The Multichannel Contact Center — Are We There Yet?

Many moons ago — in 1997 (wow, that was a lot of moons ago) — I wrote an article for a publication called Voice Power. It was a Canadian publication run by a guy named Jacob Gordon. They also held an annual conference branded under the same Voice Power name. Maybe you remember it.
 
My article, written twelve years ago, was titled "The Creation of the Customer Contact Center." The first line of my article read, "The call center is a thing of the past." I continued, "While not becoming extinct all together, it is destined, like the railroad, to become relegated to second class behind a more innovatiove, effective solution — the customer contact center." I then took the reader thru the evolution of the call center starting with the early 1980s and moving up to that 1997 date when I envisioned the birth of the contact center becoming reality. The metamorphosis was centered around the fact that the contact center would include much more than phone calls, but would encompass email, fax, voice mail, and even the then crazy new "web stuff."
 
I still remember getting a call from a reseller in Hawaii after the article was published. Paraphrasing, he said something like, "I read your article. That is what I want!"
 
"What do you mean, that is what you want?" I asked.
 
"That customer contact center. All those communication types. Multichannel. That is what I want to sell," was his determined response.
 
I then spent the next thirty minutes or so explaining to him that I was talking about what I thought was coming…where the market was headed (I didn’t know in 1997, that Don Brown and his Interactive Intelligence engineering staff had spent the previous three years building exactly that — a multichannel contact center). So the best I could, I explained to the reseller that while he’d have to be patient, this evolution of the call center was something that was going to happen. I was sure of it.
 
It’s now 2009…did it happen? Are we there yet? Well…yes…and no. The products are certainly a reality. Every mature vendor in the contact center space now supports multichannel solutions. As a point of reference, last year more than a quarter of all the agent positions shipped by Interactive Intelligence were licensed for more than one media type — which is on the higher end of the scale amongst vendors. Yet, worldwide the majority of contact centers still are phone-only centers. Why? What’s taking so long? 
 
I believe some of it is cultural — the phone is still the preferred media type in many cases. I also think companies haven’t done a great job in promoting and educating their customers on the availability of the other media types.
 
The real question is, do consumers want multichannel options?  If so, what’s taken us twelve years to get this far? I’ll give you my opinion in my next post (and more importantly, I’d like to know how you’d answer, so be bold and click that "comment" button). For now, I’m off on a 22 hour series of flights headed to Thailand. Someone please wake me once we land.