As terms like “omnichannel” and “multichannel” move through the hype cycle towards actual implementation in contact centers, the channel that’s seeing perhaps the strongest growth is SMS texting. That was one of the major takeaways from an Enterprise Connect webinar I moderated this week that featured contact center guru Sheila McGee-Smith; Patrick Russell, director of product marketing at 8x8; and some original research from Enterprise Connect’s end-user audience base.
In our recent survey, 47% of respondents said they support SMS in their contact centers. Since this was our first contact center survey, we don’t have historical comparison data, but Patrick, in noting this statistic, said this would represent growth from just 10% in recent years.
So why is SMS succeeding in the contact center? Sheila’s main explanation was that the contact center tends to reflect broader communications trends within the population—makes sense, since it’s the general public that’s calling into contact centers. SMS is how lots of people communicate with each other nowadays, so it’s what they want to use when they reach out to the companies with which they do business.
Sheila also pointed out that people are becoming more comfortable with persistent communications, not just for text but for voice. She cited a recent Wall Street Journal article, “The Phone Call Isn’t Dead, It’s Evolving,” in which a researcher described how teenagers, inured to video communications on their mobile devices, will sometimes “turn on a video chat and then just throw their phone some place.” In essence, the video chat becomes just open audio, “because the camera would just be pointing at the ceiling,” the researcher went on to say.
Keeping the channel open has its advantages for a contact center; agents can potentially multitask, handling several SMS exchanges at a time with multiple customers, increasing efficiency relative to voice interactions. Assuming that the customers on the other end of the exchange are also multitasking, it makes sense for an agent to be conducting several text chats at a time, as long as they don’t get overloaded.
Our webinar was entitled, “Proving the Value of a Collaborative Contact Center,” and in a sense, that’s what the agent is doing in that SMS scenario: It’s more of a collaboration. But the major collaborative opportunity for contact centers is the ability to link the agent more tightly with the rest of the enterprise, allowing the agent to collaborate with those who have the expertise needed to solve a customer problem. I asked Sheila and Patrick whether that would represent a significant cultural change, both for the agent to reach out to non-agent colleagues, and for those colleagues to find themselves fielding inquiries from the company’s contact center agents. Surprisingly, both expressed confidence that younger generations of workers would take to these new scenarios without much difficulty.
In any event, there’ll need to be governance and guidelines around this new type of collaboration, which is why it’s probably not surprising that when Enterprise Connect asked our survey respondents the most important factors for contact center success, “agent training” was the number one answer. In a world where both the communications and the channels are changing quickly, continuous learning will be even more important than ever.
If you’d like to catch the full contact center webinar, you can hear the replay here. If your contact center needs to be more collaborative, I’d encourage you to check it out.