UC and the Contact Center – Addressing Customer Needs and Wants

UC and the Contact Center – Addressing Customer Needs and Wants

By Jon Arnold March 25, 2013 3 Comments
Jon Arnold Image for Unified Communications Strategies
UC and the Contact Center – Addressing Customer Needs and Wants by Jon Arnold

I’m not sure who spends more time thinking about this in their sleep – UCStrategies Experts or contact center managers, but I’ll bet it’s closer than you think. Whether we’re thinking too much about it or the latter isn’t thinking enough about it is another question – and actually a topic that warrants its own analysis – but not today.

What I can tell you is that we think about it a lot, and with contact center being our current theme, this seemed like a good time to weigh in on some current trends that speak to the value UC can bring. We have written about this topic often here, but I wanted to add some new twists that should help clarify that value for contact center decision makers.

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the customer experience, and my message is that this should really be driving how contact centers think about and invest in communications technology. I believe it’s fair to say that most contact centers feel they are not where they would like to be in this regard – both on a basic operational level as well as keeping up with today’s customer expectations.

The latter is really the key for me, and we all know how customers expect instant service over whatever channel they prefer – and if you can’t deliver that, they feel entitled to take their business elsewhere. To some extent, this shifts all the power to the customer, allowing them to hold you hostage to relatively unrealistic performance levels – unless you have the right tools.

This leads me to the question posed in the above title – what do customers really want? This may seem like a loaded question, as all the generic answers are generally true – fast response, first call resolution, accurate service, convenient options to get service, etc. I would argue, however, that these have more to do with customer needs than wants. In my view, the customer experience is comprised of both, and superior service comes from agents who can tell the difference.

Technology has a role to play here, but nothing is more important than listening. Some customers can tell you what they want, but most cannot unless you ask a lot of clever questions. Agents generally don’t have that luxury, but UC can add value by helping agents to listen more effectively, not just to what customers are saying on a call, but across all the modes they may be using.

In that regard, what customers really want is to communicate on their terms and come away feeling that the agent is on the same page. When agents have a full complement of UC tools to work with, they can put customers at ease right away, regardless of how they are getting in touch. Even better, imagine how the customer would feel if the agent asked what mode they most prefer. The key is having the flexibility to give them those options, which then sets the tone for a more engaged session.

At that point, agents can “listen” for cues that tell them more about what the customer wants. I’m really describing active listening, which applies to whatever mode is being used – voice, chat, email, etc. By taking friction out of the process of communicating, UC allows agents to do this, and gain a deeper understanding of – and distinction between – customer needs and wants.

To achieve this, agents need to be trained to broaden their idea of “listening” beyond voice, and focus on  what customers want as much as what they need. We know their immediate need is to solve a problem, but what they want may be very different. Both are part of the customer experience, and the latter can be impacted in a big way by UC.

Stepping back, this is really about the process of providing customer service, and thinking more strategically about the experience. UC itself doesn’t make the experience better – agents have to know what to do once the friction of connecting with the customer is removed. Customer service is first and foremost a human process – at least where agents are involved – and UC will do its best work by not getting in the way of that.

This may sound logical and even obvious, but most contact centers do not work this way. Companies that under-invest here run a growing risk of losing business as the gap grows between the communications tools customers are using and what agents have to work with. UC isn’t the sole answer, but if you believe that both needs and wants define the customer experience, it’s hard to think of a better way to close that gap.


3 Responses to "UC and the Contact Center – Addressing Customer Needs and Wants" - Add Yours

Alonzo M Carr 3/27/2013 7:13:09 PM

Hi Jon

Great perspective, I agree the human component is the key element in the customer experience. Do you see the contact center manager having a tough hill to climb? He/She has to convince the CIO that contact center technologies will help agents provide an enhanced customer experience.
Art Rosenberg 3/30/2013 9:04:36 AM


Both the contact center manager and the CIO have to start factoring in new mobile, multi-modal self-service applications and pro-active notifications to the "customer experience." This is rapidly replacing traditional incoming phone calls as the basis for customer interactions and access to live assistance. This perspective takes us back to specific customer "use cases" that now need to be designed for multi-modal ease of use, not limited to the old, telephony-based IVR self-service capabilities.

Managing customer assistance staffing is still an important responsibility, but not now has to tie in to the greater flexibility offered by Mobile UC.
Cheyserr dela Cruz 4/29/2013 10:27:57 AM

Providing a good customer experience is the main responsibility of contact centers. Contact centers should be able to properly train their agents to develop skills like listening. On the other hand, I believe that addressing the customer needs and wants should be the responsibility of the company or brand that the contact center represents. Contact centers should serve as a bridge between the customers and the brands and should be able to forward customers concern to the company they represent. Innovators of the brand should be able to improve and develop their services/products according to these customer demands. This process would make the customer feel that their concerns are being heard and responded.

As we all know, contact centers are a B2B kind of business. The brand they represent is not entirely their product. So whatever the innovators of the brand will do is beyond the control of these contact centers. And most of the time, contact centers are just doing whatever the company/brand they represent requires from them.

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