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Voice Search Will Challenge Contact Centers

More viable mobile Web services will likely lead to an increase in contact center traffic, Voice Search 2009 panelists predict.
By Eric Felipe-Barkin - Posted Apr 2, 2009
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SAN DIEGO—With the onset of more viable mobile Web services, experts at the Voice Search 2009 conference predicted that call center traffic will increase.

Monique Bozeman, principal analyst at Monique Bozeman Consulting, said here at the March 2–4 event during a panel titled “How Will Contact Centers Evolve in the Voice Search Era?” that the ease with which users move directly from the mobile Web to a given channel within a call center will drive the numbers.

One of the immediate, obvious consequences of heavier call volumes is the strain they place on call center resources. Another panelist, Joe Bentzel, chief marketing officer at SpeechCycle, said he has seen firms try to deal with this by moving to a pay-for-agent model, where callers pay to speak with a live agent. He has seen some traction for that in Europe, but points out that it has significant drawbacks. “Pay-for-agent puts a burden on call centers to make sure their tech is good,” he said.

Bozeman said she finds the pay-for-an-agent trend “disturbing,” and quipped,  “I don’t know how many interactions with live agents I’ve ever wanted to pay for.”

She added that even as technology advances, its implementations are not consistent, pointing to a “continuum of sophistication” in call centers. Many are overloaded and comprised of agents lacking the talent or training to handle calls smoothly, neither of which is likely to change as long as agent salaries remain at $25,000 a year. Annual salaries of $50,000 to $60,000 are needed to draw the right talent, she argued.

Bozeman also expressed the belief that infrastructural problems, such as dialogue flow, have artificially kept call numbers and call durations low. “When we’ve done analysis on some of the largest firms, you’d be amazed what the business analysts have come up with,” she said. “Ninety percent of the time the logic was wrong. It had nothing to do with the technology.”

As an example, she cited one call center where 99 percent of the departures—where frustrated callers hung up before completing their transactions—took place at the same point in the dialogue. When users were asked to give their phone numbers, they tried repeatedly and failed. Recognition aside, the phone number was unnecessary and played no part in completing the transaction. 

Bentzel asserted that the software-as-a-service model might be ideal to cut costs without cutting service, but acknowledged a resistance to adoption.

“The reality is that a shift for customers in payment plans makes them think they must be getting a bad deal,” he said. “The software-as-a-service model is breaking through that, but plenty of companies that have said, yes, they would be OK with success-based pricing, go back to the traditional because, over time, they think it will cost less.”

A steady drumbeat of calls, however, may force them to reconsider. 

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