Call Center Industry a Work in Progress


For many businesses around the world, call centers are a key part of providing customer service each and every day. Recently, Customer Care News went to Craig Mento, CEO of NexxPhase, to find out more about the ever changing call center industry and its quickly changing needs. NexxPhase was established in 2011 to take Nexxlinx’s new multichannel workflow engine to the general market. Nexxlinx has been serving the call center industry for 15 years and has grown in the past decade from $2 million to $40 million.

CCN: What is the NexxPhase core business and what separates you from others in the industry?

CM: Our core business is providing a multichannel, cloudbased contact center platform that you pay for by the minute. You use a minute, you pay for a minute. It’s a truly disruptive pricing model. But pricing is only effective if you provide a quality service.

This platform is optimized for production use, in our own centers and for clients here and abroad. We have an advanced Business Process Modeling tool to develop and deploy customized applications, bringing them to market in a fraction of the time and money associated with conventional solutions.

And, we’ve recently integrated VPI (quality), Pipkins (workforce management) and Knowlagent (Intraday management) into a packaged Best-of-Breed offering that makes no compromises, unlike most all-in-one solutions.

CCN: There is a tremendous amount of change going on in the call center industry. Can you give us your take on some of the most significant changes affecting the industry?

CM: There are a couple of seismic shifts. First is the move to cloud-based call centers and Software as a Service. The promise of no capital, no maintenance and no expensive staff is hard to resist…and users are going this direction in droves. The second is the move to multichannel. Smartphones are the primary device in 40 percent of homes, and consumers want to have access to support via voice, chat, email or social media. Centers that are voice-only (up to 80 percent) have a choice — face huge upgrade fees or move to the cloud.

CCN: Of the changes you mentioned, what issues and trends do you see making a significant difference in how companies manage their call center activities in the future?

CM: Call centers will get more precise in the use of resources, optimizing every aspect of their operations, with a focus on quality and first call resolution (FCR). Our Best-of-Breed platform uses VPI, Pipkins, Knowlagent, Taleo and Cornerstone. This business is getting more complex with tighter margins. The forward-looking contact center operators will be using more tools to optimize their performance.

CCN: Quality staffing is a key issue for all companies that manage call centers. How has NexxPhase improved the process and helped manage it? What systems have you put in place to ensure that quality staff members are put in place?

CM: With personnel costs taking 65 cents of every dollar of revenue, most call centers struggle with attrition percentages. We have hired an industrial psychologist to develop a tool that is far more effective in the screening of applicants. In addition, Taleo and Cornerstone are an important part of our onboarding process. In addition, Pipkins (workforce management), VPI (quality) and Knowlagent (Intraday management) all address staff quality and productivity.

CCN: Changes with in-house call center technology have had a profound impact on staff learning and call management. How do you view the technology changes we have seen in the past couple of years and how can they help a company’s bottom line?

CM: Well, I think largely, most technologies get developed with the objective of being better, faster or cheaper than the status quo. But all too often, expectations don’t match reality. It’s not so much that people have gotten it wrong — they just missed some of the costs for the overall implementation. Thus, the new technology is sub-optimized to the original plan.

So I look at technology as a basic enabler. With the advent of a cloud services delivery and per-minute pricing model, the beauty is that you can immediately take advantage of current technology and precisely align your expenses and results.

CCN: What should call center managers be most concerned about to ensure they are helping their companies take full advantage of the changes that are taking place? Where should they start?

CM: Well, call center managers need to be passionate lifelong learners. This is a rapidly changing industry. We expect our people to be active in industry forums and to be very well briefed on the latest trends through industry publications, training and seminars. For executives, the imperative is to provide a culture that encourages success. The biggest challenge is that there is so much material to synthesize that they have to prioritize where to invest their time.

CCN: For a CEO of a company with active call centers, what should they do to make sure they are managing the process and getting the most from their centers?

CM: Benchmark, benchmark and benchmark some more. What is world class in statistics? What’s world class for FCR? For customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores? For price performance? You create the benchmark, measure yourself, then occasionally bring in third-party analysts to audit and validate the performance of your company. Unlike some industries, this industry is constantly a work in progress, and your corporate culture must embrace that change.

CCN: Customer care has taken on new meaning in today’s business culture. Many call centers are viewed as first respondents to customer concerns. Can you help CEOs and call center managers understand the important changes from technology to social media and the impact they have on customer care?

CM: Customers are using smartphones, tablets and laptops in addition to standard phones to initiate customer interactions, and they expect your call center to be fluent in each channel. They may like Siri on their iPhone, and expect your interactive voice response (IVR) to be more of a personal assistant than a rigid tree structure. They may start an interaction as a chat and want to move to a live agent, expecting their call history to follow them. Or they may post something on social media that requires immediate interaction. In all cases, we need to be one step ahead of a rapidly evolving market and the technologies that support them.

CCN: What does NexxPhase see as the vital products and services needed for call center directors to compete in the future?

CM: As table stakes, you need the multichannel capability mentioned earlier. But you also need a wide variety of realtime business analytics to be able to anticipate change or react quickly to adjust the workflow to the pace of business. Our business is one of foreseen and unforeseen changes. The key is to have the tools and metrics to optimize the next hour, next week or next year.

CCN: In your opinion, what will call centers look like in the future? Where will they be located? What will their offices look like? How will they operate in the new online world? What technology is coming?

CM: Great question. You can look at it from a couple of different angles. One would be, what will libraries look like in the future? Where have resources gone? Is there a virtual place to actually get knowledge? The contact center is like a library; an intermediary between a need and knowledge that exists somewhere.

We see a growing trend for work-at-home agents staffing a virtual contact center. Certainly more of a non-traditional versus brick and mortar look. I believe there still needs to be a connection between an employee and the people they represent and their employer, but I think there’s a variety of ways for that umbilical cord to be transformed and extended.

I see a growing use of automation and self-service. There are valid arguments for the contact center being nothing more than an intelligent data center that can respond to tier 1 queries or to have the ability for very high-end sales, marketing and technology to be deployed for people that are in remote locations anywhere in the world, where the work follows the worker rather than the worker going to the work.