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CIO Review >> Magazine >> March - 2016 issue

Contact Center – Trends and Opportunities


Gone are the days when a customer service call started with, “what is your order number?” If John Doe calls, now conversation starts with “Thank you Mr. Doe for being a loyal customer. Wish you a belated happy birthday. I see that you bought a TV from us last month, how is that working out for you. How can I help you today?” The concept of customer service and contact center communication channels have evolved in leaps and bounds over the past decade and so did associated applications/infrastructure technologies to support this tremendous transformation.

As the share of baby boomers, in population, goes down, and gen X, gen Y, and gen Z increases, we see a disruptive change in the way we communicate. The number of phone calls in the corporate world is decreasing and so are in-person meetings. Face-to-face human interactions are being replaced by email, instant message, and text. It is said that more than 50 percent of communication is attributed to body language; was that ever really true? If it was, it does not seem to apply to the millennial and the gen Zs. Today’s youth prefers text, email, web chat, and instant message over phone or in-person conversations. Cell phone was invented to address the challenge of not being able to communicate while away from a land line phone; however the cell phone has now turned into a computing device that aggregates different communication channels, social media services, games, and many other applications. This trend will continue and technology will continue to evolve to support these needs without compromise.

Following are key trends and opportunities in contact center business and technology space.

1. Paradigm Shift on the Notion of “Customer Service” And “Call Center”:

Organizations have started to promote that customer service is not a department but a culture. Teams such as contact center and shop floor associates, which come in contact with customers directly or indirectly, can truly make significant impact on top-line. Some organizations have redefined their customer service organization as client service organization to focus more on repeat business opposed to one time transactional deals.

With customer service requests being received via channels not limited to phone calls, it is more appropriate to address client service center or call center as “Contact Center”. Contact center is not only limited to providing back end after sales support but is also being leveraged to increase sales, increase consumer/customer awareness, and promote “magic selling”.

2. Modernization of Contact Center Technology Infrastructure:

Increased focus on customer service, online presence, eCommerce, and omnichannel drove many organizations to review their existing contact center technology infrastructure and application portfolio. Is infrastructure modern enough to support omnichannel and millennial needs? Does it have scalability to perform at expected service levels during high volume sale seasons? Does it have business continuity and disaster recovery plan for contact center operations? Customers now come in contact with contact center via email, live agent chat, and phone calls. It is only a matter of time before companies would start offering these services via text messages.

Below are some of the salient improvements organizations are making to address these challenges.

(1) System of record and master data is being enhanced to include multiple phone numbers and email addresses of a customer so that the customer is identified as soon as the call is placed.

(2) Traditional IVR systems are being modernized or re-architected to keep only call routing functionality in legacy technology and a business layer is being developed in modern technologies to be positioned for faster time to market.

(3) Contact center applications are being redesigned to interface with system of record, master data, eCommerce, and social media on a real-time basis.

(4) A combination of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics is being utilized to help route calls to appropriate contact center agent and load balance workload.

(5) Industry specific compliances and regulations are also driving system changes focused towards how sensitive data such as credit card information, driver’s license information, medical information, audio recording of customer conversation, and other data is stored.

(6) All of these are being supported by small to large scale data warehouses for real time performance monitoring, work load balancing, management oversight, and decision making. Advanced analytics on call type, call volume, customer demography, call location, and other information provides a huge lift to marketing efforts and helps in deciding test markets for new products /services.

In the IT Infrastructure Space,

(1) Traditional PBXs are being replaced by hosted PBX for improved functionality, additional features, lesser cost of ownership, improved administration and management, and faster development.