The Convergence of Contact Center & CRM

By Chris Recio, Director of Contact Center and Advanced Applications

As the Contact Center continues to evolve, it’s obvious to see that so many folks are now seeing the value of the Contact Center as the epicenter of customer loyalty and retention – something those of us who have been in the Contact Center industry for an extended period of time already understand.

This new-found realization has created so many new entrants into the space, many of which provide some great options and new shiny objects to entice clients. Clearly, the goal is a landgrab for a piece of the Contact Center pie, to the point that the term “Contact Center” is thrown out onto the discussion table without really understanding the foundation of what makes a Contact Center really hum along. To the not-so-savvy user, this is nothing short of a disservice to the critical operation of the Contact Center.

As more and more CRM providers strive to become part of the Contact Center landscape, many if not all, are beginning to use the term Contact Center too loosely for my taste, further confusing customers and muddying the waters.

Data And The CRM Working In Unison

One of the most aggressive plays into the Contact Center space is at the core of the CRM. I have always espoused the intersection of Contact Center and data. It has been a primary focus of mine for more than 20 years. Data is an integral part of truly creating personalized experiences for customers while providing a solid foundation for the business to maintain structure and control over the business.

Having taken a closer look at many of the so-called CRM “Contact Center” options, it’s critical to understand exactly how these solutions drive what they define as a “Contact Center” and most importantly, understanding the differences between ACD Contact Center processes and CRM workflow processes is essential. This is where the story begins to unravel within the CRM.

CRM In The Contact Center: Eyes Wide Open

With data a critical driving force within any business, especially its influence upon the Contact Center, before jumping into a CRM Contact Center solution one would do well to really come to the table with a list of predefined must-haves before giving over your operation to any CRM Contact Center solution.

My mantra: Eyes Wide Open. Know exactly what your Contact Center needs while being open to new possibilities.

Features To Understand Before Embarking On A Contact Center CRM

  1. Reporting
  2. ACD vs Workflow
  3. Integration to Data Resources other than the CRM Contact Center
  4. IVR
  5. Outbound Campaigns and the ACD

Contact Center Reporting: ACD vs Workflow

For years I have said that before making a configuration change, before adopting a new flow process, or before deciding upon the solution, the rule of thumb is: UNDERSTAND THE REPORTING NEEDS FIRST.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have worked with clients that have issues with their Contact Center reporting as a result of configurations that skew the manager’s ability to accurately capture data according to their specific needs and requirements. Reporting is not a one-dimensional process.

Many system configurations can impact the output of data in a way that is both meaningful and efficient for the managing user of the Contact Center. You absolutely need to understand the influence of the Contact Center configuration and its impact on resulting data.

A configuration without understanding the reporting goals often results in creating a much bigger administrative issue over-reporting, which otherwise would have been more efficient if reporting was considered before arriving at any final Contact Center configuration changes.

Take Time To Understand Workflow To Strengthen Your Customer Experience In The Contact Center

When it comes to CRM Contact Center, it has been my experience that the CRM Contact Center solution is a workflow process attempting to simulate an ACD process. This is where I see the biggest trade-off, and this can seriously impact the Contact Center operation and the customer experience negatively if not fully understood.

Workflow processes are great for moving a contact task along a pathway to completion. This is great for processes that require an assembly-line of processing before resolution, such as sales processes, order processes, technical support processes, and the like.
However, little attention to how the interaction is influenced by data – or other operational needs – and distributed to users can impact the immediacy of the customer service experience. Ultimately reporting is key in assessing successes and in assisting the operation in diagnosing issues and bottlenecks in developing tactical strategies for the operation. The differences in data and reporting must be understood.

When it comes to reporting, there is a distinction between reporting tasks management and processing as opposed to contact efficiency, distribution, and overall service level attainment. This is at the core of the difference between Workflow vs ACD. They are not interchangeable.

Many less savvy Contact Center operations miss this critical piece of detail, falsely believing “well, it says Contact Center, so I am sure it has all those pieces we are accustomed to having within our operation.” Buyer Beware!

Integration Of Data Into Your Contact Center CRM

Oh, how I love this word. It’s far too vague and takes on many different layers, so let’s ensure we understand the totality of what “integration” actually means in the context of the CRM Contact Center.

For the CRM, the concept of integration is most often to the data within itself. Having integrations with a telephony system becomes part of the discussion as well because a CRM by its very nature is not a PBX. Sure, having a connector is technically seen as “integration” but that’s not enough.

Most Contact Center operations have a need to integrate with many different applications and processes, and those integrations are often used for creating dynamic and real-time interaction treatment. There will always be a need to dynamically impact a customer interaction to ensure the customer is moved to the best resource for efficiency and expediency, oftentimes as a result of data the system encountered along its pathway.

With the options available today, integrations include external systems or database repositories, webhooks to other cloud-based applications and processes, SMS integration, email integration, webchat integration, etc. But blending these integrations into a single and unified process is critical.

Know Your Options And Your Parameters Before Integrating Your Contact Center Data

These parameters include: changing priority, applying skills, changing skills, ensuring First-In-First-Out, or jumping queue position. What seems to be missing for me is ensuring contacts are managed and handled in the order in which they arrive at the Contact Center solution, and a key aspect of this is even distribution of workload across a team of users who are dedicated to ensuring your special brand of expertise and customer satisfaction are met.

This is a key hallmark of the ACD and integration. This is one of the ways in which integration plays a tremendous part of directly personalizing and impacting the customer experience in the Contact Center. Integration options must be native to the solution, and they must be broad in scope if the solution is to really offer a toolset allowing clients to define what’s important to their business and their customer.

So, dig in deep when it comes to integration. Understand where the gaps are and most importantly, understand how its brand of “integration” either enhances or detracts from the short-term and long-term goals for your operations.

And…be prepared for the all-too-often used catchphrase: it’s on our roadmap.

Frankly, most operations don’t have time to wait, nor should they wait for options that exist in most true Contact Center solutions in the marketplace today, especially those capable of blending both CRM solutions and the Contact Center into a dynamic and efficient functional process.

Make Sure Your IVR Is Truly Interactive In the Contact Center

Without a doubt, IVR is the force behind any data-driven routing process. IVR is an absolutely, necessary process no Contact Center operation should ever overlook.

IVR provides integration, real-time data queries, dynamic responsiveness to that data, prioritizing interactions, leveraging integrations from multiple sources, providing outbound processes, and now adding bot technology which further expands the options available to the Contact Center operation, and by its very nature: customer experience enhancement features.

CRM Contact Centers do a great job of managing tasks and interactions via a workflow process, but often lack the open nimble nature of a traditional Contact Center IVR process and ACD.

IVR is the center point for all inbound routing and outbound automation. Most CRM options for outbound will leverage another telephony system or SMS system to accomplish its goals. However, I am quite clear on this one point: In the context of the Contact Center, the outbound process is a complete and separate beast that should not be taken lightly.

I have worked with many solutions, sales folks, and operations teams at the crossroads of where the outbound activities and the Contact Center meet. It is never a direct and straightforward discussion. At the core of outbound campaigns are critical aspects of list management that go far beyond responding to a flat list structure.

Nowadays, there is a need for dynamic verification of data, the ability to create a cadence strategy based on previous efforts and results, none of which should be relegated to contact these people on the list from top to bottom.

In addition to the IVR process today, there is a need to further expand options with the use of Bots. Understand how easily Bots can be leveraged within the context of outbound campaigns as it relates to Customer Engagement. That in itself is a completely separate layer of thought that should be part of the broader Customer Engagement game, let alone using an outbound campaign to collect a debt or to generate a lead.

IVR should not be taken for granted, and to me, represents a huge misstep in the context of the CRM Contact Center play.

Outbound Campaigns & The ACD In The Contact Center

Lastly, Outbound Campaigns should be a fundamental part of the Customer Engagement Strategy. Whether Dialing, sending SMS or sending emails, Outbound Campaigns are absolutely a requirement of the Contact Center operation of today.

Now, in fairness, most CRM Contact Center solutions offer an ability to generate a contact list and may also provide a “campaign” process, whether via WorkList, WorkPlan, or TaskList, etc. It is important to understand the level of effort and what automation can be accomplished with these processes.

Adding to this, depending upon the need (voice, SMS, email), the CRM Contact Center solution is likely leveraging external systems to drive these activities, either: telephony, Twilio for SMS, or an Email API. This creates another level of administration and management and expense.

A critical aspect of outbound campaigns is in managing the interactions that continue to be part of the general customer engagements associated with any customer outreach. When it comes to outbound pacing and awareness, there are many other factors to consider, aside from simply taking action on a particular contact. This is where an ACD process is critical and excels. There are things a traditional ACD does extremely well and there really is no comparison when it comes to efficiency and expediency.

With outbound campaigns, the need to drive activity to users is critical and there is a heavy reliance upon ACD that cannot be met with most CRM Contact Center solutions. The ACD data and presence is critical for accurate and effective pacing of outbound campaigns.

When considering the outbound efforts, there is a need for detailed reporting and tracking things such as Right Party Contacts, hit rates, recycle options, outcome management, real-time suppression, and much more. The reporting needs for outbound are intrinsically different than any traditional Workflow reporting or Inbound ACD reporting. Most CRM Contact Center solutions are not equipped to handle this level of reporting as it relates to outbound campaigns and campaign management.

I always recommend bringing in an outbound expert or specialist to really get to the heart of the client’s needs before accepting the “ability to run outbound campaigns” at face value.

As The Contact Center Evolves Data Is What Matters

While it may feel as though I am against any CRM Contact Center solution, that is not the case. I do, however, believe that the best-case scenario exists in combining the efforts of both, allowing the operation to fine-tune its efficiencies using both toolsets.

Data is the epicenter of every CRM offering. Data is the single, most-critical aspect of creating a truly exceptional customer experience. Having access to both and then blending the efforts of both options opens up Pandora’s box of opportunities to any Contact Center or ANY touchpoint within an organization where customers are concerned.

While Contact Center technology continues to morph, so does the definition of the Contact Center. It’s my belief that anyone that touches a customer communication or request is in fact part of the Contact Center, and this is far outside the four walls of the traditional Contact Center structure, historically speaking.

When it comes to CRM and the Contact Center, both serve any organization well. The best operations will blend the two as part of their long-term strategy of harnessing the Customer Experience.

In my next blog, I will dive deeper into the crossroads of the Contact Center and the CRM Contact Center with a discussion where Genesys Cloud and Salesforce intersect. Stay tuned.