How Contact Centers Need To Change In The Age Of The Cameraphone
By Mike Masnick, Thu Jan 20 02:00:00 GMT 2005

Call centers became contact centers once email entered the equation. Some people answer phones, others answer email. The next challenge may be to integrate cameraphones into the process.

The basic concept of a call center is pretty obvious. Contact center employees sit there, take calls from people and answer their questions or solve their problems. Adding email to the equation creates "contact centers" instead of call centers, but the idea is still the same. However, both of these tend to use a single mode of communication: either voice or text. Thanks to more advanced smartphones and cameraphones, people are going to start getting used to multimodal communications pretty soon. Unfortunately, most contact centers haven't prepared at all for this type of communication -- even if it could save them a lot of time and money.

Some people, however, are beginning to think about ways to redesign contact centers in the age of cameraphones. It's not hard to see how this could be very useful. As the old joke goes, in the digital age, a picture is worth 1024 words. Sometimes it's difficult to explain what's happening in words, when a picture would make it clear immediately. If you're having a problem with something, and you can add a visual aid that can be immensely helpful. This also goes two ways. If the contact center can send out graphical information back to the caller, that could save a lot of time talking.

The example used in the article is the most obvious of all: the emergency response 911 call center. People who see a crime have been known to take a photo and send it to the police, but most dispatchers aren't prepared to handle a deluge of cameraphone photos. However, it can also be useful in other kinds of emergencies. If someone doesn't know exactly where they are, a cameraphone photo of the surroundings can sometimes help almost as much as a GPS location. At the same time, if the dispatcher can respond with additional visual information that could help the caller, it could clearly save lives. Already, there are plenty of stories about "citizen journalists" photographing the news with cameraphones, but it doesn't just have to be for news organizations. Helping provide necessary information to emergency services via cameraphones can be a huge help.

However, it can be just as helpful at a more mundane level as well. Imagine how much faster some of those post-holiday "some assembly required" phone calls would go, if the caller could simply share a quick photo with the company's contact center? When products break down or even if they arrive broken, how much easier would it be to just snap a cameraphone photo of the problem and discuss it with the contact center than having to describe the issue and send it back so someone can "take a look."

Of course, all of this would require a significant change in how many contact centers are set up. Right now, most simply don't have the infrastructure in place to either receive cameraphone photos or to send them. Adding infrastructure costs probably isn't a particularly exciting idea for many contact centers -- but as cameraphones become even more common, it's going to be tough to ignore the potential to use them.