How to Build and Manage a Cost-Effective, Flexible, and Scalable Retail Contact Center

The warmth of an agent’s greeting. The assurance of a concise SMS. The micro-content on a web form. The customer experience is everywhere. Get every element right, and you’ll capture the customer’s heart forever.

47% of customers would take their business to a competitor within one day of experiencing poor customer service, and 79% would do the same within a week 24/7

What’s missing from this picture? The practicalities of implementation. Too many solutions in the space seem starry-eyed about future possibilities—without a thought for the IT professional charged with making it real.

In the real world, downtime isn’t an option. Nor is rip-and-replace. Or the downwards dip in CSAT scores when your time-to-answer increases from two rings to ten.

That means the job of keeping the contact center flexible, scalable and on a budget starts with the IT team. It’s about resource allocation, cost control, maintenance hours and integration complexity.

So here’s a thought: if you’re building and managing a retail contact center,  why not look at those practical issues first?

In this blog post, we’ll explore an approach that works. Not just about the potential of unified customer service, but how your IT team can realize that potential .… by planning for principles, not pain.

1. Peak time panic: when service matters most for retailers

People who aren’t call-center-savvy ask why peak times matter since they’re such a small part of the day. Of course, that’s the whole point. In peak periods, more customers are experiencing your brand. In many sectors, 80% of calls come in during just two hours of the day.

There’s more. Almost by definition, these are the customers with most at stake — interested in getting the best result in the least time. People with other things to do; people who’ll appreciate two-ring answers and first-call resolutions (FCR) most. That’s why the first principle of any retail contact center should be to assess how you perform at the most demanding times — with scalability.

One way of doing it is to explore Contact Center as a Service or CCaaS. Using your in-house resources, burst capacity from outside, and/or a combination of both, the number of available agents can expand and shrink to match your busy and slack periods. This helps solve scalability both for peak times today and business growth in the years ahead.

Call it Principle #1: to ensure scalability, think SaaS from the start. Adding only the resources you need keeps your costs under control, too.

2. All-in-one vs plays-well-with others: a tricky balancing act

Many contact center applications offer a turnkey solution covering multiple business functions — and many work well. But just as many fail to understand how deep your legacy structures go. That customer database, that customer relationship management (CRM) application, that order entry system dating back a decade — all of them reflect deeply-embedded business processes that are your company’s entire competitive advantage. And they can’t just be thrown in the garbage.

Generation Y prefers social media to any other channel, yet 60% of contact centers have no social media capabilities Dimension Data

So Principle #2 is another practical one: look for balance in how your technology choices work as a single source and as part of an integrated stack. A click-to-install SaaS is great: fast and easy to set up with scalability built into the cloud. But if your databases and legacy apps aren’t negotiable, look for a sound developer API that lets you connect them seamlessly.

You’re not just looking for integration with a set of partners or vendors, but names both large and niche. Because scalable solutions mean thinking about what the future holds. You don’t know what big-name CRM your next acquisition might hold its customer data on, so you want the ability to work with custom apps as well as off-the-shelf packages.

The convenience of turnkey SaaS is great; so is the flexibility of third-party integration. In your strategy, make room for both.

3. Rip-and-replace? Not in this contact center

It’s a fact of life that many contact centers use a cocktail of technologies, introduced at different times to answer different needs. Perhaps unavoidable — but there are right and wrong ways to deal with it. If a new solution will add further complexity rather than eliminate some, tread carefully.

You’re looking for solutions that actively reduce the number of necessary platforms — and connect those that remain more effectively. If an agent has to triple-jump between screens or apps to answer a customer query, look to remove a screen rather than add another. If a new business requirement arises, see if it can be answered by connecting existing data rather than adopting a new app.

That’s Principle #3: connect in ways that simplify. It may mean sidelining an app or interface while continuing to use the database behind it. Or integrating two data sources on a single agent screen. Whatever works — but keep the principle in mind to save headaches later.

4. Factor in maintenance tomorrow as a cost today

Count the hours. In five decades of business computing, one metric stays stubbornly high: the amount of time the IT professional spends just keeping the plates spinning. And your schedule is probably no exception.

So Principle #4: start with an idea of the hours needed for ongoing upkeep, before any solution gets rolled out. Sometimes, a rough back-of-envelope estimate can be surprisingly accurate.

Many business models don’t even take future upkeep into account.

To minimize this resource vampire, list all the breaks and chokepoints where your attention gets taken up today. What’s that regular escalation scenario where the person above needs to step in? How many hand-offs does a customer suffer in common use cases? How many screens of data does an agent need to chug through? Every app you add, every process you change, needs to simplify at least one of these … without making any others more complex.

Best of all, it’s a win you can explain easily to your colleagues and managers outside the IT department: the more seamless your internal process, the better the experience for customers.

5.  Think eCommerce change management as well as eCommerce management!

The last principle on the way to a successful build is softer: have a change management mindset. (Since any IT professional’s life is constant change, you’ve got a head start.)

Change management isn’t so much about making changes as getting buy-in for them. So as Principle #5, commit to talking more to your people at the front end of customer service. What happened when that last big change rolled out: did they like it, dislike it, view its outcomes as negative? Did they think it was imposed on them, or negotiated with them? How are they really using that data source: as its architect intended, or are they doing an end-run around its requirements because the payoff for customers doesn’t make sense?

CSAs are fast becoming profit centers instead of cost centers – Voxai

The people who deal with customers one-to-one — your contact center agents — are a deep resource of customer knowledge. It’s shocking how rarely their views make it into boardroom decisions. Seamless customer service means a better experience and that starts with a seamless center team: make sure you’re taking advantage of their daily learnings.  

Start smart, and let your retail contact center shine

If there’s a common denominator to these five principles, it’s that success comes from what you do before you build out your solution.

(These principles aren’t hard, but look back over your own career — you’ll be surprised at how many times your life was made difficult by a project that missed one or more of them.)

“Effective contact center leaders must have the ability to not only envision and champion processes, but also to ensure that ensuing projects are scalable to existing resources, platforms, and products.”

The overarching point here: it’s often up to the IT professional to be that agent of change who thinks about the future. Sounds like a challenge? Well, it is. But the right principles will help you start seamless… and keep it that way.


  • Retail contact centers are a patchwork of technologies
  • New solutions need to integrate and simplify what you’ve got now
  • Customer service agents are an under-used source of information on CX
  • To reduce maintenance resource reqs, scalability is vital
  • Turnkey convenience must be balanced against integration capabilities
  • Planning for tomorrow means making decisions today

Does your contact center still rely on legacy systems?

Learn more and check out the eGuide, “3 reasons you need to build an ecosystem for customer service, not a fragile ‘frankenstack’.