SOCAP International

Four Keys to Moving From Cost Center to Revenue Generator

By communicating at the moment a purchase decision is made, agents will become product advisors and the contact center a strategic marketing center.

As people’s communication habits are changing, the contact center is faced with the opportunity to become more important than ever to business. All contact centers are managing the explosion of communication channels to ensure their agents can continue to interact with consumers when and where those consumers prefer. And while this creates great technical challenges for the contact center, it also offers the allure of opening up the moment of purchase as a critical time for brands to interact with consumers.

Changing How We Communicate

Many of us probably use our mobile phones far less for actual phone calls than for other applications. As a society on the go, we reserve voice communications, the most immediate type, for the most important people in our lives. We use our mobile phones for surfing, texting, games, dinner reservations and socializing.1

But we still want contact with the brands we use. People have long sought to engage with brands on channels that are less personal and time consuming than phone calls. The incredible rise of social media in the 2000s was a perfect fit for that relationship between brands and consumers.

Facebook, Twitter and SMS/MMS have all become new, lower priority channels with which to engage the brands. Today, the number of SMS messages sent is growing dramatically faster than minutes spoken on mobile phones.2 That has a huge impact on the contact center.

Contact centers will have to be able to manage inbound communications through this wide variety of new channels to interact with current and future customers. As an example, 60 percent of younger generations prefer to communicate via SMS versus other channels.3 Contact centers that can’t communicate on SMS or Facebook chat risk inviting consumers to find the information from less reliable channels, or simply choosing other brands due to a lack of information.

The contact center will have to become a real-time marketing engine, offering product information, suggestions and even incentives to consumers right as they consider their purchase.

Engaging Consumers as They Buy

Consumers’ changing technology preferences will ultimately demand changes to contact centers that will make them more strategic to the business. Specifically, contact centers are on the cusp of being able to engage with consumers directly at the moment of purchase. It is at this point—where the consumer finally sorts through all the information available, compares competitors, considers price and makes a selection—that businesses ultimately succeed or fail. And the contact center of the future must enable businesses to be more involved in this moment.

Most consumers walking down the aisle of a supermarket won’t dial an 800 number to ask a question about the product. They know it will take more time than they’re willing to invest, and the chances may be slim for getting the exact information they want.

They may, however, use SMS to text a phone number from their smartphone, or open a chat with a company on its mobile Facebook page, to pose a simple question for a quick, easy response. U.S. smartphone owners aged 18 to 24 send 2,022 texts per month on average—67 texts on a daily basis—and receive another 1,831.4

“Does this product have gluten?”

“Has a recall been issued for this product?”

It is at that point, when the consumer is poised to make a choice, that the multichannel contact center of the future will allow agents to engage in the purchase decision. Communicating as the purchase decision is made in-store, agents will become key product advisors, with the chance to encourage certain behaviors. Instead of serving primarily to receive complaints, the contact center will have to become a real time marketing engine, offering product information, suggestions and even incentives to consumers right as they consider their purchase.

Narrowing Choices

Research has also shown us that consumers feel overwhelmed by the options they have. Some become paralyzed by choice and don’t buy at all.5 Go to your nearest mustard aisle and you will find a multitude of varieties and brands. The chances of a sales clerk in the store providing any insightful product information, beyond simply the location of the mustard aisle, may be slim. So this is an opportunity for brands to step in and assist.

Again, by enabling SMS/ MMS or other real time communications in the contact center, brands can help consumers narrow those choices and find the best selection.

The payoff helps both. Consumers will get the information and products they want. And brands will earn loyalty from consumers who got exactly what they were looking for at exactly the time they wanted it. There will be more chances to turn them into customers for life.

This direct link to the consumer at the point of purchase is also a huge new opportunity for brands to learn from consumers. Most brands rely on distributors and retailers to be their eyes and ears into consumer behavior. As a result, they spend millions of dollars on research to learn more about them. With direct connections from SMS, Facebook chat, and other real-time communications, brands will be able to use their contact centers to understand better than ever about how their consumers think and act at the point of purchase.

By changing their focus to the key moment in the sales cycle, contact centers will become an important asset in helping businesses maximize their revenue.

Four Key Considerations

In moving away from being what some refer to as a cost center and becoming a strategic front-line marketing center, contact centers will face tremendous change. There are four key considerations to transforming into the contact center for the future:

1. The ability to add channels seamlessly.

The IT team must be able to support different communication channels as they are added to the CRM suite. Integration needs to be seamless. In the span of a two-minute call with a consumer, agents do not consistently have enough time to be switching among applications on their screens. Everything will have to take place in one solution to serve the agent.

SMS chat capability is a must for the contact center today. And right now, the mobile app that drives the most traffic is still Facebook. So companies should be putting an emphasis on doing as much on Facebook as they do on their websites, including chat. But even more channels are in the pipeline or growing, including Facebook Voice.

Choosing a technology solution that is built to change with your business will be key. Its infrastructure should allow simple configuration to accept communication channels that may not even be imagined yet.

2. Offering proactive information. These new consumer behaviors and communication technologies will drive more traffic to contact centers, because consumers will be realizing more value from them. But the type of traffic will change.

Contact center agents may have grown accustomed to interacting with consumers after the purchase, when they take calls for complaints about a product. The change will come as more consumers benefit from engaging with brands during the purchase moment. So fewer questions will come in after the consumer has a problem, and more will come when they are still deciding whether to buy.

This changes the type of information that must be on hand in the contact center. To empower agents to become more proactive, contact center managers will need to train and equip their agents not only for complaint resolution, but also with information that will drive sales, which leads to the next step.

Agents will have to embrace the role of advisor, helping move the sales process forward.

3. Training agents who are also advisors. Today’s agent may be categorized as a great emailer or phone conversationalist, and assigned inbound consumer communications based on such criteria. In a future contact center, however, agents will be interacting with consumers who are just about to make a purchase decision, so they will need to have expert knowledge on individual products. They will also have to know information such as a product’s marketing messages, ingredients and recommended uses.

Agents will also need to be comfortable providing advice to consumers. More than just receiving complaints, agents will have to embrace the role of advisor, helping to move the sales process forward.

This will have an unexpected benefit: lower employee turnover, When agents spend less time receiving complaints, and more time giving advice and affecting sales among consumers, they will be happier. Happier agents stay on the job longer. Training agents as advisors then also becomes a way to positively effect turnover, which is an important cost consideration in every contact center.

In addition, consumers who receive helpful information from the contact center at the moment of purchase will leave the store with the product that’s best for them. After a more enjoyable purchasing experience, and with fewer problems afterwards, they will also be more content and less likely to call with a complaint.

4. Providing the enterprise with a better understanding of consumers. Most importantly, the market intelligence and industry knowledge that a contact center provides to the rest of the enterprise will improve dramatically.

As more consumers engage with brands at the point of purchase, the quality of information brands give to those consumers will improve. This is because, over time, brands will develop better insights into what consumers are asking about and looking for, precisely in the moments leading up to purchase. They will know what products the consumer is considering, and even why the consumer chose to purchase one brand over another.

The incredibly valuable information from this moment— when consumers reach to the store shelf and grab product A instead of product B—will finally be accessible to brands on a wide scale, and the contact center will be the repository for all this vital market information.

Contact centers will therefore be asked to report on these new, more useful types of data to other departments at the company. An old reporting protocol may look at the number of inbound calls, average call time and amount of compensation given, all of which are cost-centric. But new reporting metrics may instead focus on how many sales were incentivized, what features consumers were seeking, or the questions asked about individual products.

By changing their focus to the key moment in the sales cycle, contact centers will become an important asset in helping businesses maximize their revenue.

Notes

1 dotMobi, “Global Mobile Statistics 2012 Part D: Consumer Mobile Behavior,” June 2012

2 “Communities Dominate Brands” blog, Tomi Ahonen, Dec. 19, 2012

3 “VIPdesk Blog,” Othmar von Blumencron, Oct. 25, 2011

4 Business Insider, “Kids Send a Mind Boggling Number of Texts Each Month, Alex Cocotas, March 22, 2013

5 The New York Times, “Too Many Choices Can Paralyze,” Alina Tugend, Feb. 26, 2010

8-George_Alex_headshotAlex George leads the product management and engineering organizations at Astute Solutions, a global provider of customer experience, knowledge management and social relationship management solutions. He helps to set the vision and strategy for its products. Learn more about Astute Solutions’ ePowerCenter and its other tools by visiting astutesolutions.com or calling 877-769-3750.