By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
When my wife and I go to the movies, we have two choices: drive east into the city to visit a multiplex or visit one town to the west to enjoy the intimate setting of an old-time, one-screen theater. Last night we drove west to enjoy Oz the Great and Powerful, a creative, inventive prequel to the original film, The Wizard of Oz. Viewing it marked the end of an era: This will be our last movie experienced through the medium of 35 mm film.
Nowadays most cinemas receive and play their movies digitally. The industry announced that 2013 would mark the end of shipping film to old-school cinemas such as ours. The owners of our hometown cinema planned for this day, and though they assumed they had a few more years, the unexpected announcement forced them to move up their timetable. After Oz, the theater will close for one week, allowing for the installation of a digital projector. They will reopen the following week, showing The Croods in digital.
While I don’t notice the difference between film and digital, purists decry the end of film as a sad day. The other problem with the transition to digital is that many small theaters lack the financial means to cover the upgrade costs. Their only option is to close.
This got me thinking about the call center industry.
Most call centers and contact centers, like larger movie multiplexes, are technologically advanced, able to adjust to ever-changing industry conditions, offer the latest innovations, and provide services the market expects. However, some call centers, like theaters that can show only film, have not stayed abreast of changing technology. They operate on old platforms or make do with cobbled systems.
Unlike the movie theater industry, there is no watershed event looming on the telecommunications horizon that will force the closure of underequipped call centers. However, several innovations may conspire to seal the doom of smaller call centers that lack the needed infrastructure:
Remote Agents and Distributed Workforce: Letting agents work from home – under the right conditions – is a boon to increasing agent satisfaction and reducing turnover. Additionally, being able to accommodate off-site employees provides the option to tap into an otherwise qualified workforce who is unwilling or unable to travel to an office to work. Finally, having the means to expand unified operations into another city, state, or even country allows for tapping into desirable labor markets. These options are readily available to contact centers running modern equipment and software but are an inaccessible dream for those with older platform and legacy systems.
Call Center Versus Contact Center: Processing calls is still king, but other forms of contact are gaining ground: email, chat, text, and social media. Leading platforms can integrate these growing channels into the traditional agent queue, allowing for equitable distribution, efficient processing, and integrated data collections. However, effective implementation is a mere dream for most call centers operating within the confines of analog switches. Although a “call only” focus may be a strategic distinctive, being adverse to other forms of contact limits the pool of customers and may thwart attempts at retaining existing customers who desire more than just call processing.
New Interface Options: There was a time when POTS (plain old telephone service) was all a call center needed. Then came DID, followed by T-1, and then ISDN. What about VoIP, SIP, and so forth? Older systems can’t accommodate newer telephony and technology interfaces – or at least can’t handle them well.
Cloud-Based Computing: The debate of cloud-based versus on-site technology will continue into the future. However, we should expect to see more features that are only available on hosted platforms because of either cost considerations or business strategy. Lacking the infrastructure to effectively tap cloud solutions is a growing limitation for older call centers. Granted, hosted solutions are the quickest path to upgrading a call center’s technology, but some centers lack even the requisite computer network and high-speed Internet connection to make this option possible.
If any of these four considerations present a restraining factor for your call center, it’s not too late to plan a different outcome, but don’t delay – the time is limited.
[From Connection Magazine – May 2013]
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.