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…

Costs
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.

Acceptance
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