’t — so what’s going on?

“In a world where experience innovation is a competitive advantage, Contact Center 1.0 is the Achilles Heel of customer experience,” writes Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter, in his blog.

Solis and other industry analysts recognize the contact center’s failure to deliver a good customer experience but differ on the reasons why and what can be done. Yet companies and their channel partners better get working on it. In the digital world, companies compete mainly on customer experience, and the contact center is a gaping hole.

Making matters worse, customer expectations are growing by leaps and bounds. Companies creating great customer experiences, such as USAA and Mercedes-Benz, have raised the level of expectation for all brands, says Forrester principal analyst Ian Jacobs. Today, customers expect a high standard of care from everyone, including customer service reps.

Nevertheless, companies need to find a way to improve the customer experience in the contact center.

Solis believes disruptive technologies — such as cloud, real-time collaboration, artificial intelligence (AI), conversational commerce — form the foundation for the next-generation contact center.  This is digital transformation for the contact center that sets new standards for customer experience.

“Modernizing the contact center delivers an integrated approach to unified communications that brings business experts and contact center agents together to deliver modern, real-time customer experiences,” Solis says.

The problem is that contact centers are slow adopters of these technologies, according to Solis. While there’s been a lot of talk about AI and chatbots in the contact center, Solis says only one out of three contact centers are undergoing digital transformation.

But is this true? Or is there too much technology?

Gartner surveyed more than 2,000 customer service reps from nearly 30 companies and found deep investment in systems and tools. Three out of four service leaders reported that they struggle with the planning and execution of new tech projects, while customer service reps are forced to use more tools.

“By default, this is creating a much larger problem: More complexity and hurdles for the rep to overcome in order to solve a customer’s problem,” says the Gartner study.

Meanwhile, call volumes remain flat or are increasing, and the average live service interaction continues to take longer each year.

Gartner’s answer is to focus on the customer service rep experience, which, in turn, will improve the customer experience. This means removing complexity and barriers to productivity and freeing up the customer service rep to focus more time on understanding a customer’s pain points.

“It’s only through the performance of your reps that you create a superior live customer experience for your company and increased operational efficiency,” said Rick DeLisi, principal executive advisor at Gartner, in a statement.

Everyone agrees that the heart of the customer experience lies in emotion, not technology. That is, the customer service rep’s ability to make an emotional connection with the customer is the biggest factor in the customer experience.

“Believe it or not, digital transformation in of itself, isn’t the sole provider for customer experience,” Altimeter’s Solis says. “While it’s a driver, customer experience is really about how you make someone feel in important moments that define the brand relationship.”

So how do new technologies make customers feel?

“Without the positive emotional connection, you’ll not turn customers into promoters,” Forrester’s Jacobs says. “And we are rushing towards a world of automation-first approaches to service – how many people get the warm and fuzzies about their customer service chatbot experiences?”

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About the Author(s)

Tom Kaneshige

Writer, Channel Futures

Tom Kaneshige writes the Zero One blog covering digital transformation, AI, marketing tech and the Internet of Things for line-of-business executives. He is based in Silicon Valley. You can reach him at [email protected]


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