Blending customer contacts, such as outbound outreach for inbound agents (or vice versa), and more recently, digital streams with voice calls, appear to have several benefits for contact centers.
With blending, productivity could be improved by lowering agent idle time. This strategy can also handle inbound contact spikes, provided there are available agents.
But is blending for both purposes actually practical and as a result popular with contact centers? We asked several leading vendors to find out:
- Laura Bassett, Vice President, Product Marketing, NICE CXone
- Wendy Close, Vice President, Product Marketing, Talkdesk
- Fernando Mousinho, Senior Director, Contact Center Product Management, Cisco
- Janice Rapp, Vice President, Product Marketing, Contact Center, 8×8
- Vasili Triant, Chief Operating Officer, UJET
Q. Are more or fewer contact centers blending inbound and outbound customer contacts and why either way?
More contact centers are blending inbound and outbound interactions – for three main reasons.
One is technical: inbound outbound blending is a mature technology and today it will be available in many complete contact center platforms.
Also, from an efficiency and an agent utilization standpoint, in a blended environment agents can handle outbound interactions during lulls in inbound volume, which means higher agent utilization.
Lastly, many contact centers that are not focused on outbound dialing have discovered the advantages of proactive outreach.
Using outbound to proactively reach out to customers in voice or digital channels helps create a better customer experience (CX) where a need may be addressed before the customer even realized that it existed.
Proactive outbound communication helps avoid inbound volume spikes (for example, a network provider can avoid a big surge in incoming traffic with a proactive outbound notification to impacted customers acknowledging a network outage and – ideally – providing an ETA for resolution).
There can also be a lot of financial value in being proactive – customers report for example less missed appointments when patients are reminded proactively of an upcoming test or other activities.
Additionally, companies can now take advantage of proactive artificial intelligence (AI)-driven web site guidance to ensure the success of web and mobile interactions for consumers, driving higher self-service resolution.
The trend is towards blended contact centers, following the trend of contact centers evolving from cost centers to profit centers.
Benefits include higher agent satisfaction (not doing the same thing over and over), cost reduction because proactive customer outreach actually reduces incoming call volumes, higher revenues, and happier customers because proactive outreach lessens their effort.
“Blended environments tend to work better with larger call centers with many agents.” —Wendy Close
But there are caveats. Blended environments tend to work better with larger call centers with many agents. Automated dialing typically needs large agent pools in order for the algorithms to work effectively.
Additionally, it may be harder to find agents with the skills to handle service calls and more sales-focused calls. On the plus side, with so many agents working remotely, companies aren’t necessarily limited to a particular area for hiring.
In general, fewer contact center agents are blended because outbound contacts, which are proactive in nature, are becoming proactive message interactions, such as SMS. These lend themselves to high levels of automation and are digital by design. This requires less human intervention, and if done well, can deliver highly personalized, efficient experiences.
The one exception is callbacks – these are popping up all over the place and it is one of the common applications we deploy. Nobody wants to wait in queue for more than a couple of minutes, so we are able to capture the customer information and call them back at a more convenient time.
We are seeing fewer contact centers blending inbound and outbound due to shared ownership and visibility of the customer across the organization.
This means that we are supporting more informal contact centers for outbound use cases (sales, campaigns) and reserving formal seats for inbound customer issues and support.
Blending inbound or outbound customer contacts can speed up and simplify the process of both taking and making calls. However, if a company’s focus is more on one or the other, they most likely use a platform specializing in one or the other.
We are seeing many customers incorporating software that combines both inbound and outbound as a way to streamline work across the organization.
A single dashboard or location for all data unifies the teams’ efforts and simplifies the process of assessing daily metrics. It also provides a better view of the team’s performance, not to mention being more cost effective and limiting agent training requirements.
We do see some companies that require more extreme in-depth data reporting. Use of a blended platform may not provide all the details they need.
Q. By the same token are you seeing more, or fewer, contact centers blend inbound digital and traditional voice channels for omnichannel agents, or alternatively, having separate agents dedicated to each stream?
Consumers are demanding additional resources and channels for customer service in our increasingly digitized world. To tackle this shift in the middle of an ongoing labor shortage, more contact centers are training agents on multiple channels to best meet consumers where they are.
In fact, a recent study by the Society for Workforce Planning Professionals concluded that 62% of agents now handle more than just phone calls, but also digital channels like chat, messaging, or email.
Contact centers that deploy omnichannel training can run a more efficient team that is less affected by staffing challenges.
Furthermore, omnichannel agents can help provide better, holistic customer service as they can easily switch channels to support customers in their channel of choice when the customer situation changes.
For example, the customer needs to leave home so their landline is not available anymore, but they can continue to interact, for example via SMS or in a mobile app.
Moreover, agents can work more efficiently by using lulls in one interaction channel to progress in another and help reduce customer wait times.
Contact centers are definitely moving towards omnichannel agents. With a limited pool of agents available, contact centers are looking to increase the capacity and skill sets of their existing agents across multiple channels.
Additionally, omnichannel enabled agents are providing a more holistic approach to customer service and support by getting a complete view of the customer’s journey and every touch point they have with the company. Whether it be in person at a store, through calls into the contact center, or via various digital interactions.
Enablement of omnichannel agents is resulting in better overall CX for customers, which has a positive and measurable impact on customer loyalty and retention.
Historically, the myth of the Blended Agent (one who can handle email, chat, web, and voice from one interaction to the other) persisted.
This was a rarity in contact centers as humans tend to gravitate towards specialization. However, in recent years there has been a move towards in agents handling duplicate forms of interaction, mostly in synchronous messaging channels.
For example, we allow agents to be on voice calls, but send SMS or WhatsApp messages to customers to enrich the dialog. Think about pushing directions, an authentication code, or something as simple as a confirmation number.
Blending inbound digital and traditional voice channels has distinct advantages for a number of reasons, including agent satisfaction.
“In today’s remote/hybrid work environment, I believe that there is less blending overall.” —Janice Rapp
The difficulty lies in an organization’s ability to attract, compensate, and retain these more highly skilled agents. It remains true that not all voice agents are suited to text-based responses.
In today’s remote/hybrid work environment, I believe that there is less blending overall. Agents are set up to do what they do best, and with modern-day collaboration tools, they are able to reach out across the organization to get support in dealing with customer inquiries in nearly real-time.
It’s more about workflow and process than hiring people who are capable of true omnichannel interaction handling.
We’re definitely seeing more blended. We are moving more toward the age of super-agents who work across channels just as everyday people interact across channels on their phones.
If agents don’t, then customer service can become more fragmented as customers deal with different agents for different channels for the same issues.