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Today's retailers need multichannel, hosted contact centers

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Customer service is and always will be a critical component of determining a firm's success, as unhappy clients simply won't make a purchase and will possibly never return to the company in the future. Retail organizations in particular need to have robust strategies in regard to handling consumer communications, as failing to have a timely response to complex and simple questions alike can have a major impact on the end-user experience.

Having a firm grasp on customer communications is important for hosted contact centers today as online resources and ecommerce platform grow in abundance. This is becoming increasingly necessary as the holiday season quickly approaches and consumers spend more time online.

A recent study by Aspect Software revealed that only 48 percent of retailers could answer basic customer questions through email, while only slightly more could effectively respond to queries online.

"With evidence solidifying the rise in online retailing and Christmas spending expected to hit record amounts this year, it is extremely alarming that a large number of retailers are failing to respond to online queries," said Mark King of Aspect Software.

The changing contact center landscape

In the past, a customer who had a question would simply call the business and speak with a contact center agent to resolve a particular issue. This is not the case anymore, as individuals now have access to a variety of communication tools through their smartphones, tablets and other advanced mobile devices. Instead, consumers are often more inclined to connect with company representatives through web chats, social media, text messages or even video conferencing.

"Consumers no longer want to phone a call center and sit on hold for hours and quite simply, they don’t expect to in this day and age," King said. "Retailers must mirror the consumer demands for multichannel retailing by seamlessly integrating all channels, to provide a consistent experience in which they can interact in whichever way they want."

A separate TechTarget report also highlighted the growing need for contact centers to adopt multiple channels to connect with customers, largely because the consumer landscape has changed dramatically from what it used to be. While self-service portals, like interactive voice response (IVR) systems, are still critical to provide consumers with quick and easy methods of resolving simple problems, there is a lot more emphasis on mobile and online connectivity.

"We see the IVR declining, just a little, over the past few years, and more pervasive use of email and web chat integrated with email and co-browsing where an agent helps a person with detailed things on a form or web page," said Lyn Kramer of the contact center consulting firm Kramer & Associates.

In many cases, however, transforming the contact center is not as easy as flipping a switch. For this reason, decision-makers need to plan ahead and consider leveraging advanced tools like unified communications and cloud computing, TechTarget noted. Unified communications, specifically, will enable firms to embrace a number of collaborative tools, like video conferencing, instant messaging and business VoIP, and manage them under a single umbrella.

Additionally, hosted contact center communications are often more flexible and capable of supporting remote connectivity, which is becoming increasingly important. By using the cloud, contact center agents can work from home without jeopardizing their ability to efficiently interact with customers. Help desks that want to stay ahead of the pack should consider evolving into a hosted, multichannel agency.

"Retailers that have implemented a strong communications strategy and integrated channels possess a real advantage over their competitors and pleasing customers this Christmas is absolutely vital," King said.