Contact Centers Must Morph into Relationship Hubs

I originally published this content in an article on CMSWire

CallCenterToRelationshipHub2For years, companies have relied on their contact centers to deal with customer interactions—from technical support to requesting medical coverage—but contact centers are on the verge of a major change. Driven by a shift in technology capabilities and consumer behavior, leading companies are refocusing contact centers from handling individual calls to building customer loyalty. These changes will morph contact centers into Relationship Hubs. How will Relationship Hubs be different? They will:

  • Enable journeys, not just handle interactions. Relationship Hubs will assist customers in achieving their goals. If a USAA member calls in to change his address, the reps are trained to understand why and deal with bigger issues. For example, if the call is from a soldier who is about to be deployed, then the rep might check to see if the member has thought about items such as a will, power of attorney and life insurance. The USAA employee might even put a hold on the member’s car insurance, so the soldier doesn’t have to pay for an unused car while he’s deployed.
  • Focus on customer success, not just cut costs. The success metrics for Relationship Hubs will be tied to long-term customer loyalty. Belgacom, a Belgium telecom provider, changed its key call center metric from average handle time to a combination of two metrics—one on first call resolution and the other on likelihood of customers to recommend the company. The new approach reduced the overall volume of calls by 20 percent and also drove higher customer and employee ratings.
  • Have multichannel conversations, not just answer phone calls. Rather than just answering phone calls, Relationship Hubs will handle conversations that cut across all remote channels, including chat, email, Twitter, etc. They will integrate customer management systems to recognize customers across different interactions in different channels over an extended time period. Relationship Hubs will treat customers as if they know them.
  • Blend with self-service, not just deflect calls. Relationship Hubs will offer a seamless connection between self-service and assisted service. Customers can ask questions to virtual agent “Jenn” on Alaska Airline’s website, but even this type of natural language processing powered self-service application can’t deal with every customer situation. When customers get stuck along a self-service path, they will be able to continue with an agent (via chat, call, etc.) who knows exactly what they’ve already tried to do.
  • Route to best agents, not just to available ones. Companies will use analytics to select agents who are most likely to be successful with specific interactions. When a call comes into TriCare Management, its routing system predicts which of its available agents is best suited to meet the needs of that caller. The predictive engine can make decisions to optimize metrics such as customer satisfaction or first call resolution.
  • Predict needs, not just respond to requests. Relationship Hubs will use analytics to better understand customers. Sprint uses a technique called Next Call Prevention. Customer service agents can proactively offer to help with something that customers are likely to contact Sprint about in the near future. The conversation is guided by prompts queued from predictive analytics. If, for instance, someone with an expiring contract calls about a billing, prompts encourage the agent to arrange an upgrade to a new handset.
  • Gain business insight, not just analyze interaction quality. Relationship Hubs will tap into rich customer conversations to identify opportunities to make improvements across the company. For example, Symantec examined issues with the download insurance it sold for Norton Antivirus products that allowed customers to reinstall a purchased product. The analysis showed that the offering generated hundreds of thousands of support calls so the software maker decided to offer re-downloading for free. This change reduced contact rates and improved customer service ratings.
  • Evolve based on feedback, not just survey customers. Relationship Hubs will continuously improve based on customer feedback. Nicor National’s CX team reaches out to customers of its call center within 48 hours of their interaction. The call between the customer and CX team is recorded and can be shared back to employees for coaching/feedback. Listening to the call with the rep provides an opportunity for the CX team to coach account reps based on customer feedback. Members of the CX team initiate “you need to hear this” messages for both positive customer feedback and improvement opportunities.
  • Engage agents, not just hire people. Relationship Hubs will treat agents as assets and will only succeed with highly engaged employees. Contact center supervisors at Hershey Entertainment invest time to sit one-on-one with agents and talk on a weekly basis. The discussion includes some performance review, but most of the dialogue focuses on what’s going on in the employee’s world and what Hershey or the supervisor can do to make the agent’s life any easier. The company’s leadership team recognized the need to rebalance work tasks to ensure that supervisors have time for these discussions.

The bottom line: Morph your contact center into a Relationship Hub.

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

4 Responses to Contact Centers Must Morph into Relationship Hubs

  1. “Rather than just answering phone calls, Relationship Hubs will handle conversations that cut across all remote channels, including chat, email, Twitter, etc.”

    You have to be everywhere your customers are, and that isn’t just in the voice channel any more. Customers are going to use the platform that is the most convenient to them so you need to make sure each channel is up and running flawlessly at all times.

  2. Cliff Evans says:

    Definitely an area being investigated but given the very different skills is it a matter of morphing or replacing?

  3. We agree with this. Because if you really think about it, the call center is the link between client and company. And wouldn’t you want to establish a long-lasting relationship with your customers–the lifeblood of your business? So maybe it would be an excellent idea not just to answer those calls. But maybe, it wold be better if you actually listen to your clients, to get to know them more. This may even make them come back for more–for years to come.

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