In the realm of contact centers, technology trends are moving at a lightning-fast pace. What was innovative five years ago has become undeniably outdated and inefficient. There also has been significant upheaval within the contact center industry. For some vendors, strategic acquisitions have jumpstarted innovation, particularly in cloud technology, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Others are struggling with financial uncertainty and lag in their ability to keep up with rapidly evolving customer expectations. This makes it challenging to stay abreast of the latest and greatest solutions and strategies driving today’s and tomorrow’s customer experience. To help you prepare for what’s ahead in 2018, we’ve created a list of five contact center technology (CCT) trends to prepare for.
1. Continued Migration to the Cloud
The ongoing shift to cloud technology will continue and expand. Many businesses now face the reality that their on-premise, voice-centric contact center system limits their ability to operate from multiple locations and manage many communication channels. With customers expecting seamless journeys across digital and voice channels, businesses that continue to stick with an outdated legacy system with siloed channels risk falling behind the competition and increasing customer churn.
Cloud-based contact center solutions also provide businesses of all sizes with greater access to advanced solutions that were once only available to large-scale enterprises. In other words, the big players that once leveraged their abilities to offer a higher level of service than their smaller competitors will see greater competition in 2018.
Of course, not all businesses are ready to give up all of their on-premise technology. Many still have years of life left on their legacy contact center systems. Thus, there’s growing interest in enhancing outdated, voice-centric systems with adjunct cloud-based solutions. And some contact center solution providers are actively promoting this option as an alternative to a more aggressive rip-and-replace approach. With the deployment of a cloud-based platform that sits alongside existing infrastructure, digital and self-service solutions can be added to complement existing technology. Then, when the timing is right to migrate completely to the cloud, the platform is already in place, minimizing disruption and reducing deployment costs.
2. Ongoing Breakdown of Channel and Data Silos
In 2017, the word omnichannel became ubiquitous. In 2018, it’s no longer about just identifying the need to offer an omnichannel customer experience; it’s about making it happen. Businesses of all sizes realize that it’s not enough to offer multichannel service simply. It has become a hindrance to fulfilling today’s customer wants and needs. Customers expect seamless, contextual interactions. To make this happen, silos must be broken down between support, customer service, and billing, as well as between the growing number of self-service and assisted-service channels now in play.
The customer journey increasingly needs to be looked at from a holistic standpoint. This is no simple feat. Integrating disparate solutions and channels can be a lengthy, complex process, and with the addition of every new database or channel, the system’s complexity only increases. The next step is not to tackle these challenges individually but address them all at once. By marrying them with the right technology, businesses can optimize their contact center and significantly improve their customer experience. This is becoming even more important as innovations and applications gain ground. All data needs to be aggregated to provide the holistic experience that customers expect.
3. Increasing Reliance on IVR
IVR has long been a primary channel for contact centers. Yet, it has become more beneficial with recent innovations. For example, IVR systems can now identify customers based on caller ID, which reduces identification steps, lowering the cost of each interaction and improving NPS scores due to greater efficiency. There is also greater personalization to steer calls based on the context of what is known about the call or caller. The result is a greater number of interactions being successfully resolved in the IVR.
In 2018, there will also be greater use of speech recognition and AI technology within IVR applications. Speech recognition will be leveraged to do much more than just biometric logins. Rather, the future is an IVR with speech recognition capabilities that can understand what the caller is saying and even detect their stress level. Thus, if there was an emergency or other critical situation, the call could be routed to an agent specifically trained to handle certain types of customers. However, to maximize the effectiveness of these advancements, speech recognition needs to do more than just pick up swear words. Rather, it needs to understand more subtle clues when a customer is dissatisfied or when an interaction escalates.
Because IVR also collects information about a customer’s needs, it has focused more on routing. Traditional queue-based routing has become a hindrance to meeting today’s customer expectations and is increasingly being replaced by intelligent, skills-based routing. Information gathered within the IVR, as well as from other channels, can now be used to direct calls to the most appropriate agent. With interaction history and context, calls can be more efficiently routed and handled. Calls also can be prioritized based on value. When high-value customers call, the IVR can route them to the agent who is most qualified to address their specific needs. If there isn’t an available agent, high-value customers can be directed to the front of the queue to ensure they consistently receive a quality experience.
4. Transforming Agents into Profit Centers
Businesses continue to seek out technology that enables them to reduce agent headcount. Yet, the goal is shifting away from getting rid of agents but, instead, turning them into profit centers. With improved self-service and the proliferation of AI and chatbots, routine and fewer complex calls can be completed without the assistance of an agent. As the number of interactions resolved on self-service channels increases, agents will need to be more than just a stopping point toward supervisory or management assistance.
The increased use of self-service has led to customers choosing to speak with an agent only when they have a complex issue or a complaint. This requires agents to have the right training and tools to handle these calls, as well as the authority to resolve issues quickly and effectively. Yet, if agents only handle problems, they are considered cost centers and not profit centers. Forward-thinking customer experience leaders understand the benefit of cross-training agents to handle other aspects of the business, with the ultimate goal of giving them the ability to be a valuable, early component of the sales engagement rather than just the last stop in the customer journey. This may shift towards a smaller but better-trained team of knowledge-level workers within the contact center instead of entry-level agents.
Because the shift towards self-service has been so rapid, many businesses have been caught off-guard and face staffing challenges. An integrated workforce optimization solution is particularly beneficial to understanding changing hiring, training, and scheduling needs as customer expectations continue to evolve. As well, leveraging a contact center recording solution to capture conversation data can help understand when and why customers are moving to the voice channel and how to best address their specific issues, and leverage opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling.
5. More Effective Use of Chat Bots and Artificial Intelligence
Live chatbots were one of the hottest topics of 2017, and the buzz continues because of their increasing capabilities and potential. Innovative businesses are already using chatbots, but how they are being used is still in flux. How much can a business rely on a chatbot to close a deal? Is this technology best used as a filter to send only customers that have the highest potential through to highly-trained sales agents? Many questions and uncertainties remain.
The analytics around measuring performance will have to be adapted now that chatbots are used for first-line interactions. Businesses need to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and when it makes sense to hand off a customer to a live agent. It’s not just about adopting new technology; it’s also about leveraging the right tools to test it out and measure the outcome. A/B testing that has long been used for digital marketing has become beneficial for optimizing chatbots and will likely be relied upon as new technologies on the horizon are introduced.
It’s a fast-moving, exciting time for those following contact center technology and customer experience trends. Over the last five years, there’s been a tremendous shift from voice-centric call centers to omnichannel customer experience centers with many new channels and applications. Those who can stay on top of these changes and leverage them to their specific business and customer needs will find the greatest success.
Adaptability, flexibility, and the desire to continuously improve service are fundamental as the race toward customer-centricity continues.