Posted by Jeff Valentine

Most of us form a mental image of a contact center when we hear someone utter that phrase. For me, it brings to mind rows and rows of tiny cubicles, bored employees sitting on headsets, staring at a 15" CRT computer screen from 1996, trying hard not to sound like they hate their job. I know that there are call centers like this, and when you call your airline, bank, or favorite consumer products feedback line, you're probably talking to one. But as a result of working directly with small and medium size businesses over the last few years, I've come to form a new image of contact centers in my mind, and it's not nearly so bleak. In fact, in my opinion, the crappy contact center of yesterday has been dwarfed by the emergence of a new type of contact center, and nearly every SMB has one: today, it's all about casual contact center. I'll explain.

In the casual contact center, almost every employee is actually a contact center agent in disguise, and they don't even realize it. For example, when a call comes in for customer service in a company with a casual contact center, a group of employees that sits at normal-size desks, some of them in real offices with doors and windows and natural sunlight, will stop working in Microsoft Outlook, and take a phone call on a real phone without a headset or anything. Imagine that! And a sales person, who typically spends a lot of time on the phone anyway, will become an agent in a "new sales" queue when callers press that option on the company's auto-attendant menu, while the rest of the time they're making calls, visiting customers, and closing business. These folks wouldn't consider themselves "agents", they're not paid like agents, and they don't spend all day, every day taking calls from ACD queues. In the casual contact center, that company's calls can be used in coaching sessions with their managers, their call stats can be used in business intelligence reports, and their customers can reach experienced, high quality knowledge workers instead of unmotivated and under-paid dedicated agents.

Building a casual contact center within your existing business doesn't have to take a lot of effort. In fact, if you're already a Fonality customer, you can do it today, because the Fonality system includes contact center functionality that lets anyone become an agent. If you're not, consider upgrading to a phone system or service that includes full contact center functionality without charging excessive additional per-user rates, so that your "normal" users can start acting like agents - the good kind - without crazy costs.