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For Cloud-Based Call Centers That Might Kill IVR, Press or Say 2

The short answer is 'no' but they can make the customer service process less painful.

June 20, 2018

6 Min Read
For Cloud-Based Call Centers That Might Kill IVR, Press or Say 2

Digital transformation won't soon end the common use of annoying interactive voice response (IVR) technology to provide customer service, but a new survey by RingCentral claims it will make it much more likely the right human will be sitting at the end of the "press 2 now" process.

As part of an omnichannel customer support process, with web-based, app-based and traditional customer support options like 800 numbers, cloud-based call centers are taking hold because they enable more efficient and effective collaboration, according to "Contact Center 2.0: The Rise of Collaborative Contact Centers," written by Brian Solis of Altimeter. The report is based on a survey of 500 employees at companies in the US and UK who either have a formal contact center today or plan to introduce one.

The survey found 70% of those surveyed already have an official digital transformation strategy and that improving customer experience is one of the focal points of such a strategy, with 71% saying it was a priority, an equal number to those who cite integrating digital technology. Agility and empowering employees with the right tools were next in line at 50% and 46%.

Moving the contact center into the cloud is all part of this, says Max Ball, director of product marketing at RingCentral Inc. Moving a call center to the cloud lets companies more quickly break down barriers or silos within their operation so that customer service calls can be more rapidly funneled to the best place within a company.

"Companies are taking the flexibility of the cloud and the ability to do a cloud mash-up where I can take different products and start doing different things, behaving more like Uber or Airbnb," he says.

The on-demand, app-based world has trained consumers' expectations and traditional customer experience processes no longer meet changing needs, Ball notes. He cites one customer, Carvana, which sells used cars online. Most of the cars are delivered to the new owners, but some are dispensed through a "vending machine" process using large towers of cars distributed around the country. Buyers make a selection online and Carvana pays up to $200 to fly the buyer to a car lot to pick up their car. You can see video of the process here.

Figure 1: You're Gonna Need a Bigger Coin

"What that led to was that when people have a logistical problem they've got the guy in the sales office that is their contact and guy is getting all these calls that have nothing to do with selling the car but are all about logistics," Ball says.

Carvana set up an intercept that asks the incoming caller what their problem is and then routes calls about logistical issues to the contact center while letting sales calls through to the sales team. Either way, there is a human involved at the other end, but it's a more appropriate human, he claims. And the information about the call is passed along with the call itself, so it doesn't have to be constantly restated.

"When I am forcing you to a machine, people get really crabby," Ball admits. "But when I am forcing you to another human, who can address the problem, they tend to take it better. Everyone who is involved is managed appropriately for their role and has to tools to be able to do what they are supposed to do."

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A cloud-based contact center enables better collaboration because it can allow shared access to data so that contact center agents and others within an organization, including experts on specific problems, can use the same real-time tools to address customer concerns, according to Solis. Writing in the report, he says cloud-based call centers can better support the omnichannel solutions -- those that work across channels and devices including email, text, phone calls and social media -- so that both customers and employees can be comfortable with the tools in use because they are familiar.

"In the Carvana example, just because it is shared infrastructure, everybody in the company uses Salesforce and both the people in the contact center and the sales guy are going to get a screen pop when the call comes in, so everyone is going to know who is calling," Ball says. "The sales guy in the field is on a PBX [premises-based switch] so it's more simplistic but in the contact center, it can be very targeted, not only here's the customer, but here's the open ticket."

RingCentral's survey notes, however, that 62% of the companies surveyed still depend on premises-based solutions. That is beginning to change -- an almost equal number (61%) have at least started the process of shifting to the cloud or are planning to do so.

Next page: Lots of choices

Lots of choices
RingCentral is one of several choices for cloud-based contact centers. Rival Vonage Holdings Corp. (NYSE: VG) this week announced an expansion of its own cloud-based contact center footprint, Vonage CX Cloud, built on its cloud-native Unified Communications platform, Vonage Business Cloud.

One feature of the Vonage system is use of Nexmo, an application programming interface (API) platform that can do real-time "sentiment analysis" that detects the tone as well as the substance of a customer's communications and determines the best way to handle the call.

That's also the focus of specialty customer experience management software companies such as VHT, which counts telecom carriers in its customer base. The VHT Navigator maintains a customer profile that includes all contact information from the customer, including calls, texts, emails, social media posts and customer feedback surveys. When a contact center agent receives an incoming call, information about the caller is provided real-time so that the agent is prepared for what may be an angry customer. Calls can also be automatically escalated, based on that profile, so that the person answering has the right level of authority and information and is prepared to act.

As the RingCentral report points out, however, contact centers remain not just vehicles for better customer experience but also a means of being more efficient, i.e., cutting costs. The cloud-based approaches can help achieve those efficiency goals by eliminating repeat calls and shortening call times.

Ball notes, however, that the report shows that customer engagement has become more of a driving force than cost, and he believes the cloud is enabling that by making it more practical.

"Seventy-one percent of our customers say this is why they are doing this because their customers want it," he comments. "We are starting to see people really getting it. The cloud is helping because of [its] agility and the ability to be more flexible because it is easy and practical to provide better service. It is easier to connect people within different parts of a company because each one didn't spend half-a-million dollars on a premises system that doesn't talk to the other premises system. The cloud is enabling some things that weren't possible before."

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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