Contact centers have always had an abundance of data about customers and performance. Unfortunately, that data is not being fully utilized to benefit the company, customers or agents. The unrealized potential of data has never been more urgent than it is right now, as centers focus on the customer experience and agent experience and the excitement builds around new capabilities in automation and intelligence.
Data, Data Everywhere
Let’s talk about two sets of data: the first is about customers, and the second is about their interactions and how they are handled.
In order to serve customers, centers need good, complete, up-to-date data about them. Names, addresses, contact information are the starting points for a customer profile, but details like preferences and affinities lead to customized and personalized service delivery. Contact history is another incredibly valuable data element, ideally across all channels (the proverbial “omnichannel”—including online, mobile and face-to-face locations such as stores, branches and kiosks). Customer information is gathered and maintained in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions, home-grown tools, and/or systems that serve the core business (accounts, orders, billing, etc.).
Customer data can be less than stellar when it has not been a focus of the center and the enterprise to capture and maintain it. Common issues include no data fields (e.g., contact history), unpopulated fields (e.g., email), and data in the wrong places (the increasingly important mobile phone numbers are notorious here). Unstructured data is also common, originating from good intentions about capturing information for which no specific field has been defined. For example, a simple “workaround” to capture notes about who to call, which number to use, or a customer preference can quickly become unwieldy. It is no small task to transition these notes to structured information in specific data fields that can readily be used in business decisions and automation.
In order to serve customers, centers need good, complete, up-to-date data about them.
Our second data category about interactions and their handling is a focus of many vendors in our industry—ACD, IVR, QM, WFM, etc. All these systems generate mountains of data about every contact, the center’s performance and what agents are doing. The vendors create countless “standard” reports using that data, and tools to help customize or configure “custom” reports. Going a step further, many tools facilitate creation of dashboards for real-time visual views, scorecards to show performance against goals and trends, and analytics to dive deeper into data, relationships and root cause. Figure 1 defines and differentiates data, reports, dashboards/scorecards and analytics.
Sadly, the most common use of all that CC data seems to be to dump some of it into Excel and reformat it and consider a report creation “mission accomplished.” That doesn’t come close to serving the day-to-day needs of the center or fulfilling the strategic potential.
Giving Data its Due
If we’re going to give all this data its due, we need to take a new approach, on both fronts. Centers could prioritize a “clean-up” effort on customer data, accompanied by process refinement to ensure the data stays clean and continues to be updated. That task is not trivial. It may require IT to create new fields. It requires well-defined processes for agents to know what and when to update (e.g., not when the queue is all backed up!). And it may point to the need to engage external sources to help with information such as phone numbers given their importance in the identification and verification (ID&V) process, as well as potential for outbound communications such as confirmations and notifications. Figure 2 provides a high-level view of the clean-up that beckons for many.
When it comes to the volumes of data from the CC tools and all the work that vendors have done to make this data useful, it’s time for many centers to hit “refresh” on how these tools get used. Start with some questions:
- Are people using the reporting tools? Trained on them? Know how to configure or customize?
- Do we have resources with the right skills and training to help? These could be analysts in the center or other areas, including IT or a Business Intelligence (BI) group.
- Does the vendor offer some online training or other ways to deep dive into the tools, what they can do, and how progressive centers are using them?
- How can we present data in useful and appealing (maybe even fun!) fashion to the frontline staff to drive the behavior and results we seek? What should we be presenting to leadership to show the center’s performance and contribution to the business goals?
Integration and normalization must be part of advanced use of data to pull together information from multiple systems to develop insights and drive actions. Look at vendor tools as part of this endeavor—many provide paths to integration. IT and BI groups may again play a role: Consider your enterprise strategy and tools for data warehouses and BI in addition to your contact center-specific tools and data.
We Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet
Data has always been important, but the needs and opportunities are growing. Think how important good customer data is to things like appointment reminders, ID&V, screen pops and outbound dialing. All of these examples are things people have been doing for years (if not decades), and they are constantly hindered by data issues. Now think about what you would like to do with data to personalize your customer experience, make it easier for your agents to succeed, and drive changes that will deliver the efficiency and effectiveness your center is charged to deliver (see Figure 3).
Companies are putting great hope in the future of self-service—whether IVR, mobile or web-based—and that hope can only be realized if the customer data is great and the data about interactions is used to optimize applications. Customers’ motivation to use self-service can aid in getting profile data updated, whether they do it themselves or through an agent. Similarly, the pain of authentication (and growing demands for fraud prevention or regulatory compliance) may motivate both customers and those who serve them to focus on data updates to streamline that process.
It is increasingly difficult to hire, train and retain the agents to handle ever more complex contacts, so we need data to help guide them through the contact-handling. There are boundless opportunities to learn from interaction data to improve and automate processes, make the case for changes or investment in systems and applications, revamp training, or even change what marketing or product leaders do.
All this data opportunity will be even more important as contact center professionals transition from the excitement stage to the execution stage on a number of “hot” topics:
- Artificial Intelligence has a prerequisite: Lots of data, and good data. Anyone embarking on an AI project will quickly find that a critical early step is to clean up the data.
- Bots, whether text- or voice-driven, will rely on data and will generate data. Their design and optimization must be heavily steeped in the world of data, reports and analytics.
- Intelligent Automation (IA) is another buzzword these days, manifesting in things like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) that can be unattended (triggering off events or data) or attended (working with agents). Clearly that requires good, structured data that the IA can use to make decisions (if… then…). And IA will get better if data capture shows what is working (e.g., achieve resolution, shorten tasks or turnaround times) and what is not, so processes can be tweaked.
- Knowledge Management (KM) improves based on data—what people are asking about, what is a useful outcome and what is not, what can prevent another contact, etc. Using data to optimize KM will increase agent success and customer self-service.
- Personalization is nothing new but has often failed to materialize because of bad data or the lack thereof. Good data is essential to intelligently route, offer up custom menus, and otherwise guide customers to their best outcome.
So What Are YOU Doing?
Contact center professionals—whether in operations or technology—know they have lots of data and many will acknowledge it is underutilized and doesn’t get the attention it needs. So now the question is, what are you going to do about it?
Build a phased plan—or two plans—for how you will use customer data and interaction data. Include the “fixes” needed to clean up and structure customer data and start to use interaction data in new ways. Make changes on a tactical level to drive quick benefits like going deeper into what could be done with the tools you have and pursuing training (or a refresh) on those tools. Position yourself to use data intelligently in more advanced or complex applications. Commit resources and plan for process change, too (see the Sidebar). With a continuous improvement mindset to keep using data well, the insights and actions they drive could deliver astounding changes.