What is a digital contact center, and why do you need one?

Lisa Hotchkiss, Associate Director of Product Marketing

What is a digital contact center and why do you need one?

If you’re a contact center manager or customer experience leader, you need to stay on top of the technologies and trends that can help you boost efficiency, deliver better service, and reduce costs.

One trend you likely noticed over the past two years is the accelerated use of digital channels like web chat, messaging, and social media. According to a recent NTT report, more than 87% of consumers said they increased their digital usage during the pandemic. This increased digital usage probably had a direct impact on your contact center.

This brings us to a new term you might have heard lately: “digital contact center,” or possibly “digital-first contact center.” If you haven’t heard of it yet, keep reading because you’ll need to understand what it is and why the future of your contact center depends on it.

But before I delve into all that, I’d like to start with a brief history lesson about the origin of the contact center — a single channel to contact a brand: the phone call.

Call center, contact center, digital contact center — aren’t they all the same?

Definitely not. The first thing to understand about these three terms — call center, contact center and digital contact center — is that they are not interchangeable. They represent the history and evolution of an industry that’s taken place over more than sixty years.

The age of the call center

Before the internet, customers had three ways to contact a company if they needed service, had a question, or wanted to make a purchase: visiting a company’s location, mailing a letter or an order form, or calling over the phone. If a company wanted to reach beyond their local market, they’d hire salespeople to travel door-to-door or call every number in the phone book.

In the mid-1960s, companies started hiring people specifically to answer incoming customer phone calls, as well as telemarketing teams who tried to sell products and services over the phone. As more and more companies started having entire departments dedicated to the taking and making of phone calls, the term “call center” was coined.

The shift to the contact center

For a few decades, phone calls were the only method of communication that call centers handled. But in the mid-1990s, a new way to send communications started taking over our work and personal lives: email! Businesses quickly realized how email could help boost their marketing and sales results, and reduce their phone traffic and toll-free charges into their contact centers.

The term “call center” now seemed outdated and inaccurate, since they weren’t just handling phone calls anymore. Many companies, especially those who wanted to present themselves as modern and agile, started using the term “contact center.”

The evolution to the digital contact center

Fast-forward a few more years. The world is in the middle of a digital explosion and technologies are changing faster than ever. The internet is now connecting everyone and everything. Everyone owns multiple personal devices — computers, smartphones, and tablets.

Pew Research: Mobile Fact Sheet

These devices let us take advantage of new modes of communication, including web chat, texting, and instant messaging that quickly replace more traditional methods like hand-written letters, email, and yes, even phone calls.

We depend on virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri to help us organize our increasingly hectic lives. And we’d be lost — literally — without Google’s ability to find anyone, anything and any place in a few seconds. Likewise, social media — from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, to Instagram, SnapChat, and TikTok — is entrenched in our daily personal and professional lives.

All of these technologies are powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). But your Alexa isn’t the only thing that can benefit from this technology. With AI, companies can analyze enormous amounts of data in mere seconds to identify issues, uncover patterns and even predict what we’ll want, need and do.

We’ve become reliant on these always-on, digital technologies that make our personal lives easier and more connected. So much so that we now expect these same technologies to make our jobs and interactions with businesses easier and more convenient as well.

That’s where a digital contact center comes in.

A digital contact center is specifically designed to incorporate the digital technologies into everyone’s experience, from customers and consumers, to agents and supervisors. By giving everyone low-touch, convenient, and intuitive experiences, you enable greater efficiency and effectiveness in your contact center — all of which drive better results for your business. And because of its designed-for-digital approach, a digital contact center solution not only helps you address the issues you’re facing today but the ones you’ll face in the future.

Now, let’s find out how it does all that.

Why a digital contact center is essential to your future

The demand for digital interaction is here to stay and it will only continue to grow. ​​The days when your contact center could get by with just providing voice are over.

Voice will likely never be eliminated from contact centers. However, its use is declining every year, especially among younger demographics. As people embrace digital channels in their personal interactions, they quickly understand how much faster and more convenient they are for connecting with companies as well.

Agents prefer digital channels too. It’s much less stressful coping with an irate customer in a web chat than it is being yelled at over the phone. Plus voice is the most expensive channel to support in a contact center. Since an agent can only handle one call at a time, they aren’t available to help anyone else, which results in low productivity and long wait times. On top of the labor costs, you also have to pay for telephone equipment, phone service, and toll-free charges. Reducing your reliance on voice as much as possible is simply a smart business decision.

Shifting your contact center strategy to focus on digital channels is critical for your business, your customers, and your agents. So, why would you rely on a contact center that is designed around voice to support your digital needs?

To address the challenges the digital world offers — and maximize the benefits it provides — you need a contact center solution that is specifically designed for the digital world. You need a digital contact center that empowers you to:

  • Reduce your contact center volume through intelligent self-service

  • Enable customers to connect with you on the channel of their choice

  • Maximize the benefits of asynchronous interactions

  • Boost efficiency with AI-powered bots and automation

  • Improve outcomes with data-driven insights

Now, let’s look at exactly how a digital contact center can help you do all of these things.

Benefits of a digital call center

1. Help customers to help themselves — and you!

Let’s face it, your customers don’t want to call you. They just want to get the information they need, buy the product they want, or get their issue fixed and then move on with their day. And if they can do that by themselves, without having to contact you at all, then they’re even happier.

A recent CCW report found that 82% of consumers are now more comfortable with self-service than before the pandemic (CCW Future of the Contact Center: A Forecast, November 2021). This shift happened in great part because, in the middle of working from home, home-schooling kids, and dealing with all the rest of the craziness that the pandemic has thrown our way, people simply don’t have the patience, time or desire to wait on hold to speak to an agent. They want the quickest path to resolution; they want intelligent, intuitive self-service.

Your business should want to provide that self-service. In addition to providing a better customer experience, self-service is also incredibly inexpensive. Gartner pegs the per-interaction cost for self-service at around $0.10, while live interactions — such as phone and email — cost around $8 to manage. The potential savings of deflecting calls to self-service are huge!

With a digital contact center solution, you can provide the easy, intuitive self-service your customers want while delivering the cost savings your business needs. You’ll be able to:

  • Create online communities where customers can access the information they need, as well as advice from their peers — anytime they want.

  • Give customers easy access to your knowledge management system so they can access FAQ and other resources themselves.

  • Provide bots that let customers handle routine interactions without ever needing to engage a human agent.

The result? Customers will be happy that you provided them with fast and easy service. Agents will be happy that they don’t have to handle endless routine interactions. And you’ll be happy because you’ve reduced contact center traffic and costs.

2. Enable customers to connect with you on the channel of their choice

Now, as helpful as self-service is, it won’t be able to handle every issue that your customers have. So, to keep your customer happy, you need to make sure that they can connect with you whenever — and however — they want. These days, that means connecting with them on the digital channels they’re already using.

During the pandemic, more than 87% of consumers said they increased their digital usage. With COVID restrictions in place, people had no choice but to go online for everything—to work, to watch movies, to connect with people, and to shop. Thanks to those experiences, even people who were reluctant to use digital channels now view them as the gateway to fast, easy service.

The biggest challenge you have is keeping up with the endless stream of new social media and third-party messaging channels. Even channels that have been around for years are always adding in new capabilities — capabilities that many of your customers will start using immediately. With a digital contact center solution, you can quickly and easily support new digital channels and features that come along, and maximize the benefits they deliver for your agents, your customers and your business.

3. Maximize the benefits of asynchronous interactions

Some of the most utilized and impactful digital channels in a contact center are asynchronous. These channels provide more flexibility and efficiency than their synchronous counterparts.

In case you’re not familiar with these terms, let me explain.

Synchronous interactions take place in real time. They have a defined beginning and end, and close at the end of the session. Phone calls, video conferences, and live chats are all synchronous channels. Since synchronous interactions require an agent’s full attention, they can only handle one at a time.

Asynchronous interactions are conversations that don’t require the customer and agent to be available at the same time, allowing the conversation to be paused and restarted at any time. Agents can handle multiple asynchronous interactions — like email and messages — at one time.

Asynchronous interactions are more convenient for customers. For example, say a customer is messaging with an agent and the customer has to step away. The customer can return to that asynchronous message two minutes, two hours, or two days later and simply pick up where they left off. The agent can see the full history of the previous conversation so the customer doesn’t need to start over or repeat any information.

Unlike a phone call, asynchronous interactions, such as messaging and modern chat, don’t need an agent’s constant undivided attention, so agents can manage several of them at the same time. This translates into shorter wait times for customers and higher agent productivity.

4. Boost efficiency with AI-powered bots and automation

Another huge benefit of a digital contact center is that it’s infused with AI and automation to help you drive efficiency across your entire operation, for both customers and agents. There are two types of AI-powered bots to discuss here, either of which can provide important benefits to your brand.

Customer-facing chatbots

These chatbots can give customers 24/7 access to assistance for routine interactions — such as order status or password resets — without needing to engage with an agent at all. Customers get quick resolutions, agents can focus on higher-value interactions, and per-interaction costs go down.

Customer-facing bots can be used to collect information from a customer as soon they initiate a chat. For example, bots can verify a customer’s identity or intent, then hand the interaction — and all the information they collected — over to a live agent. This bot/agent cooperative approach not only saves the agent time, it also makes the customer feel that they are getting immediate service.

Agent-facing bots

Agent-facing bots can serve up curated information from your community and knowledge management systems to your agents. You can pop content right in their desktop, so your agents have easy, instant access to the information they need to quickly resolve the customer’s issue.

Bots can also read a conversation and recommend the best response or next action to the agent. Having this guidance helps agents provide faster service, reduces handle times, and ensures consistent, on-brand responses.

Lastly, bots can completely automate certain tasks, such as data searches, data syncs, and ticket creation. Automating these routine tasks for your agents reduces interaction handle time and after-contact work.

5. Improve outcomes with AI-powered, data-driven insights

Each individual digital interaction is full of data. Multiply that by the thousands of digital interactions your contact center handles each year and you could feel like you’re drowning in a sea of data that you can’t decipher.

Or maybe you track all the data but it’s collected and analyzed by channel or department — an approach that can lead to organizational blindspots or an incomplete understanding of your customer journey, experience and operations.

With a digital contact center, you can get data-driven, AI-powered insights from across the full customer journey. Not only can it handle huge numbers of interactions, it also aggregates, classifies, and analyzes all of the interaction data. Then it presents the actionable insights to you in a consumable, useful way. This data-driven analysis will identify best practices, uncover hidden issues, predict patterns, and even show you what your customers are talking about.

Then you can take those powerful insights and use them to guide improvements to your contact center processes, employee performance and business results.

3 omnichannel fails and how to fix them

The best solution: Khoros Digital Contact Center

Having a digital-first strategy and digital-first solution is critical for the future of your contact center. Make sure you pick a platform that was built for the digital world.

At Khoros, our Digital Contact Center Solution integrates with our Community, Social Media Management and CX Insights offerings to help you reduce your reliance on voice, empower your agents to serve customers on any channel, and take data-driven actions to improve your operations.

Want to learn more? Check out our “Modernizing Your Contact Center” ebook. You’ll learn about the metrics and methods you need to effectively manage digital channels — including planning, staffing, measuring, and improving operations — so you can meet your customers’ growing expectations for authentic connection, without sacrificing the bottom line.

In the next blog in this series, I’ll discuss how a digital contact center can help you reduce agent stress and attrition, while also delivering better customer experiences.

Starting, revamping, or fine-tuning your customer journey? The Digital Service Funnel Guide is the guide for you. Khoros’s service experts cover what you need to know to maximize both quality and efficiency.

Download The Digital Service Funnel Guide: 4 steps to effectively manage the customer journey.

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