Tim Kimber at Vonage explores the future of contact centres.
If customers first call a company’s contact centre (or call centre), and then continue through chat, website, or even social, that’s completely their choice.
Contact centre agents, on the other hand, have only one choice — to be ready with insights and context, even if customers start with chats in the morning and follow up with calls at night.
What’s a busy contact centre to do?
Enjoy the read as we share industry trends and predictions plus tools and features that answer this question: What is the future of the contact centre?
New Paths to Efficiency
Everyone is busy. Just ask those involved in a contact centre. That’s because agents and customers lead a demanding existence and look to save time whenever — and wherever — they can. Contact centre managers are particularly interested in these efficiencies, which has led us to:
Contact Centre Trends
At its core, a contact centre is about an agent who can best help a customer. “Help” is the key word, as contact centres often serve as the first point of contact and can establish loyalty. And help is a central element in these contact centre or call centre industry trends.
Trend 1: The Contact Centre as the “Relationship Hub”
Contact centre agents are the first to know if something isn’t working and are poised to advise the business. Agents are the conduit between customers, sales, marketing — and even product teams. The relationships that agents build with customers are the core of customer service.
The insights are vital at every stage of business development, supplying sales and marketing with repeat purchasers and advocates, as well as an essential data point for product management and development.
- Agents can champion a feedback loop and provide insights to help sales, marketing, and product teams.
Trend 2. Customer Service Agents Have Become “Super Agents”
Customers are increasingly savvy and self-reliant. Many will first use forums and user communities to find answers. This suggests that, frequently, only more-complex problems will make it to a contact centre. Agents must be ready to tackle challenging issues and pinpoint exactly what went wrong.
Aside from excellent communication skills, they’ll need analytical problem-solving skills, strong project management — and in some cases, technical training to understand the finer details of the product or service. Agents must also adapt to changes in contact centre or call centre technology and quickly reference data in the CRM.
Also, companies are increasingly enabling their agents to reach beyond the contact centre and consult with experts throughout the business.
This helps to resolve difficult issues and drive first contact resolution. The ability to quickly find and collaborate with an available resource is embedded within the agent desktop. This truly puts the enterprise at the service of its customers.
- Generally, only more-complex problems will make it to a contact centre agent.
- Agents need a comprehensive skill set and quick thinking to fully navigate contact centre demands and deliver exceptional service.
Trend 3: Call Routing Systems Find the “Perfect Match”
Pairing customers with the right agent has always been a contact centre or call centre technology trend. In fact, intelligent call-routing is available now and its popularity will only grow.
A complex “match-making” process occurs every time a customer calls, to quickly match the customer with the right expert.
For example, routing can help deliver positive customer experiences by connecting calls to the best available agent through skills-based routing or case-owner routing.
Customers can also request a specific agent — one familiar with their issue or perhaps with a prior history. Customers incur shorter wait times, and agents with the right skill set are prioritized in the queue.
- Contact centres leverage CRM data to effectively route callers to the best-skilled agent.
- Intelligent routing optimizes the total experience through shorter wait times for customers, a prioritized call list for agents, and an increased likelihood of first contact resolution.
Trend 4: Web Chat Has Become an Increasingly Popular Customer Service Channel
Everybody wants everything, fast. Rather than wait on hold, customers engage in chat to accelerate the resolution. But there’s a new option — video chat.
Video allows contact centres to anticipate problems as customers navigate their website and ensure that the right agent pops up at the right time.
- Customers will feel a more personal connection through web or video chat.
Trend 5: Cloud-Based Contact Centres, Remote Agents, and Location-Based Services Are Here to Stay
Contact centres were ahead of the curve — even before the pandemic — as companies identified the cost savings, employee flexibility, and efficiencies gained through cloud-based, remote services.
Of course, customers have enjoyed — if not expected — similar flexibility. And location-based services can help. For instance, a customer calling a company could be automatically connected to an agent working remotely just a few miles away. The agent could even arrange to meet the customer if necessary, which could be very useful for certain sectors.
- Reduced costs, increased labor pool, and greater employee flexibility are key benefits to remote working.
- Location-based services offer localized and personalized customer service.
Trend 6: AI Blends Human and Virtual Resources
AI in contact centres already solves common concerns that don’t require human interaction. For example, AI can provide directions, give store hours, refill prescriptions, etc. This automation ultimately makes the contact centre more efficient and saves costs and valuable agent time.
This is just the start. Contact centres can further enhance the customer experience through conversational AI. A voice AI representative — with natural language understanding — can answer customers immediately, facilitate a conversation to understand their needs, and triage the next appropriate action.
If necessary, AI can leverage its intelligent, dynamic, and personalized data-driven capabilities to route the call to the best available agent.
This provides scalable and repeatable benefits to businesses, and ensures that agents are prepared to handle calls based on demand and type.
- AI can provide timely help when human interaction is not required, or during peak demand periods.
- Conversational AI can use natural language understanding to greet callers, triage, and route as needed.
Trend 7: UCaaS and CCaaS Converge Communications
An increasingly hybrid work environment, the need to connect and collaborate, and the growing focus on customer engagement are part of today’s business requirements.
Integrated, customized, embedded, and personalized solutions are essential to meet the needs of the new, modern workplace. This is where the merging of UCaaS and CCaaS technologies elevates the experience for all parties:
Access to CRM and collaboration and business apps within a single dashboard provide contact centre agents with the insights and infrastructure to do their work
The ability to add communications options — video, messaging, chat, etc. — further engages customers on their channel of choice
- The merging of UCaaS and CCaaS technologies helps companies address the needs of a hybrid workforce and engage with customers.
Contact Centre Predictions
Competition, saving time, and saving money are always top of mind. But so are happy contact centre agents and customers. Any and all strategies and predictions are tied to these mandatories.
Prediction 1: Customer Service Will Become the Key Differentiator
This is no surprise, as customers fully demand a positive experience — and they have little patience when it’s missing. In fact, the Vonage Global Customer Engagement Report 2021 lists the actions (or lack thereof) that bring customers to their loyalty breaking point — in other words, when they’re likely to stop buying from a business or using its services:
- Overall frustration, 52%: “When a frustrating experience happens repeatedly when communicating with a business or service provider”
- Communication dead ends, 46%: “When I call in and no one is available, but there are no other channels available to get help”
- Hello, human?, 46%: “When I want to speak to a human but there is no other option to connect to an operator”
- Stranded in self-help, 46%: “When I use a self-help chatbot that doesn’t solve my problem but there is no option to connect to an operator”
- Stuck in a waiting loop, 44%: “When I call in and the wait time is very long but there are no options for getting a call back”
- Sent in the wrong direction, 38%: “When I call in, select a number from the pre-recorded list of options, only to be connected to the wrong person”
- AI roundabouts, 38%: “When I have to repeat myself to an operator after I already explained my problem to a chatbot, AI, or another operator”
- One-way messaging street, 31%: “A frustrating experience that happens repeatedly when communicating with a business or service provider”
- No changing lanes, 26%: “When I can’t switch between communication channels”
You can no longer hide bad customer service behind closed doors. Every business has an online footprint of their successes and failures for all to see. That’s why companies will start to compete based on best customer service — with social media recommendations being the ultimate prize.
- Customers demand a positive experience.
- Customers have little patience and will easily break their loyalty with a bad experience.
Prediction 2. Mobile Is the Future — for Customer Service Agents and Customers
Mobile devices are increasingly important in everyday life. And customers will most likely use their devices to get in contact with you — be it email, live chat, social media, or a voice call.
Similarly, contact centre agents may use their smartphone or laptop to assist callers. This serves as a key recruiting and retention tool, as mobile functionality supports the remote work lifestyle — where agents can work from anywhere, from any device.
So it’s important for companies to optimize mobile functionality and integrate their contact centre and CRM. In many cases, when callers use a mobile device, it may be difficult for them to reference their order history or other personal notes.
Agents, however, can access a full customer view — regardless if they are in-office or remote — to better anticipate caller needs and help.
Mobile functionality and CRM integration speed resolutions, accommodate higher call volumes, and increase customer satisfaction.
- Optimized mobile functionality and contact centre and CRM integration allow customers to use a favorite platform, while also providing agents with access to customer data.
- Contact centres can work more fluidly to resolve customer inquiries faster and boost satisfaction.
Prediction 3: Expect Channel Preferences to Change (and Change Again)
WhatsApp was officially founded in 2009. Today, it has 2B global users and is a popular choice for customer service — just ask logistics giant Aramex, which uses WhatsApp to create outstanding customer experiences (with a boost to profitability, too).
How contact centres adapt to customers switching between channels will determine their success. This is true if businesses want to appeal to the millennial generation, who are notorious for channel-switching — as they move across web chats, emails, voice calls, etc., all in a matter of hours.
Being able to follow those channel hops while maintaining the context of the interaction is key to customer service success.
- It’s important to keep current with popular and preferred channels.
- Maintaining context across channels is key to customer service success.
Prediction 4: Voice Biometrics Will Replace Security Questions
“What’s your mother’s maiden name?” is one of many common security questions. But in the future, it’ll be more about recognizing the voice when customers answer a question — rather than the answer itself — that confirms their identity.
Gathering the unique “voiceprints” of your customers could be the answer to security problems, as voice biometrics technology develops.
It’s much harder to replicate the human voice than it is to steal facts about a customer. Voice biometrics record the intricacies of the human voice — from picking up on the size and shape of the mouth to the tension of the vocal cords.
- How customers answer a security question will confirm their identity.
- Unique “voiceprints” will protect customers.
Prediction 5: The “Internet of Things”
With more devices being able to connect to other devices or people independently, it gives rise to a world where almost everything is connected. This could have huge implications for the contact centre, enabling businesses to deliver pre-emptive service.
For instance, if a patient’s heart monitor is overheating, the device could send an automated service request to the right team.
Or a washing machine may self-diagnose and notify the manufacturer when a part needs replacing — taking the customer out of the equation altogether.
The implication is that attitudes will shift. Instead of buying a product, consumers will buy a product with built-in customer service, raising the stakes for getting service right.
- Connected devices could impact contact centres, as businesses can deliver pre-emptive service.
- Consumers may purchase products with built-in customer service.
Prediction 6: Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
Many contact centres rely on legacy systems that can be slow to navigate and require agents to complete multiple steps for even basic tasks. These time demands don’t work well with impatient callers.
Robotic process automation is an exciting technology that continues the use of bots and AI. RPA simplifies the building, deployment, and management of software robots to work with digital systems and software. Contact centres can benefit from RPA through streamlined workflows.
It begins on the first day, as robots can guide agents through training modules, perhaps with an emphasis on procedures, typical next steps, etc.
Robots can also help agents record key details from each call and provide real-time information to improve customer satisfaction.
RPA benefits include:
- Less human error, reduced wait times, and more reliable service
- The freedom for agents to focus on more complex calls or follow up individually with customers
- Higher agent engagement and satisfaction
- The move away from time- and step-intensive legacy systems benefits both agents and customers.
- Streamlined workflows improve agent and customer satisfaction.
Prediction 7: The Metaverse and Virtual Reality
Despite popular perception, virtual reality is not a novelty. Homeowners have used iterations of VR to measure and plan home projects. And fun-seekers have tapped into VR for concerts, games, and virtual meetups with their favorite celebrities.
This in-the-moment world has its place in the future of call centres and contact centres, too.
If you can imagine a customer call that could benefit from an in-person experience — VR can be a game-changer. Agents can guide callers through a tour or product demo.
They can virtually provide technical support. Or agents can arrange for a virtual meeting with other customers or staff. These scenarios are helpful for both current and potential customers.
Contact centre managers can virtually host training and seminars — and unite remote agents — through VR.
Beyond reduced travel time and expenditures, VR introduces customers to a new way of engaging with businesses, and strengthens the customer and collaborative focus.
- VR reduces travel costs, while still increasing customer connections.
No Need to Wait for the Future
Contact centre managers must juggle the demands that place agents and customers front and centre. And having the tools to stay ahead of current and future needs is important.