Predicting the death of an industry is a dramatic step to take, so naturally Scott Kolman’s article on the death of the contact centre caught my eye.  The general sentiment is right, in that contact centres are going through a period of change, but the death of this industry isn’t going to happen in 2012, nor 2013 – probably not even in my lifetime. 


Here’s why:

Not everyone owns a smartphone, nor will they for a good number of years.  For those that do have one, owning a smartphone doesn’t mean you want to (or are able to) take advantage of the full richness of the interface.  The pricing of devices based on the Android system puts smartphones within reach of a lot of people now.  So apart from the odd game of angry birds, these devices will predominantly be used for texting and talking.

Smartphones rely on contiguous, high quality coverage.  Outside of metropolitan areas, this isn’t a reality, so a smartphone user trying to access rich content is going to end up with a very frustrating experience. Voice coverage on the other hand, is ubiquitous so if I really want an issue solved right now, then a voice transaction will deliver the best service experience for me.

The great thing about smartphones is their portability.  They are easy to carry round with you, hence they act as a hub for people.  However, this portability comes at some cost to usability.  Entering a large amount of information, for example describing a problem (you know, the ones that are never on the list of common issues), booking a trip across multiple vendors, etc is a lengthy task for even the most dedicated of smartphone users.  Sometimes, it’s just easier to pick up the phone.

But overall, it’s about a company’s attitude to service.  Those companies that can’t deliver a good service experience through a contact centre aren’t going to be able to deliver a good service experience through any other medium.  If you don’t believe service is important to your company, then it doesn’t matter what channel is used – the experience for the customer will be poor, they’ll use social networks to tell people, and that companies reputation (and ability to survive) will decline.  Those will be the contact centres that close, because the company is closing due to customers deserting it.

 The companies that get this right, will take a balanced approach – all the information that is available to an app user will be available to the contact centre, so there’s no more cases of customers being more empowered than the contact centre (a classic case of why many contact centres are failing to give good service now).  The companies with a really loyal customer base will be able to take this even further by using contextual information about their customer – where are they, what device are they using, what other information or media have they been consuming – how many users are willing to give up a portion of their privacy to get this though?