The contact center and CRM collision leads to a new dominant species

The impending contact center and CRM collision will lead to a world ruled by those who understand how behaviors are leveraged across the entire customer journey

The contact center and CRM collision leads to a new dominant species
Buddy Nath via Pixabay (Creative Commons CC0)

Some weeks ago I wrote that CRM and contact center are on a collision course. I argued that as the technologies used in CRM and the contact center will naturally mash up, the vendors of these traditionally distinct technologies will collide.

In this post, I will expand upon that idea and talk about the future and a key aspect that will be important to successful synergies: how each domain leverages behaviors.

CRM/contact center collision

The first post argued that a co-mingling of the technologies used in CRM and the contact center worlds have occurred. This has been more of a lending of functionality. Seldom has true synergy emerged.

The example I used is when a CRM desktop may be used by call takers (or in industry lingo, “agents”) as part of the processes of answering incoming telephone calls. In a customer service center, for instance, call control features may be made available to the agent through computer telephony integration (CTI) techniques. In some deployments, automatic retrieval of information about the calling party, using the incoming telephone number (calling party ID, in industry terminology) as a search key, is also be made available.

The evolutionary journey of contact center

This idea emerged as call center technologies were maturing. In the same era, the industry of Contact Management (CM) software came into being. Dominant players in this market came to be companies such as ACT, SageGoldmine (for the accounting professions) and Borland Sidekick. It wasn’t long before the two worlds of CM software and telephony collided.

Here CTI allowed for the trigger of an automatic retrieval of information in the CM software based upon the calling party ID. In these days before client/server and later web technologies when applications could be shared, typically CM software was installed in a single instance on a personal computer. After a rudimentary integration with a telephone, the software could be configured to retrieve information from personal contacts accumulated in the CM software and displayed as a phone call arrived to a “knowledge workers” desktop. An automated “screen-pop” could be configured by the user to display information as the call was answered.

This concept spread to the call center, as well. This is when the idea/terminology began to change and the call center became the idea of a contact center. The distinction was that actionable intelligence begins to accompany the ringing of the call takers' telephones.  

An industry of innovators sprang up in the call center space that developed specialized desktop applications to display information about calling parties. An example was Quintus Corp. of Freemont, California. Although not what we define as CRM today, Quintus' offering was described as “customer relationship management technologies and services to call center operators.”

Agile Software was another innovator. Part of that company’s technologies would later be acquired by Avaya. Avaya also benefited having been bequeathed in a spin-off, assets developed by Lucent Technologies. Much of those technologies became the basis for what is today the company’s Interaction Center product. Avaya later acquired Quintus and melded its offering into the company’s portfolio of contact center applications.

Another big player in CTI was Nortel. Those assets also flowed to Avaya in the Nortel Enterprise Solutions acquisition. IBM, during that company’s dalliance with telecom, also offered the company’s CallPath solutions. Call center application provider Genesys would later acquire IBM's CallPath assets, forming an alliance “to co-develop business intelligence solutions for customer contact centres and the enterprise,” wrote Helen Han. With its acquisition of Selsius Systems, Cisco gained an award-winning CTI Solution. Numerous other smaller players also exist today. 

Meanwhile in CRM

As all that was happening, CRM in the modern sense of the term was evolving. First successes were in the disciplines of sales force automation and customer service and support. Soon marketing departments discovered the insights that could be available by examining the accumulated data for information into customer preferences and buying behaviors. Here is where the concept of behaviors enters our discussion.

The contact center players were also discovering how to leverage behaviors but in a different part of the customer journey. Behaviors became part of the secret sauce as these two industries evolved. For CRM, the primary behavioral focus is about customer motivations. In the contact center industries, the science involved mainly behaviors of the contact center agent. In the future, these unique applications of behavioral sciences will form a figurative yin and yang of a real-time customer interaction.

The CRM concept of behavioral insights to identify and leverage information about what motivates a customer to buy or to understand what attracts a customer to a brand will combine with "skills-based" insights. Ann Bednarz described in this publication back in 2002 how economies are gained by matching an incoming real-time inter-actor (today being a caller/texter/website chat participant, etc.) with the agent who has the right behaviors (aka skills) to deal with the customer as efficiently as is possible. A true synergy will exist if an understanding of the importance of each perspective on behavioral insights is not lost in the vendor collision.

The future mashup

For an optimal future mashup, each domain of expertise must learn lessons from the other. Contact center practitioners and CRM practitioners complement each other in their unique understandings of behaviors and other important intricacies from different parts of the customer journey. The applications of behavioral sciences are but one example. 

As the technologies mash up and the vendors collide, it will be those who understand these important opportunities who will prevail. In the planetary analogy overhanging this discussion, it is they who will arise out of the primordial mix to evolve to be the dominant new species the future of customer interaction management. 

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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