This blog is the first in a two-part series co-authored by myself and my colleague Sarah Johnson. Be sure to check out Part Two for the remainder of the ten technologies to consider.

The line made famous by the Rolling Stones, “Time waits for no one”, is especially true for technology. A little over two years ago I wrote a blog titled “Ten Things to Consider for a Better Contact Center”. While all of the items mentioned are still relevant, the Contact Center technology space has gained significant investment in new capabilities since that blog was published. Contact Centers have expanded their technology reach and with that comes the importance of understanding how new technology improves customer service. Properly understanding and implementing the various new offerings may help to greatly improve the widely held corporate goal of increasing customer service, both quality and satisfaction.

My colleague Sarah Johnson and I have compiled a list of compelling new technologies in a two-part blog posting that will help make your contact center even better. As you start to roadmap new contact center investments, consider several of the items discussed as building blocks to improve your customer service offerings. Sarah, myself, and an entire team of experts work every day inside Cisco IT supporting Cisco Contact Center Applications and Infrastructure. We strongly believe many of the items described within will help you achieve new technology objectives, provide new channels for customer contacts, and increase your overall customer satisfaction scores.

Part One

Automated Notification – Automated notification is an integral tool in any effective omni-channel solution. Whether it is via SMS, email, phone or other channel, the automated and proactive nature is very appealing to contact centers and to customers. It has made some great strides in adoption and user experience in the past several years. Within Cisco IT, we have a Notification as a Service platform that integrates with email, SMS, web and potentially other channels. For example, if the customer calls to report an outage, you can alert them when the outage is resolved. Another option is to leverage a cloud solution like Tropo for voice and SMS notifications, either proactive or reactive. One example we are currently considering is a solution that will send a URL via SMS to a caller currently in an automated voice system, to spare the caller from having to manually write down the URL and the automated voice system from having to spell it out repeatedly. The result is an easier and faster customer experience where everyone benefits.

As your implementations of automated notifications expand, keep in mind the user experience. Alerts are convenient and valuable, but hitting customers with a barrage of notifications across all channels simultaneously can have a negative effect on the customer experience. Be sure to allow your customers to select how they want to be contacted and let them opt in and out.  Many customers have a preference of SMS over email, other customers may prefer receiving a voice mail. Not having to speak with a live person is extremely appealing for many people.

Social Media/Customer Feedback – Social media is here to stay. Some organizations have refused to acknowledge the impact of social media to their business but more savvy companies have embraced social media as a way to engage with their customers in a personalized way. It is a great way to promote their brand and improve. When ignoring the social media channel, the only information shared about a company will be provided by its customers – happy and unhappy customers alike.

Think about this from your own perspective as a customer. How likely are you to tweet, write a review, or share on Facebook about an average experience with a company? A great experience? A terrible one? Many customers post about positive experiences, but some people may express their frustration over a bad experience more frequently. More, younger customers are used to using social media to connect with their service providers. Our CTO described a friend’s daughter who called her father in a panic because she had had a car accident, had tweeted this to her insurance company, and no one was responding.  Our next generation of customers may demand better responsiveness over social media.

Companies that have incorporated social media into their customer service strategy via Cisco’s SocialMiner or other solutions, are the ones that have a chance to get customer feedback, address those negative comments, and resolve customer problems. As a result, not only is that individual customer satisfied but other customers and potential customers see that the company is listening. Responding promptly and caring about customers is a great way to promote your brand and increase customer loyalty.

Self-Service Self-service is one of the first tasks most customers perform when trying to find answers for their problems or solve a riddle. Mobile devices and pervasive internet connections have led to the semi-defacto standard of people opening up their favorite search engine app or speaking to Siri to save time and get quick answers. For those that may remember Seinfeld, no longer do we need to rely on the Kramer’s of the world to read out false movie titles and show times.

On a more serious note many corporate websites (including Cisco.com), provide a wealth of self-service information including but not limited to training videos, new product release announcements, design guides, configuration guides, community forums, etc. This in addition to the regular Contact Center support channels, if additional help is required, makes the customer experience significantly better. The more clear, simple, step by step information you can provide your customer, the better the client experience.

Video Agents – Why would you put your agent on video you ask? Seeing someone you’re talking to builds a better rapport, and a sense that the agent is caring for them, personally. Video, while not widely used in Contact Centers today, will be more prevalent in the future. Since your customers are probably not calling up to just have a video stream of the agent, you will need to deploy a product with features that allow you to communicate with the customer using voice, video, and data streams.

For example, is there a requirement to push a website URL from an agent to a customer so they can buy the latest fashion? Or do your agents need to share PDFs with a customer without emailing them? Cisco’s Remote Expert Mobile (which integrates with your Cisco UC Platform) allows you to combine voice and video with actionable tools such as file sharing, annotation, and co-browsing. The actionable tools are the biggest advantage and allow you to service your customer base more effectively.  These capabilities enable you to personalize the customer experience and help with customer retention because of the face-to-face interaction.

Callback The Callback feature is preferred by many who do not want to wait in the dreaded queue and listen to elevator music or corporate commercials. Callbacks are increasingly being offered on many websites and smartphone apps. If you do not have the callback feature then it’s time to get on board and offer it to your customer base.

Currently here at Cisco we’re utilizing the Cisco Agent Request API for internal company requests. It’s growing in popularity with our user base. Cisco IT plans to expand this to our external customers in the near future. Get on board with us in expanding your contact channels and offering this to your company’s customer base.

Context/Customer Journey Mapping One of the more recent ways to improve a customer’s satisfaction with their customer care experience is to provide more information to an agent about a customer. The Customer Journey provides the agent with details about what the customer has gone through prior to the current interaction that the customer and agent are about to embark on together. In this digital age, we consumers have become our own tier 1 support staff. We have so much information at our fingertips and our fingertips have become proficient at seeking out answers from Google. We read FAQs, browse consumer reviews, engage in forums, and post to social media.

Customer care providers can now collect and digest the information we have left in our digital wake with the help of context and customer journey mapping tools. Cisco has recently released a cloud-based solution called Context Service that allows organizations to track a customer’s progress across channels, tie that information to other systems, like Salesforce or ServiceNow, and provide context to an agent about why this customer has escalated their request to a human for additional assistance.

In addition to Cisco’s Context Service, there are many third party solutions provided by Cisco partners that can take this context data one step further and apply analytics to provide an agent not only the customer’s journey but with recommendations about how to move the interaction to a successful closure, whether it’s to resolve a technical issue or to close sale.

We hope you found Part One informative. While waiting for Part Two, what do you think are the technologies that will be most beneficial to your customer base? What topics do you think are most applicable to your environment?