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7 Trends Impacting Contact Centers, Customer Service & Customer Experiences

Smart organizations view their contact centers as their first lines of defense in the battle for consumer loyalty. In fact, 75% of companies recognize customer service as a competitive differentiator; yet, customer satisfaction levels are down for the fourth consecutive year (according to Dimension Data's 2015 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report). Why is there such a gap between the strategy and execution?

Gartner outlines four dramatic market shifts that are transforming consumer expectations and behaviors. These shifts, which it calls the Nexus of Forces, are the proliferation of mobile devices, an increase in social media, the use of big data, and the adoption of the cloud. As a result, contact centers are under pressure to adapt to the rapidly changing technology landscape and consumer expectations.

I have identified seven trends that are significantly impacting contact centers. As anyone in the business knows, contact centers can be conservative and often move slowly, but companies that respond to these trends now will find they are better prepared to succeed and maintain their competitive advantages.

1. Cloud contact center technology is making companies more competitive
Contact centers that move to the cloud find that they become more agile, able to react to changes in customer behavior and even intraday ebbs and flows faster and to gain significant competitive advantages. They also gain the ability to add or scale back agents and sales reps as needed. In the past, contact centers were forced to build, integrate, and manage a highly complex set of on-premises hardware and software technologies from multiple vendors. Now, they can work with cloud software providers that bundle end-to-end, integrated solutions as services for monthly per-agent fees. Deployments happen in days to weeks, and the solutions are easy enough to use that business users can make changes without an army of developers. This can help companies be highly nimble and extremely competitive, while still offering excellent customer experiences.

2. Omnichannel capabilities will be required
In today's age of the customer, the companies that are really paying attention see the need to take multichannel capabilities further and provide seamless experiences across devices and channels. Called an omnichannel approach, this gives a company a unified view of the customer, with the ability to carry the context of an interaction or customer issue seamlessly across multiple channels. Since customers have high expectations for the services they receive, and an amplified voice when something goes wrong via social media, this fully integrated approach across channels and organizations is becoming a must-have strategy. However, most organizations still have a long way to go, with only 18% having fully integrated their channels and 31% not yet having started to integrate any channels, according to Deloitte.

3. Intelligent self-service will expand
As customers turn to Web and mobile apps to solve their issues with companies, contact centers are witnessing an increase in self-service. According to ICMI, 67% of customers prefer self-service apps compared to speaking with a company representative, while another 81% percent believe this is a competitive differentiator. The trend in contact center technology is to provide more and more intelligence, along with the interaction context, so the customer's question is answered without involving a live agent. Gartner predicts that customers will manage 85% of their own relationships with an enterprise by 2020 without dealing with humans. As customers continue to turn to Web self-service, mobile apps, and visual IVRs instead of phone calls, companies must prepare their channels for intelligent self-service accordingly or risk falling behind the competition.

4. The percentage of overall live calls will decline, while transaction complexity increases
A recent Five9/ICMI study found that 73% of contact centers have cited a noticeable increase in the complexity of customer-agent interactions. This is due to a combination of more and more transactions taking place across various channels and the shift to the self-service preference mentioned above. As picking up the phone becomes the last resort, the interactions that do end up in the call center are becoming more complex. In the meantime, simpler issues are dealt with in self-service or alternate channels such as live chat and SMS.

5. Agents will increasingly work from home
Advancements in technology are impacting how consumers engage companies and shifting where agents work. When employees work from home, companies save money on overhead, realize lower churn rates, and have access to larger pools of qualified agents. In addition, companies find that providing service representatives with work-from-home benefits increases their flexibility, improves productivity and, ultimately, enhances customer satisfaction.

6. Regulatory compliance will be the new normal
Another trend that will affect contact centers is an increase in regulations aimed at protecting consumers in their dealings with call centers. While there are a couple of reasons that this is expected, millions of consumers have had their credit card information stolen as a result of recent security breaches. Companies must tighten up their Payment Card Industry compliance. On the outbound call front, recent FCC rulings on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the use of automated dialers to call mobile numbers is having a big impact on outbound contact centers. Contact centers need to review their compliance needs and ensure that they have sufficient measures in place to protect themselves and their customers.

7. Social engagement will be used to drive leads and service customers
Social engagement has come of age in the last 10 years with the creation of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In addition to offering customers new ways to connect with companies, social media opens the door to sales leads and provides an opportunity to create exceptional customer service. It's why ICMI says 55% of companies feel that social support is a competitive differentiator and another 58% say it increases customer loyalty. As Generation Y and Z mature, the use of social engagement will grow along with them and these channels must be incorporated into business communications strategies.

All in all, the big technology shifts in the market are bringing about trends affecting service representatives and customer experiences. As these trends continue, companies must develop strategies to maintain their competitive advantages. What are you doing to get out in front of these trends and address them head on? Preparing now will only help your customers in the long run.

Liz Osborn is VP of Product and Solution Marketing at Five9.