By Andre le Roux, Interactive Intelligence Managing Director, Africa Region

Non-voice channels within the contact centre are rapidly edging into the territory once dominated by voice interactions. Far from being a threat to the traditional contact centre, this trend presents a wealth of opportunity for organisations to become more efficient and cost-effective, and for customers to enjoy faster, better service.

Frost & Sullivan’s report Analysis of the South African Contact Centre Market: The Growing Opportunity for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Providers in South Africa’s Contact Centre Market predicts that by 2020, around 50% of voice interactions will have moved into other channels.

This figure may be far higher if we consider the already large portion of information sharing that is now handled by company websites – also a non-voice channel. In fact, a substantial portion of customers make company websites their first point of contact with a company, and only turn to other communications channels if their questions are not answered by the site. Therefore, beefing up the company’s site to be more informative and user-friendly might be seen as the first step to introducing non-voice technologies that lighten the load of contact centres.

Today’s consumers, particularly millennials and even more so digital natives, are also willing users of mobile apps, while resenting the time wasted listening to instructions from IVR menus. New IVR visualisation apps now coming to market will allow consumers to see a visual representation of IVR options on a smartphone, and click through to the option they want.

These tools will ease customer frustration and allow contact centres to direct calls to the right agents with the necessary expertise to resolve the query faster. They also pave the way for other mobile-based self-service innovations. Many companies are already reducing the volume of incoming calls to contact centres by launching self-service apps such as claims submission tools, booking apps, account information apps, delivery trackers or repayment calculators, which offer information and assistance without the user needing to talk to an actual person.

The key to success of self-service apps is to ensure they’re integrated with the rest of the contact centre operations so organisations can consistently monitor and report on service delivery.

Another type of non-voice app with potential for greater uptake is proactive, automated notifications that can be sent via email and text to update customers on things like order status. By using customer-focused proactive messages, organisations can pre-empt voice calls, thus saving time, reducing costs, and improving overall customer satisfaction.

Instant messaging and social media are other non-voice technologies set to benefit both customers and contact centres. Millennials and digital natives in particular often find instant messaging and social media preferable to talking to a person on the phone.

For the contact centre, these channels can allow for multi-tasking and more effective use of agent resources. According to Frost & Sullivan’s report, based on multi-tasking skills, an agent can service up to two customers at the same time. An agent communicating on instant messaging and social media channels might manage even more simultaneous interactions. Faster response times can be facilitated by supplying agents with a number of pre-defined responses.

In this rapidly evolving omn-ichannel environment, customers want to move fluidly between the channels of their choice within the same interaction – for instance, a customer has a web chat session with an agent, which then transitions to a video call with screen sharing.  We call this multi-modal communication and it’s yet another evolution of the omni-channel trend.

To support these rapidly changing customer expectations, contact centres must begin to employ non-voice modes of interaction. To do this successfully, they should look for a communications platform that’s built from scratch to process multi-channel interactions; preferably, one that’s delivered via the cloud for flexibility and faster time to value. Contact centres that do so will not only delight and retain customers, they’ll also be positioned to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively.

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