By Howard Lee
The year 2013 brought a plethora of changes to the contact center world: the quiet but insistent adoption of SIP over TDM, a grudging acceptance of cloud technology, much chatter about big data, and ongoing concerns about improving the customer experience. As the new year begins, it’s time for industry folks to sit back and reflect on the trends we’ve seen emerge over the last twelve months and speculate on what the future holds for the call center.
What do we see on the horizon? I’ve identified five key trends that represent both an extension of current trends plus a few new phenomena rearing their heads.
Trend #1: The Multi-Channel Contact Center Comes of Age: In 2014, call centers will continue to improve the customer experience by providing consistency and transparency across mobile, Internet, chat, and phone channels. Multi-channel contact centers have been on the rise for the last few years, and 2014 will be the year they come of age.
In the midst of today’s digital disruption, consumers are increasingly turning to social, mobile, and the Internet to communicate with brands, often before they pick up the phone. In fact, a recent study by Dimension Data found that Generation Y (also known as Millennials) turn to electronic messaging, social media, and smartphone applications long before the telephone to solve customer service issues. Forrester Research reported that 33 percent of consumers prefer online customer service to calling a live person.
Empowering consumers to use the channels of their choice will be the corner stone of successful customer service strategy in 2014. This also presents the biggest challenge to today’s call centers: integrating customer interactions across all channels for a consistently positive experience. Next year, contact centers will hear the voice of the customer loud and clear, regardless of the channel.
Trend #2: The Work from Home Shakeout: Working from home will continue to be a battleground for enterprise. However, call centers will increasingly embrace this approach for its efficiency, flexibility, and quality benefits.
The phenomenon of customer service agents working from home made headlines in 2013. The year started with Marissa Mayer’s controversial February announcement prohibiting Yahoo! employees from working remotely, which squared off against a spring Earth Day promotion highlighting a study showing the positive environmental effects of allowing employees to work from home.
For many organizations – and for call centers in particular – the remote workforce model offers irresistible benefits. The work-from-home model allows organizations to focus on cost efficiencies and the core competencies of good customer service and employee retention. In addition to avoiding huge capital expenditure costs, companies embracing the remote agent model are able to expand their talent base far beyond geographical limitations and enjoy higher levels of productivity as well as increased retention rates for remote agents.
Trend #3: The Death of the Call Center ACD: The slow demise of hardware-based, on-premise ACDs will continue to progress as call centers modernize their operations through software-based approaches. Two developments are contributing to the timely demise of the hardware-based, on-premise ACD.
First, the cloud trend continues to convince the C-suite that huge capital expenses and on-premise equipment are no longer necessary to ensure privacy and security. In fact, many cloud programs offer more reliability and redundancy than on-premise solutions have traditionally provided.
Second, hardware in general is becoming increasingly commoditized, which is leading to the prevalence of white-labeled servers and commodity hardware. That is, rather than purchasing costly brand-specific ACD hardware, simple ACD softswitch programs are being designed to run on inexpensive, out-of-the-box or commodity hardware. Propriety hardware is on the decline, and these commodity hardware boxes that can run any type of software ACD programs are on the rise.
Trend #4: The Real-Time Consumer Requires Real-Time Service: Contact centers will increasingly emphasize real-time analysis and intervention to improve customer transactions as they happen. The real-time service trend is still in its infancy, with most call centers still using reporting and analytics tools of the past. Many call centers still operate on daily, or at best hourly, roll-ups of performance metrics with zero actionable information on what is happening in real time. Meanwhile, customers are leaving brands after as little as a single bad customer service call that might have been saved through real-time analytics.
Supporting this nascent trend are the decreasing costs of real-time technologies and the increasing quality and availability of real-time analytics. Companies are also beginning to see the advantages of real-time quality reporting and the actionability of key real-time data to improve the customer experience.
Trend #5: Big Data Drives Action, Not Just Insight: Contact centers will finally see an increase in the bottom line thanks to big data moving the needle for both customer insights and real actionability. Historically, agent productivity data has been the primary metric for evaluation contact center performance, all of which were typically measured after call completion. However, with the advent of new technologies, enterprise call centers are beginning to embrace new analytics tools to improve operations and empower agents to enhance the customer experience.
In particular, we are seeing an increase in the adoption of speech analytics and social listening technologies to help agents uncover and analyze consumer context and sentiment in real time, both of which enable agile agent response and more effective customer service. We’ll see a shift in the primary use of big data in the contact center from dependence on post-call analytics to tools and metrics that provide real time data to affect outcomes of live calls.
For those focused on improving the customer experience, it’s easy to say that we live in an exciting age of customer service. In 2014, technological innovations will not only change the way agents take calls and the way contact centers measure success, they will ultimately have a profound effect on the customer experience.
Howard Lee is the CEO of Spoken, a provider of an Avaya-based cloud platform for contact centers.
[From Connection Magazine – Jan/Feb 2014]