I have been involved in the call center market for around 30 years, first as a consultant building call centers for organizations and later as an analyst covering developments in organizations’ customer engagement best practices and vendor product developments. Looking back over the first 20, maybe even 25 years, it has been a slowly developing market. Early call centers essentially included an on-premises ACD or PBX, call routing software, computer telephony integration (CTI) software that could identify the caller and display a page from a selected system – typically CRM – on the screen of the agent handling the call. For the most part, agents were left to their own devices to handle the call, although some organizations developed scripts. Such centers were so successful, organizations began to see the true cost of handling all these interactions, so many started to deploy “call avoidance” systems such as IVR and FAQs on the corporate website to try and cut down costs.
Customer engagement is nothing new – organizations have been engaging with customers in one way or another ever since business began. Over the years, however, the nature of this engagement has changed dramatically, from largely face-to-face encounters and the written word to telephone, email, fax and text messaging and now to text-based applications, social media, mobile apps and video. These changes prompted organizations to create call centers to centralize the handling of phone calls, then contact centers that handle multiple channels of engagement, more recently, self-service channels like IVR and web-based FAQs, to the latest customer engagement centers that embrace all aspects of engaging with customers. Responding to these changes, Verint, best known as a workforce optimization vendor, has extended its suite of products to include a customer engagement center suite.
Today many conversations about contact centers and CRM focus on customer engagement and the customer experience. Customer engagement should be relatively straightforward, addressing how organizations interact with customers through different channels of engagement. However, when it comes to customer experience, I believe many miss the point. The key word is experience, which means it is ultimately about perceptions and emotions. Companies must consider how customers feel prior to, during and after interactions. A common example would be a customer who feels frustrated when he or she gets a bill and believes it is wrong, who then gets angry talking to an agent who can do nothing about it and, as a result, considers changing suppliers.