Consumers may have moved to mobile apps when ordering pizzas on their iPhones, but when it comes to a broken fridge, or an online account that won’t let them log in, they still tend to pick up the phone and dial a company’s hotline.
Except now, consumers often do their homework before placing that call – and they do it well, thanks to robust online resources. As such, when consumers do connect with a customer care agent, the calls are more meaningful and complex, according to Gary Praznik, senior vice president and chief operating officer of call center manager iQor.
The St. Petersburg, Florida-based company manages contact center operations for health care companies, financial services firms and consumer goods tech giants like Samsung. Praznik told PYMNTS in a recent interview that he has seen a shift during his three decades in the contact center industry, mainly in the reasons customers pick up the phone and place a call. He’s also seen a corresponding shift in what it takes for call centers to serve them.
“The result of all these DIY or self-help channels is that people don’t really pick up the phone and call a customer service line unless it’s something complex, something complicated, something they can’t do on their own,” Praznik explained. “So, the level of service that our human call center agents have to provide when they do interact with customers is very high.”
Turning Callers into Customers
Calls made to contact centers today aren’t just getting more complicated. Those interactions are also taking on a whole new level of importance.
While the growth of omnichannel retail has opened up new communication channels through which brands and consumers can connect, phone calls with contact center agents are still the most personal communications a company will have with its customers.
Offering that level of personalization and care means providing a range of services covering “the full lifecycle” of a contact center – from answering callers’ questions on potential purchases and securing sales to serving customers when they have later queries or want to modify their services and, if necessary, pursuing delinquent charges.
For iQor, extending the lifecycle process has also meant identifying revenue generation opportunities, Praznik said. That often means generating additional revenue from existing customers.
“When a telecom company wants to boost revenue, we’ll often push a promotional offer to existing customer[s] to add new lines or upgrade their phone[s],” he said. “We spend a lot of time working with those existing customers, finding out what services they would be interested in adding and making sure they’re satisfied with [what they have] already.”
As would be expected, the revenue generation process also involves taking payments from new customers who call a contact center to research a potential purchase or subscription. To enable these payments, iQor accepts credit card, debit card and check-by-phone – though Praznik noted the latter was not as popular as the former options.
Securing the Call
Accepting payments for a wide variety of retailers comes with a unique set of security challenges – something iQor seeks to resolve through its suite of security solutions.
Most often, this includes two- and three-step authentication, like using existing usernames and passwords consumers already have with a specific retailer, Praznik said.
Because iQor’s clients are the ones ultimately maintaining and serving accounts and accepting payments, the company often relies on their fraud departments to flag suspicious purchases.
Perhaps more important than verifying the customer on the call is ensuring the security of the interaction on the contact center’s end, Praznik noted. Since call center agents and customer service reps are helping consumers with account or service issues, they often have access to sensitive customer details and information. For iQor, that means taking steps to secure its own operations.
Along with passing background checks, employees must go through biometric security measures before accessing information, and no data is stored on the computers that iQor’s agents use.
“Each employee has a thumbprint scanner at their desk that they must be authenticated by each time they enter the system,” Praznik said. “The computers they’re using are essentially just monitors or screens displaying bits and bytes. There’s no information on the hard drives of any of the machines agents use.”
But sometimes the toughest security measures mean utilizing simple solutions. According to Praznik, iQor does not allow agents to have any pens, pencils or paper at their desks, either, so no old-school miscreants can take information home with them.
The Contact Centers’ Evolving Roles — and Evolving Tech
While iQor is employing some old-school security measures, it is far from abandoning tech in its operations. Instead, the balance relies on blending high-tech with human touch.
As call center commerce and customer service has changed, technology has changed along with it, Praznik said. The company – and the industry as a whole – increasingly relies on artificial intelligence and machine learning to make calls more efficient and to support human staff.
“Most times, when they call, customers are past the point of being helped by a bot,” he said. “They need a human being that they can explain their issue to, and that can understand them. So, I think, rather than replacing humans, they’re going to be working to make humans more efficient.”
And that efficiency will be crucial, Praznik added.
While communication continues to head away from in-person channels, contact centers are there for those who still dare to pick up the phone. Serving them with the same, or greater, efficiency as that available via online channels could be the key to turning callers into customers.