Exploring the Retail Contact Center: Past, Present, and Future

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Customer Strategy
Customer Service
For years, brands referred to the contact center as the "cost center" of their organization. With their focus geared toward short-term ROI, many were reluctant to spend money on improvements because they neglected to consider sales beyond the brick-and-mortar store or website. Such companies failed to take full advantage of their customer service agents, for they were not trained as sales agents, thus missing the opportunity to nurture relationships, encourage repeat purchases, and upsell during interactions. However, as the contact center space continues to evolve, more brands are beginning to recognize their customer service agents as both brand ambassadors and an imperative touchpoint throughout the customer journey.

For years, brands referred to the contact center as the "cost center" of their organization. With their focus geared toward short-term ROI, many were reluctant to spend money on improvements because they neglected to consider sales beyond the brick-and-mortar store or website. Such companies failed to take full advantage of their customer service agents, for they were not trained as sales agents, thus missing the opportunity to nurture relationships, encourage repeat purchases, and upsell during interactions. However, as the contact center space continues to evolve, more brands are beginning to recognize their customer service agents as both brand ambassadors and an imperative touchpoint throughout the customer journey.Marty Beard, president and CEO of LiveOps, notes that, when today's customers contact any given brand, they expect the person who responds to not only know them, but understand them both as a customer and an individual, as well.

"Contact center agents interact with customers more frequently and on a deeper level than any other brand representative," says Beard. "Brands should not underestimate the wealth of knowledge that these agents have on the business. This includes marketing language that resonates, product preferences, and ultimately what is working with customers and what is not. They understand a customer's needs and preferences better than anyone else in a corporate office."

In today's multichannel environment, excellent customer service continues to stand as the primary differentiator in a highly competitive marketplace. Customers use multiple channels to research products, connect with fellow consumers, and contact support, so today's agents must be prepared to communicate and relate with efficiency and clarity. Equipping customer service representatives with sales knowledge and tools will allow these agents to engage customers on their preferred channels, while access to purchase history may enable upsell or cross-sell opportunities if the occasion arises.

But, as contact centers prepare for the coming year, they must address the three following factors in order to stay ahead of their competitors:

1. Customer service agents are the most underutilized sales representatives.
2. More communications channels mean more ways to monetize every customer interaction. It also means higher expectations of customer experience.
3. A live agents offering real-time interaction is still the strongest connection to retail customers and the best way to increase revenue.

"Retail brands must place agents in not only a customer service position, but a sales position as well, making them a valuable mechanism to better monetize customer experience across the board," Beard adds. Contact center agents truly have the power to generate revenue and brand loyalty, but companies must empower their staff with access to the right information and tools necessary for well-rounded communication.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION