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Cloud, AI, Other New Technologies Push the Contact Center Forward

Wednesday Mar 28th 2018 by Carl Weinschenk

Omnichannel contact centers will continue to change. It also is likely that new players, some with familiar names, will emerge.

The impact of changes in recent years to call centers is so deep that even the name has changed. "Now it is identified as the omnichannel contact center," said Michael Finneran, the principal of dBrn Associates. "This basically means that any way that a customer wants to talk to you is handled in one place."

Statista offers interesting insights into the use of omnichannel contact centers and the drivers of their growth. What comes through is that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction. Property and casualty insurance companies (with a satisfaction level of 75 out of 100 in 2017 and 70 out of 100 in 2016) and banks and credit unions (75/74) scored the highest in customer satisfaction during the past two years. The other four industries tracked are retail (67/66), cell phone services (63/65), health insurance (67/64) and cable and satellite television (64/61).

The bottom line is that the technology may not yet be able to satisfy extravagant expectations. "It still is lacking in one main area: The ability to integrate all those channels at the agent's end," Finneran said. "If a customer texted me and then calls me on the phone, the contact center person should be able to see the text. That is not nearly where it should be. Starting on one platform and [seamlessly moving to another] with 100 percent reliability is not an easy job."

Change Is the One Constant

Clearly, contact centers must change. And, due to the technologies that are emerging, they are.

"As things have progressed with the web and mobility, customers now like to use other modes as well, such as email, web chat, mobile messaging (MMS/SMS), even video and social media," wrote Jon Arnold, the principal of J Arnold & Associates in response to emailed questions. "That takes us to the 'multichannel' world of today, where contact centers must be able to support a variety of modes based on customer preference…Not only must agents be able to interact across a range of communications channels, increasingly they must be able to use more than one at the same time, or during the same session with the customer (now we're talking about multi-tasking as well!)."

A key to increasing end-user satisfaction and dealing with these changes is leveraging the cloud. The ability to support mobile users from the highly decentralized and in some cases nearly ubiquitous cloud fits perfectly with the flexibility needed to serve increasingly mobile customers with whatever they need.

"The cloud is having a huge impact on our sector," wrote Bruce Belfiore, the senior research executive and CEO of BenchmarkPortal. "As senior operations people get more comfortable with the security capabilities of cloud-based systems, the urge to migrate to cloud becomes decisive. The cloud offers lower costs compared with premise-based systems. Unless and until there is a major disruptive event for cloud systems, the move toward the cloud will continue."

The cloud is disruptive, and its impact is just beginning to be felt. "Cloud is enabling rapid rollout of new features," wrote Irwin Lazar, the vice president and service director of Nemertes Research. "Those who have moved their CCTR platforms to the cloud will be much more quickly able to take advantage of emerging AI-driven analytics, chat bots, team collaboration apps, call routing optimization, and workforce optimization.  Cloud has also introduced a great deal of flexibility, especially for companies who scale contact centers up and down based on seasonal or other factors."

Contact Centers Are Not Point Products

The fast moving nature of omnichannel contact centers raises the important issue of how companies considering these diverse and often confusing platforms should go about that search.

Arnold counsels that organizations not look at contact centers as standalone entities, such as phone systems. Instead, these are platforms that must integrate with many other corporate systems. "You're really buying a platform that can support multimedia channels, but one that also must integrate deeply with other applications in the business. The main one, of course, is CRM, which provides customer information, but to really support customers, you need to be able to tie that into your internal processes and systems so problems can be fully resolved."

Lazar suggests taking a proactive stance toward finding the best contact center fit. "Don't sit still," he wrote. "This is a rapidly developing market, and one that is also consolidating as we've seen with recent acquisitions by Cisco, Genesys, and Avaya.  Plan now for cloud, and start to plan for emerging technology like AI and IoT."

Organizations must be aware of the next set of changes that will build upon legacy tools and the cloud. The troika of emerging telecom and IT tools will feature the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data. Mountains of data will be collected, sifted through, and spun into an action plan – all while the agent is on the phone helping the contact. The agent may be informed by this array of hardware and software precisely what is bothering the caller and the solution to that issue before the caller even knows. Likewise, the system may tell the customer, through the contact agent, what product he or she wants to buy before that person is aware of it.

That's the bright, shiny – and attainable – future. In the meantime, normal planning for upgrades and retrofits must be undertaken. Belfiore wrote that companies should conduct "a comprehensive assessment of their current situation, involving their corporate strategy, their contact center mission, their current competitive position (through a full benchmark of metrics), and the current state of customer satisfaction. They should know their customer 'personas' in detail."

“The next step is to determine precisely what the organization needs, what it should do, and what metrics it should measure. The roadmap of getting from plan to finished platform should include a financial analysis of the technology and the necessary hiring, training and process steps will need to be taken."

The sense is that omnichannel contact centers will continue to change. It also is likely that new players – some with familiar names – will emerge. "As the game moves toward personalization of customer contact using Big Data, AI and machine learning, it is inevitable that big name companies such as Facebook and Amazon will be involved in some way," Belfiore wrote. "It will be fascinating to see exactly how things evolve. Don't expect things to move too quickly. There is a fair amount of inertia in our sector. However, change is happening and will continue."

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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