Digital transformation is the hot topic these days. From the marketing departments of software firms to the C-level suite in most companies, the idea of transforming to new digital channels using the latest technologies offers us the potential of reaching more customers and expanding our reach in both service and marketing.

This journey, however, is not without its pitfalls. Our world is changing and this is reflected in the way we want to interact with companies we do business with. It is not neat and tidy; channels are never turned off, for good reason. If I send a company a letter, the company doesn’t throw it out, they will likely read it and respond to me, likely in a different channel. One hundred years ago, the primary form of communication with companies was via mail.

These days we have phones, mail, fax and the newer digital channels such as email, chat and SMS. This does not mean that all have the same importance, nor should they. Mail and fax are for the most part past their prime, as is email in its usefulness. Sadly, the channel that has given rise to our industry is also beginning to fade away as well.

I read a survey that was produced by someone in the call center industry in 2014, citing the top ten reasons why people buy smart phones. Making a phone call was number 6 on the list, and in my experience with my kids and those from younger demographics, I doubt that has risen in the 6 years since. More and more people these days would prefer to use a digital channel rather than make a phone call. The danger to our industry is that this is a gradual shift and many will not notice until it is too late, and their customers are doing business with more forward-looking companies.

This offers us an opportunity, but it comes with many challenges as well.

The biggest problem is that while voice is generally well understood in the call center, digital tends to be much more of a mystery. Most people think that integrating these channels is simply a matter of adding the technology and routing the contacts the same way that we currently route calls.

Managers who go into a project thinking they can throw their best phone agents into a proof of concept are very likely to find that they are not achieving the results they desire. Digital communication is very different than verbal communication. Some agents are very good verbally, but struggle to be their best in a digital role, and most exceptional digital agents I have worked with have not been good on the phones.

Our current society is getting more and more “specialized” in how they consume media these days. Facebook and Twitter are almost universal in their adoption, however other sites tend to be much more targeted in their appeal. This is a benefit to us, as it allows us to strategically target those channels catering to our potential customers.

I do want to point out that I am not referring to “omnichannel” solutions. Unfortunately, the term no longer has any significant meaning. The first question I ask vendors these days is what channels their “omnichannel” solution connects with. Furthermore, we don’t need every channel that is out there, just the ones that align with our business.

Empire-Today does business in the continental United States, so having access to WeChat, which is an Asian focused app is something that a domestic company really doesn’t need. Pinterest however, might be a great place to have a direct tie into our call center. Making sure the solution you decide on has the right channels for the business is critical for its success.

Next, it is critical to understand your culture. For example, Empire’s 800-number jingle is one of those miracles of modern marketing. It has transcended as a marketing tool and become a cultural icon in many ways. If you grew up with it, you likely can sing it in your sleep. Like tissues being called Kleenex, 800-588-2300 is synonymous with carpet and flooring in the minds of the consumer (but is by no means generic – it’s a registered trademark). For us, digital transformation risks the very brand we have created.

The good news is that while other channels are ascendant, I believe there will always be a place for voice, and our iconic telephone number. Even better, our transformation in the digital world can incorporate and prolong the life of it. One day, you may be able to call or SMS us at 800-588-2300, for example, which will keep alive the value of those marketing efforts.

In addition, Empire (R) works with companies who are offering us new channels. Not simply Facebook or Twitter, but personal assistants, and new social channels as they emerge. Make sure you know before you start what channels are important to your business, and what areas to watch for in the future.

It is also critical to understand the technology you have, and how it can play with other software. Like many call centers, our technology is a complex amalgamation of old and new products, some with native API’s and some with custom tie ins. The tools we see touted these days require them to be tied into many back-end systems so they can do their magic, and really aren’t that special without them.

Finally, ask as many questions as you can, and even make them as dumb as you possibly can. The surprises I have discovered after doing detailed due diligence are astounding. In most cases these are things that you would never think to ask about, and won’t know until you turn it on. Things I have run into are bad password protocols, or functionality that I assumed any product of that sort would have.

The key takeaways I’d like to leave you with are these: 

  • Be strategic. Understand what you need and want so you can find the right product.
  • Be informed. Know your company’s technology state and culture and how the changes you will make will fit.
  • Be proactive. Do your due diligence, and find out as much as you can about the solution, not just what they show you, but if possible, talk with customers that use the product as well.
  • Last, but not least, be flexible.

The call center of the near future will be deeply connected to our digital world, always on, ready to assist whenever a customer wants to interact with us. This interconnectivity should create a seamless environment within which we do business, and will pair the best agents with AI driven tools that make sales and service delivery more efficient and much easier to navigate. The tools being developed today are only one step in bringing this future about, the rest will be up to us.

Philip Bennett started in route sales, where he learned that the best way to differentiate himself was by out servicing his competition. He has been in the Call Center industry for almost 20 years, specializing in digital transformation. He has built and run two call centers over that time. Philip lives in El Paso Texas, with his wife and three children.

Copyright 2021, Philip Bennett
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