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Cloud Contact Centers: No Longer 'If,' but 'How'

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Illustration called "Quiet Utopia"
Image: Tishk Barzanji - www.behance.net
Cloud adoption for contact centers has been accelerating over the past 18 months. Large enterprises are now choosing it as their target model. While the migration to a cloud contact center is straightforward for small and midsize operations, it is harder for organizations with over a couple of hundreds of seats. I want to discuss these challenges and how to address them.
 
The cloud started to penetrate the contact center market from the bottom. Each year, it would become the preferred approach of the next-largest size band. In 2018, the industry pivoted, with the majority of businesses of all sizes choosing cloud as their desired end-game. Gartner is now predicting that, by 2022, contact center as a service (CCaaS) will be the preferred adoption model in 50% of contact centers. However, a gap exists between choosing and doing — and bridging that gap requires building a transition path.
 
Can It Be as Simple as Flipping a Switch?
For customer service operations with up to 100 agents or so, migrating to the cloud can be straightforward and quick. A single cloud contact center software solution can replace a collection of systems. Companies typically start piloting the new solution with a few agents handling a subset of customer interactions. They can use agent desktop and integrations out of the box or with minor customizations. Once trained on the software in a day or two, agents can start taking calls, redirected from the interactive voice response (IVR) application. Provisioning is almost instant, and testing the solution takes just a matter of weeks.
 
While validation takes place, the contact center organization can configure the new system, reprogram workflows for all interaction types, and create the core set of dashboards and reports. The limited size of the operation keeps change management relatively simple to handle. While the industry is not willing to compromise on features, the modernization and simplification provided by a new cloud system help overcome the angst of changing and concerns about a few features not being carried forward. The transition takes from a few weeks up to a couple of months, at the end of which organizations typically "flip the switch, having all agents logging into the new system almost instantaneously.
 
Vendors have developed standard processes to execute such projects. The small size of their professional services organizations attests to the simplicity of migration projects for this level of customer.
 
Dealing with Application Complexity
Larger enterprises and operations rely on many applications and systems. In surveying enterprises, Aberdeen Group has found that enterprises use on average 20 different software and tools for customer service, Omer Minkarat, a VP and principal analyst at the firm, told me. More recently, Gartner has found an average of 12 applications in use within contact centers.
 
This application sprawl is often the result of different divisions or regions making separate buying decisions. Some purchases can be recent, not fully amortized, or too early to change. Large enterprises often need or prefer best-of-breed solutions. So, while migration to the cloud gives the opportunity of application consolidation, getting to a single one is elusive. You could even argue that the cloud is adding to the proliferation by making applications easier to buy and deploy.
 
Defining the end state requires a careful analysis of all the systems in place. Organizations cannot overlook the extensive use of many features of each application of the contact center stack. Once they’ve defined the target, it is desirable to decouple as much of the various software as possible to enable their moving to the cloud independently. Nevertheless, organizations can create a migration path. Each phase induces some overhead, including work to preserve existing integrations.
 
Modernizing the Agent Desktop
There is now a broad appreciation of how critical the agent role is for providing great experiences to customers. They are the first “victim” of application proliferation, having to juggle a variety of tools on desktops that often are antiquated. The migration to the cloud provides the opportunity to modernize the desktop.
 
Improvement of the agent workplace also plays an important role in the management of the transition. From a migration standpoint, a single unified desktop can insulate against underlying changes made to the contact center infrastructure. A contact center organization can put together a single training plan and roll agents to the new desktop as soon as ready.
 
Getting Global
Many large enterprises have global operations. While they can easily consolidate digital channels anywhere in the world, voice calls require a carefully designed network. Skype and WhatsApp have become so pervasive that we tend to think that voice communications are plug and play. A call from one country to a data center in another and then to an agent will go through several networks, each adding latency and inducing jitter. To ensure call quality, you need to design your network. You will probably require local termination for toll-free number or cost reasons. You will also need to be able to bridge calls locally to optimize voice paths. You might have to accommodate existing telecom agreements that cannot be terminated without inducing financial penalties.
 
Many countries have regulations that impose call recording to take place locally. Customer data storage is often subject to similar rules. The cloud infrastructure must be designed together with the network connectivity to support applications hosted in multiple clouds and data centers and agents in multiple sites or working from home. Like for any mission-critical solution comprising many elements, redundancy and business continuity need to be architected.
 
Migrating Workflows and Data
Over the years, organizations have implemented workflows defining how to handle customer interactions in different applications, IVR, automatic call distributors, call routing, and digital channel management applications. They will need to migrate these as well. It is the opportunity to remove intricacies and better the customer experience through deeper personalization. For large enterprises, this could literally mean hundreds of workflows, each programmed using the specific logic of their supporting application. It becomes hard to configure the new cloud system starting from a blank sheet of paper; organizations require some form of translation.
 
Moreover, the cloud migration of a CRM system or a major customer experience initiative trigger more than half of cloud transitions. These projects induce changes that must be incorporated within the contact center. Eventually, contact centers include a wealth of configuration details and produce a lot of data that needs to be carried forward. Preserving data is critical for any artificial intelligence (AI) project. It is often a driver for consolidating analytics in a data warehouse or data lake.
 
My goal in writing this article was not to scare or discourage you from moving to the cloud. The rewards largely offset the effort required by the migration. I wanted to help you understand what you must address. I trust this discussion will help you think in a structured manner about what you need to consider when migrating to the cloud. This industry issue will be a major topic at Enterprise Connect 2020, taking place the week of March 30, in Orlando, Fla., and discussed in two sessions: Market Report: The Cloud Contact Center Challenge - Transition, not Technology and Alternative Paths to Contact Center in the Cloud.

This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.