Article : Video Communications - Will Your Contact Centre Be Ready For It?
In an effort to offer the best possible customer service, call and contact centres are now striving to offer anytime, anyhow communication methods.
Customers can email, call, fax or even web chat with agents to have their queries answered and customer service representatives are often available 24 hours a day, be that in one country or through off-shore contact centres that enable organisations to benefit from varying time zones.
This anytime, anyhow approach is a response to customer demand which, in turn, has been generated by technology uptake. For example, once familiar with email, it seemed perfectly natural to email a customer service department and receive a prompt response back via the same medium.
The technology uptake trend is by no means over. As both fixed and wireless broadband becomes ubiquitous, we will become more used to bandwidth-heavy applications, such as video streaming, in our lives and more dependent on it. At the moment, consumers tend to think of their telephone, internet and television as being provided by different entities. Yet, with broadband this is no longer the case.
Triple play, the provision of voice, data and video services in an integrated offering, is being heralded as 'the next big thing'. Sceptics will argue we heard that about 3G and it still hasn't happened. However, the length of time triple play takes to catch on is a little irrelevant: it will happen. For our children and the generations beyond them, video-enabled appliances around the home and in the fabric of our lives will be the norm, not the exception and it is likely that broadband service providers will include video conferencing units as part of their service package. This will have an enormous impact upon contact centres and they way they will interact with customers.
Many call centres have renamed themselves contact centres because they believe they offer multiple means of contact between customers and agents. While these 'anytime, anyhow' centres may have email, fax, voice and web channels, almost all of them have forgotten video. Yet experts predict that the 'see me' customer service market will be worth £500million in the UK alone in the next two years. This represents a huge opportunity for contact centres.
While the era of triple play may seem a long way off, sales of video and web conferencing hardware and software to consumers are growing exponentially. To stay one step ahead of their customers, organisations should, over the next 12 – 24 months, consider how they might develop a video strategy that could be rolled out within the next three or four years: as we all know, anticipating customer demand is much more profitable than just responding to it.
For the uninitiated, video communications may seem to require a large amount of expensive, futuristic technology. In fact, the only infrastructure that a contact centre needs to have in place is a broadband or ISDN connection. Video conferencing units are very easy to install as most of the simpler versions are sold as 'plug and play'-ready devices.
However, in developing a video communications strategy there are some questions to consider.
The advent of 'see me' communications creates a whole new dimension to the on-shore, off-shore debate. Organisations that wish to outsource their call centre operations abroad, without telling customers may find it much harder to do so.
Also, will it mean that contact centres workers will have to wear a uniform or at least dress smartly? Will it require some contact centres to update the contact centre environment that will appear as the background on the video image?
Generally, web conferencing applications offer inferior image and sound quality. Is that the image that you would like to portray to your customers? Video conferencing provides sound and images of a quality that is comparable to television broadcasts. It also provides true real-time operation. This is very important when dealing with customers as agents may need to actually see and hear the problem that the customer has. Web-cameras and other such applications often suffer from poor image and sound quality and delays in transmission, which can all be very disconcerting for an already upset customer.
Video conferencing units, while a bit more expensive to purchase initially, not provide much better quality of communications, but also usually come with supplier maintenance and support. In fact most video conferencing products, have a rapid, proven return on investment (ROI).
Another big advantage of video conferencing is that is based on international standards and therefore fully interoperable. You need not worry about it not working with the customer's unit. Most units are also very simple to use and contact centres will not have to spend a lot of time training staff on it.
Some web and video conferencing solutions do not provide any encryption of their communications, leaving them completely open over the public internet or telephone network as they travel between customer and agent. For contact centres dealing with financial information and passwords, this is extremely dangerous.
In addition, if information is not encrypted during transmission, the contact centre is not complying with current data protection regulations. Fortunately not only do most quality video conferencing products provide the required level of encryption, there are also additional security products specifically designed for this purpose available.
Another important area to consider when devising a video strategy is the type of customers your contact centre deals with. As with all new technologies, certain sections of the public are going to be early adopters and others will be much slower to try the technology. Certain investment banks are already using video conferencing to liaise with customers. For example, Bears Bank in the US estimates that 30% of all its video conferencing calls are currently to and from individual customers.
Seeing the customer they are speaking to is very helpful to the agents. They will be able to better gauge customers' reactions and moods, by watching their body language. In addition, human beings are generally less rude when speaking to someone's face. Video communications should reduce the number of abusive customers.
Whatever issues video conferencing might raise, the benefits surely outweigh any hesitations. As importantly, if the take-up of video is even half as widespread as that of mobile phones, then contact centres will have no choice to but to invest in the technology.
Today's Tip of the Day - Team Building
Published: Monday, July 26, 2004