Video in the Contact Center – I don’t think so!

Last week during the VoiceCon Orlando conference (now renamed Enterprise Connect), I was sat on a panel titled "Contact Center Forum and Update" in which several vendors were asked to share their views on various topics and questions asked by the audience and our moderator Sheila McGee-Smith of McGee-Smith Analytics.

One of the questions that came our way was regarding the adoption of video in the contact center and how soon this might happen.
When the panel was asked, I quickly spoke up, “Video is not going to happen in the mainstream contact center anytime soon. Our customers aren’t asking for it and there are too many obstacles preventing it from happening." After going through my supporting reasons, my counterpart from Cisco disagreed with me commenting that contact centers should see video within the next 2-3 years.

I sat there thinking, "Really? Two to three years? Come on, you can’t be serious!"

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are several good examples of how face-to-face video interactions can help streamline communications and improve customer service. But most are niche examples best applied to specific instances like patient monitoring in the healthcare industry, hospitality and concierge services, banking services for the financial vertical, retail kiosks in grocery stores and others. But they aren’t the applications that lead to the eventual widespread adoption of video into the contact center.

So, let me share with you my reasons why video won’t go mainstream in the contact center anytime soon.

Corporate Image
Have you ever worked in a contact center before? I have, and let’s just say that the next America’s Top Model isn’t coming from within the walls of the contact center. There is a reason why people say, "You have a face for radio." Corporations cannot afford to put the face of their contact center agents on the other end of a video stream. The risk is too great to their image and the customer perception. Which leads me directly into the next reason…

Cost is probably the biggest deterrent to deploying video for the contact center. Here are just a few examples:

  • Agent Costs – The biggest expense would come in the form of dramatic increases in agent costs. Because the agent’s face will be seen (and body language, facial expressions, hairstyle, clothing, etc.), contact centers would have to spend millions more on hiring costs and hourly wages alone. The interview process would turn into a Hollywood audition to see which employee best fits the corporate image, looks good on camera, doesn’t have annoying ticks or birthmarks, or a host of other reasons.

    Taking this one point to the extreme, I could see a whole new need for "contact center representatives" who would be responsible for getting their client hired into the best companies at the best prices. These employees are going to demand a premium as their face will be representing the company image. Organizations will have to pay extra for those who look like models.

    Or going to the other extreme, I could see a whole new line of discrimination lawsuits backing up our judicial system because a perceived flaw in your appearance eliminated you from being hired for a job you were clearly qualified for.

  • Incidental Costs – Let’s not forget about the accessories needed to look your best on camera – clothes, jewelry, make-up, etc. Or the necessary phycial changes needed to the insides of the contact center so that it represents the image of the company. Today, the insides of contact centers are not at all what I would call a "show home" as they aren’t meant to. Money will have to be spent to update out-of-date cubicles, the painting of walls , the upgrading of lighting so that so that the agent and the contact center looks their best, etc.
  • Hardware – The cost to purchase cameras, network equipment and bandwidth to support video is a large enough roadblock for any company, particularly in today’s economy.
  • Training – Specialized training will have to be conducted to teach agents how to perfect their facial expressions and body language while on camera. Things that often get overlooked with just voice conversations are quickly exposed on camera. Things like:
    • Trying to look like you care when the customer says they just dropped their iPhone in the toilet
    • Acting surprised in response to the customer telling you your product didn’t work
    • Keeping from rolling your eyes when the customer says something stupid
    • Making sure that you aren’t slouching in your chair when the customer rambles on and on about things that have nothing to do with your company or your products
    • Making sure to look into the camera and smile when talking to the customer. 

Distributed workforce
During the same session, my Cisco colleague asked the audience if any of them either worked from home or had employees working from home. Almost 80% of the audience raised their hands. If video ever makes it into the contact center, you can kiss those work at home agents good-bye for three significant reasons.

  • You cannot control the environment of a work-at-home agent like you can within the walls of your contact center. Who knows what is going to be seen by the customer when agents bring their cameras live – dogs and children running around, Oprah on the TV in the background, posters that are best left unseen, etc.
  • Bandwidth cannot be controlled over the open internet, so routing video over it isn’t going to be reliable. For this same reason, most work-at-home agents today use land lines for their voice path instead of VoIP phones. For those that are using VoIP, adding video to an already congested pipe is not going to lend itself to providing a quality customer experience.
  • One of the biggest advantages to working at home is that you can wear whatever you want. That goes away if you have to be on camera. I see this as a huge disadvantage to trying to hire work at home agents.

Up until now, I’ve mentioned three reasons why contact centers won’t deploy video, but let’s not forget about the most important reason of all – customer acceptance. This is the number one reason why video cannot make it into the mainstream of contact centers anytime soon. People just aren’t comfortable with being on camera. They don’t like their image being seen by people they don’t know and feel that their privacy is being violated. And until there is a generation of consumers who have grown up with video surrounding them and have overcome any fears or concerns of security, this will be the biggest obstacle.

With that final thought, I bring this blog to a close. But I value your comments and invite you to respond.

Tim Passios

Tim Passios

Tim Passios

I've been lucky enough to work with the great team here at Interactive Intelligence for nearly two decades, having started back in 1998 when we were just a start-up company in the heart of the Midwest. At that time, I had just spent the previous seven years working for a software company managing their contact center which paved my way to join here at Interactive. Over the years here, I've contributed in many ways from IT, sales support, demonstrations, and marketing. In my current role as the Vice President of Solutions Marketing, I have constant interactions with customers, prospects, the media and industry analysts, which give me keen insights into the different challenges related to the world of business communications. I graduated from Ball State University in 1990 with an advertising major and marketing minor. While at BSU, I met my beautiful bride of 20 years and we now live with our two children in Fishers, IN.

26 comments to Video in the Contact Center – I don’t think so!

  • Kevin Ellis
    Completely agree with you Tim. Just another example of tech companies saying it will happen just because technically it’s deliverable without taking into account the Human factors such as agents and more importantly the customer…

    To add to your points are agents who are already under pressure to remember what process to follow, which applications they should be using at any given time whilst also potentially following scripts / prompts really going to be able to concentrate on how they come across on camera!!

    Personally as a Client I couldn’t care less abou seeing an agent at the other end of the line as long as they fulfill my request Or answer my enquiry I am pleased…

    Good article

  • John Gibbons
    (Copied from the Contact Center and Operations Group in LinkedIn)

    Actually I disagree with your 4 reasons Tim. But your definition of main stream and mine may not be the same. Where I see video coming into play is in live internet customer service and tech support. More companies are moving to live chat to interact with their customers. The chats can be in a room format where more than one customer can ask questions or individual one on one interface with a technician or customer service rep.

    Video can have a huge impact in this area. Helping the Rep establish a rapport with the customer and build a brand relationship. Putting a face on your customer support is a great way to do this. I also think the internet user of today does not need the frills for customer service video that we would associate with live television.

    Just my thoughts but I would like to hear more on this topic.

  • Excellent comment, John. And I completely agree with you regarding your comment on how video can be helpful in the situation you comment on. However, like you said, I think you and I differ in how we define "main stream." I believe that video will only see a small percentage of penetration into the contact center over the next few years. While I don’t have the analyst research in front of me, I’ve got to believe that the penetration rate of video will be slower than the adoption rate of social media.Do you agree?
  • Herb Briggs
    (Copied from a Call Center Pros discussion from LinkedIn)
    I agree. The technology for video-phones has been available since the early 1950’s. 60 years or so? If folks really wanted to replace all their audio telephone conversations with face to face transactions, it would have happened before I was born.


  • John Gibbons
    (Copied from the Contact Center Operations & Management group on LinkedIn)
    Yes I do agree "the penetration rate of video will be slower than the adoption rate of social media" although both are not mutually exclusive. Top brands and high end market leaders are sometimes faced with the problem of expanding their name recognition without cheapening their image. By combining social media that connects to a personal touch customer service experience (video) they can have both. Again not necessarily mainstream. I see video playing a much greater role in this type of scenario. Is mega call center going to have video for all their customer service reps anytime soon? Probably not, but super high end market leader call center most defiantly will.
  • Ritu Maheshwari
    Great post as always, Tim. But I do have to say I don’t agree with you here. 
    1. Costs: Well, revenue and demand has always driven this, right? I’m guessing there was a time when someone said…who needs agents on phones (think about the cost of the infrastructure and finding people who can speak clearly and so on), we’ll just stick with people sending us mail and respond via that. I have seen a clear demand for video. I’d rather buy my computer from a company that has video support so they can "show" me exactly how to fix my computer when I have a problem. And I don’t think the hiring is going to be based on "looks" so much as on "personality". How many of our sales folks are "hollywood" looking? How they talk and handle people makes all the difference. And these are traits necessary in CC agents even today.
    2. Incidental costs/ Distributed workforce: A work at home agent who has a bath in the morning and dresses up a bit is clearly going to be more productive than one who sits up in bed and has Oprah running in the background. If video lets me check on that and helps retain agents who take their jobs seriously (where ever they work from), it’s a big plus!
    3. Hardware: A lot of research is being done to manage bandwidth better with video. Again, the ROI and customer feedback and perception will justify the added cost (c’mon, we sell VoIP – it’s the same argument here :) 
    4. Training: Speech analytics is becoming a big demand only because management is unable to detect how agents actually behave today. Companies are willing to spend a ton of money on analytics just to be able to detect when their agent said something rude to a customer. They already train and want their agents to “behave”. 5. Acceptance: Hello and welcome to the facebook/youtube age!! That generation is already grown up and here…SMS is old, video messaging is in now. This generation is dying to get their face on any camera, for any duration .

    Also, video does not have to be two way. Finally, think about this: you call your travel agent to settle an outstanding bill. While you wait to be connected to your agent, one of the following can happen:

    1. You hear their hold music which promotes their new cruiseline or golf trip. You can press 1 if you want to hear more about it.
    2. You “see” their hold music which promotes their new cruiseline or golf trip. You can click if you want to see where that beautiful model takes you next. Are you more likely to press one, or click on the beautiful model? As the saying goes…”You have to see it to buy it”!!

    In 2 years, video will not be present/needed in every contact center, but it will have enough presence and demand for all to sit up and take notice.

  • Ross Daniels
    Hi Tim. Thanks for the post. Since I am the "Cisco counterpart" on the Voicecon panel you referred to, I thought I should comment. My view on the "agent talking head" style of video that your post largely discusses is not that different from mine. I agree that many agents and many customers will not want to show their face as a regular part of interaction.

    My point on video as a care channel was three-fold.

    1. that agents can use video knowledge bases to get an answer for a customer while on a standard phone call. That is difficult given most tools today, but some suppliers (like Cisco) have introduced solutions that make it easy for an agent to search videos to find the exact spot where the answer lies.
    2. that agents could share canned videos as an answer to a customer question. Videos could be streamed to the customer or sent as an email. This would have to be done with corporate information security/policy in place. 
    3. that **inbound** video would need to be something for contact center professionals to take into account sooner than later. Consider this: there are 20 hours of video uploaded to YouTube each minute (info from a recent Frost & Sullivan presentation). Consumers (especially the next generation of consumer) are very comfortable with video capture and post. Video-enabled smartphones and devices like the Flip camera make it easy to capture video. Consumers (i.e. customers) will want to send video that they’ve captured to the contact center for certain customer support scenarios. Some top of mind examples might include insurance claims, technical support, or repair/maintenance. I contend that contact centers need to begin thinking about how they will handle inbound video now so that they will be ready to deal with it once it begins.

    I think that we have not heard the last of video as a contact channel. But we need the industry to think of video for useful care applications, not just "agent talking heads."

  • Nancy Jamison
    (Copied from the CRMXchange CRM And Contact Center Discussion Group on LinkedIn)
    Awesome blog. I agree with all your points. For now it will be niche. One of the niches you missed was push video from agents to customers to educate, or help them with a service problem, for example.
  • Mark Weingarten
    (Copied from the CRMXchange CRM And Contact Center Discussion Group on LinkedIn)
    You make great points but for high level customer service it is very much possible. Not quite ready for the consumer yet but B2B I think we are ready to rock and roll…
  • Interesting thought, Mark. I’m interested in knowing your thoughts on:
    1. The B2B applications that you see
    2. Just how mainstream you think video will be in the B2B market based on those applications
  • Ritu,
    Thanks for the great comments!

    But, based on your post, I think that there are several differences in where you are seeing demand for video and I don’t. I agree that there are certainly several very good applications of video in the contact center from both an inbound and outbound perspective that you point out:

      • INBOUND: Repair. You are right, it is very helpful to be able to see the customer’s side of the item needing to be repaired (computer, car, phone, service center technician, etc.).
      • OUTBOUND: Again, good example of a travel agency using outbound to promote travel packages. Or a food company pushing video of recipes. Or a ticket company pushing video of its upcoming concerts, sporting events, or the "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday" supercross event.

    However, these aren’t mainstream apps that people use or need on a regular basis. Video simply isn’t needed in the large majority of conversations that occur in the contact center.

    For example, applying for a life insurance policy doesn’t need video. Checking on billing descrepencies with your doctor, dentist, service technician, telephone or cable company, cellphone provider, etc. – doesn’t need video. Collections and telemarketing companies don’t need video and the people receiving those calls especially do not want video!

    My point is that while there may be some very good uses for video, the mainstream contact center audience doesn’t need them and for many of the reasons outlined in my original post, won’t be deploying them anytime in the near future.

  • Ross! Thanks for taking a moment to respond to the blog.

    Your points are well made and I see where you are coming from.

    And I agree that the communcations industry should certainly start the process of helping our customers create useful care applications surrounding video – you and Ritu point out some very good ones.

    However, I’d like to hear your thoughts on this:

    Do you think video will be adopted within the mainstream contact centers within the next 2-3 years?

    I think that it will be much longer, if at all, simply for the points that I made in my response to Ritu above. Video just isn’t necessary in the majority of interactions handled by the contact center. Additionally, I think that social media interactions will permeate the mainstream contact center long before video does.

  • Peggy Carlaw
    (Copied from the Contact & Call Centers discussion group on LinkedIn)
    As someone who has spent a lot of time in contact centers over the years, I would say that video might have a place, but would certainly not be mainstream.

    One of the great things about contact centers is that they provide a wonderful place for people to work, contribute, and grow who might be excellent employees, but not ones that you would want to put in a face-to-face situation with your client. Think green mohawk surrounded by multi-colored tattoos and multiple face piercings, for example. To avoid being politically incorrect, I’ll leave you with just that one image. If these folks fit in with your corporate branding strategy, then video might be appropriate. If not, use it judiciously.

  • Richard McLaughlin
    (Copied from the Contact and Call Centers discussion group on LinkedIn)
    In 1995 I set up video in 2 unrelated call centers that one gent owned. The most interesting was a DIY chain that wanted to have the possibility of people showing our technicians what their issue was. Our techs were carpenters, gardeners, electricians and a dozen other specialties. We bought up some old PacMan machines and build our PC’s into the box, added a touch screen and it worked wonderfully. ¨People would bring in leaves from a sick tree and find out what was wrong – very cool solution.

    The second center was the tech support for the largest reseller of PC’s in France. We had video to show people how to connect what, where. We took remote control of distant PC’s and we did a set of multicast trainings. All very cool, and that was back in 95. With the bandwidth and technology that exists today I could do wonders.

  • Ross Daniels
    Tim, you asked: Do you think video will be adopted within the mainstream contact centers within the next 2-3 years?

    If by mainstream you mean "talking heads" (either agent or caller or both), then no. I agree that the use case for talking heads just isn’t there for mainstream applications (and you listed a number of good ones). For high end financial transactions or other specialty interactions, video will be appropriate and useful (and will have a positive ROI).

    However, I do believe that inbound video will have sufficient traction in 2-3 years that we need to be talking about it now. As you well know, new things take time to be adopted by contact centers (just take a look at the number of CC’s that don’t have screen pops today!). So, we won’t see video attached to every inbound contact, but we’ll see it enough in 2-3 years that CC technology and business owners should begin thinking about how they would handle it. The timeframe for certain vertical industries is probably 1-2 years (think insurance claims/adjusting).

    To answer your other question, yes, I think that social media interactions will be more prevalent and will happen sooner than video. I also think that social media interactions will include video a meaningful amount of the time; there are now 415,000 video uploads per day on Facebook (source: http://newteevee.com/2009/03/29/facebook-40-of-videos-are-webcam-uploads/).

    Thanks again for the dialogue.

  • Isiah Waller
    (Copied from the CRMXchange CRM And Contact Center Discussion Group from LinkedIn)
    We have five branches for our courthouse, and the idea is in the future to have a central Domestic Violence processing center in one branch and a video conference room in each of the other branches where customer can file petitions instead of having to travel after dealing such a stressful encounter. In this case they deal face to face, looks is a zero factor in government.
  • Larry Voight
    This conversation is very insightfull:

    Interactive Intelligence: We don’t sell video, so video is unecessary.

    Cisco: We sell video, and it is necessary.

    Here’s an idea – offer the option and let the customer choose. The lack of video is a weakness in Interactive Intelligence’s platform. This doesn’t go away because you say I don’t need it.

  • Phyllis Blavier
    (Copied from the Worldwide Contact Center Professionals discussion group on LinkedIn)
    I believe it would be an invasion of privacy at the least. Who would monitor the video? With progams available to monitor phone calls and the cost to install & hire staff to monitor the video would be costly. I’m not a big fan
  • Greg Copeland
    (Copied from the Worldwide Contact Center Professionals discussion group on LinkedIn)
    I was involved with the fist ACD that Rockwell produced. Voice was king now we have e-mail and chat. Video will become a part of the contact center but we need an application to drive it home. The technology is there. It’s the old supply and demand. We have the supply but no demand yet. That killer app is coming when? Who knows!
  • Joseph Camilleri
    (Copied from the Worldwide Contact Center Professionals discussion group on LinkedIn)
    I agree that in the mainstream call center culture video is not practical. There are, however, certain troubleshooting functions where video would be an advantage. An elderly lady or gentleman just received a cell phone as a gift. After troubleshooting for 15 minutes you discover that the power button has not yet been depressed…just one of many examples.
  • Ranjit Mathew
    (Copied from the Worldwide Contact Center Professionals discussion group on LinkedIn)
    Video in a mainstream call center is not going to be pratical in my view. Most Call centers are highly restricted environments where employees from other departments within the organisation dont have access. Dress codes and personal grooming are not enforced in most contact centers today and video will have to ensure that this is enforced which will increase costs. Now on a callers perspective; would he care if there was a video option when he was in the bedroom with his wife while making a call to check on a hotel or flight availabilty….?? Video at the best could be an extension of the traditional receptionist who you may want to contact to patch you through.
  • Mike Bellissemo
    (Copied from the Worldwide Contact Center Professionals discussion group on LinkedIn)
    Tim, I would have to agree with your view. Let’s face it, more and more contact centers for major US Corp. are being moved to India and the Philippines. I cannot imagine those organizations spending the money to deploy video streaming over a VPN network. Too risky. Besides I could care less what Sonya looks like. I just want her to be able to address my issue.
  • Alexander Ivanov
    (Copied from the Interactive Intelligence, Inc. discussion group from LinkedIn)
    Tim, I am totally agree with you! So far video-calling is not catching up. Europe providers were trying to push this kind of service first on BRA ISDN and then on Mobile GSM networks without much success so far. It is interesting that Mobile Video Call got "Fiasco Awards 2010" http://tinyurl.com/yfsvyur . You brought Video Calling from Call Center prospective, but user prospective is also important. I, as a customer, don’t want to be seen when I call to Customer Care of whatever company, and I usually make such calls using cell phone that does not have video call feature. I am sure most people don’t see benefit of being seen by CC rep but opposite. Customers are also not comfortable being in the video, exposing body language and surroundings. And why would someone hold mobile device with video call ability (which is not present on the market at this point) just so CC agent can see them while person buying something, having dispute about credit card charges, trying to troubleshoot some gadget?
  • Cameron Turner
    (Copied from the Contact Center Operations & Management discussion group on LinkedIn)
    Hi Tim,

    Just read your article and I also have to disagree with most of your points.

    Firstly, Corporate Image – before call centres and the internet, people used to go into shops to do business with real people. Their beauty was less important than their need to look presentable and provide good service. If you went into any bank, post-office, chemist, newsagency, gas station et al today you would also find staff working there are not fit for America’s Top Model.

    Secondly, Cost – You could actually set this up now for about 30 quid per person. The other costs you mention from things like looking good and training staff not to roll their eyes, I think are misleading as again, staff have been in front of customers before now. These issues are not new to business.

    Thirdly, – Distributed workforce – virtual or remote agents (working from home) do not have a very high penetration rate in the contact centre marketplace. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of contact centres still work from central offices. Having said that, a green screen/fake corporate backdrop would potentially overcome this.

    Lastly, – Acceptance – I agree with this point but not for the reason you state. Video calls have not really taken off anywhere. I think the main reason is a lack of bandwidth. Video calls take up too much data at the moment. When I video call someone, the picture is constantly degrading and pixilating. It’s not a good experience. But when bandwidth significantly increases and video data is better compressed to the point where a video call is like a real time High Def experience, people will use it.

    Face to face, personal service from the comfort of my own home or office? I think it will almost cetainly happen. But perhaps not for another 15 – 20 years.

  • Conducting trainings are very important in order to sharpen the skills of the employees. It doesn’t mean you are wasting your money and time, but you are actually investing in your people as well. I think that this is an ideal one.
  • I don’t think video in the contact center will improve costumer experience and satisfaction. Yes at some point it could help agents to do more and be better with their work, but the negative impact of having this “video thing” out weight whatever good factors it may have.

    First. Racial Discrimination will be the first problem to arise from both ends. You see, majority of offshore contact centers are from third world countries which majority are racially discriminated- and it’s not a good thing for costumer service agents and similar to all customer who will be put on the shoes of being discriminated.

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