One of the more challenging aspects of operating a business is overseeing an enterprise contact center. It’s the place where business philosophy and goals meet the real world of sales information and support. Organizations that excel in this arena boost their brand reputation and establish long-term relationships with customers. Unfortunately, those that fail frequently undermine bottom-line business results.

Contact Centers are continuing to evolve as technology marches forward. For years, they served as a place that either received incoming calls from customers or supported outgoing campaigns, including sales and collections. In many cases, they handled low value and manual tasks.

Today, these centers are advancing far beyond a place to interact with a customer on an occasional basis. They’re advancing beyond interactive voice response (IVR) systems that force customers to select options by numbers. The best contact centers provide a more holistic approach to customer relationships.

Next Generation Contact Centers

These next generation contact centers are automating a growing array of processes. For example, audio-based pattern recognition technology can now search through recordings and find relevant words or terms — and even look for audio patterns that indicate when a customer is becoming agitated.

At the same time, IP networks have made it easier to integrate multiple sales and support channels. Customers or clients can select the channel that they prefer — phone, e-mail, chat, social media or otherwise — and connect to a business.

An integrated contact center allows a representative to use the same customer relationship management (CRM) system and other tools for all channels. In fact, integrated social media — everything from blogs to Twitter feeds as well as customers helping each other through online posts — can prove transformative.

Multiple Tools

Progressive companies are also adding analytics tools to their contact centers. This allows a business to analyze call patterns for staffing purposes as well as other functions, including understanding what methods, channels and approaches are most effective at resolving issues.

These analytics and reporting tools can also provide insights into how well an organization is handling regulatory and compliance issues. The right tools can quickly and efficiently identify potential problems rather than relying on time consuming and labor intensive manual efforts.

More sophisticated IVR systems now incorporate speech recognition technology that guides customers through a phone support system or to a representative. Over the last few years, this technology has become much better at recognizing words and routing callers in the right direction — thus avoiding the need for customers to input long strings of numbers or navigate through byzantine and often frustrating loops.

The basis for many of these advances is Unified Communications (UC), which seamlessly connects channels, systems and data. By putting all these technologies and systems on an IP network, it’s possible to expand and integrate contact center offerings in a way that would have been unimaginable only a few short years ago. Data, voice and even video all travel over the same network and system.

Future Advancements

Contact centers will continue to advance over the coming months and years. Some organizations have already turned to virtual contact centers that allow employees to work from home or a satellite office using UC enabled desktop virtualization solutions, such as Cisco Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI). UC continues to transform the contact including the ability to escalate support virtually through multiple channels such as voice, video, or instant messaging.

For example, an incoming call that a contact center representative isn’t equipped to handle can be escalated to a more highly trained technical expert or supervisor outside the formal contact center. This person can answer a call anywhere, anytime, such as while sitting in an office or from the back seat of a taxi. No less important: it’s possible to share a screen and address issues remotely through an iPad or other mobile device.

Make no mistake, contact centers are advancing and businesses must keep pace. The ability to construct a robust technology platform that supports customer interaction is, in the end, all about dollars and good sense. Contact centers are more important than ever and organizations that design effective solutions are poised for greater performance, profits, and customer satisfaction.