Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Scale and its problems in the contact centre

This week and last week I've been on site at the contact centres of some of the UK's biggest banks. These are also some of the UK's biggest contact centres, so it's been very interesting to see the challenge scale presents.

These organisations tend to have at least 10 million customers, which is a decent number if they all decide to phone you! What makes it even more challenging is that these 10 million customers have they data spread across thirty or more years of legacy systems.

It's interesting for me that the challenge of scale that this presents has been well addressed by telephony but the IT industry still lags behind to a certain extent. This might sound controversial, but if I explain that this is viewed from the perspective of customer service, it should become clearer. Contact Centre telephony (whether Cisco, Avaya, or Genesys) pretty much scales to run a very large customer service operation. It's taken twenty years of ACD development to get here (and the evolution of TDM technology to IP), but the telephony side of things works in terms of getting a call to anywhere that the organisation wants it to go.

By comparison, the availability of data and customer information (especially in real time) is still a real challenge. All the organisations I've been working with run 3270 sessions, or other terminal emulation, as so much of their data is still mainframe based. Processes similarly can be embedded in applications and present real challenges scaling to the wider enterprise. There is recognition that the process and application layer is now one of the choke points for customer service and IT System Integrators are starting to address it (see posts like "System Integrators write interesting things about contact centre for the downturn!"). The problem is that while mainframe was previously a very good answer to many of the scaling problems that organisations experienced, integrating yesterdays good solution into today's customer service requirements is still a struggle.

It's an interesting set of challenges and one I'll blog on further.

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