Voice Is Still King – Multimedia In The Contact Center

October, 2013

There is no denying that multimedia has a place in the contact center. But when the dust settles, voice will still be king for many types of interaction, where only a 1-to-1 conversation will do the job.

Utilisation of multiple media channels (voice, chat, social media, email, SMS, etc), a.k.a multimedia, in the contact center is a hot topic right now. There is no denying each has a place. But when the dust settles, voice will still be king for many types of interaction, where only a 1-to-1 conversation will do the job, e.g. sales, collections, research validation, any situation where the interaction must be high quality/ high value, or where excellent service is required.

Why does voice do a better job in these circumstances?

Let’s look at the various possible components of communication and consider what they provide.

  • Words used
    The basic building blocks of meaning
  • Identity
    Knowing who you are talking to builds trust and increases confidence that meaning will be correctly interpreted
  • Interaction speed
    The closer the interaction gets to real-time, the more nuance/ give-and-take can occur
  • Tone of voice/ inflection
    The way in which words are delivered can dramatically alter their meaning. Intonation aids correct understanding.
  • Facial expression
    Adds confirmation of the other person’s understanding, and pointers to intended meaning. Why are soldiers on foreign soil encouraged to remove sunglasses when talking to locals? Because seeing the whites of the eye increases trust and improves communication.
  • Body language
    Adds nuance to meaning, often subconsciously.

The table below shows which of these components are available for each of our most common communication methods.

Words used


Interaction speed

Tone of voice/ inflection

Facial expression

Body language

Face-to-face, in person N N N N N N
Video chat/ Skype N N N N N
Phone call N N N N
Web chat/ instant message/ Facebook N N N
Email N N
Web form N
The only method with all these components is face-to-face communication. Sales people the world over have understood its value for millennia. It’s the second most basic human interaction(!). It conveys not just words but emotion, intonation, body language, give & take, affinity/ rapport. And, with the exception of video (see below), it’s out of the question for the contact center.

Video chat is the next best thing to face-to-face interaction, and covers most of the bases. (There are significant technical challenges to this, so it’s not widely used in the contact center. Coming soon!)

A phone call still contains most of the components. For this reason, it is still far and away the most prevalent form of communication in contact centers worldwide.

As we move down the table, we see that the fewer components are available, the harder it is to communicate successfully, especially emotion, and the more effort must be made to build trust and convey the right meaning.

In practice, there is no substitute for understanding how your customers respond to all kinds of contact and then tailor your communications accordingly.

Voice will remain the best available method…

  • in those circumstances where trust, confidence, understanding and familiarity are important
  • in the private sector, where customers are free to shop around. High quality interaction is very important and using media channels other than live voice to serve them always needs an element of care

Of course, there are many areas where other methods are appropriate:

  • Most notably in the public service sector. It’s not that customers don’t matter, but they are usually locked in. If they can be catered for without human intervention, there can be a clear case for using other media channels, especially when budgets are under pressure
  • And back in the private sector, some customers really don’t wish to be spoken to. They will stay loyal on the basis that you do contact them via SMS, email and social networks

So despite the buzz over multimedia , don’t think that voice communication is going to die off any time soon.

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