The contact center is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. Of the many drivers, the two big ones are the increasing importance of making direct connections with customers and the rise of cloud, with this latter factor often leading to joint contact center and UC offerings.
After decades of lip service, "your call" really has become important in that it provides a rare opportunity to build trust and loyalty -- or not. This is the result of our Web-based, self-service world leaving few opportunities for actual connection and interaction with customers.
As for the second driver, "the cloud changes everything" may seem cliche, but it is true. The cloud's value proposition has shifted from delivery option to financial alternative, but the bigger story is how the cloud expands and redefines markets.
With cloud-delivery options, a variety of premises-based features and functionality previously cost-prohibitive within many environments are now feasible for contact centers of all sizes. Fashions, trends, and assumptions change all the time, but sometimes we miss the "queues." The economics have changed, so it's time to revisit old assumptions.
Filling the Gap
For decades enterprises had two basic choices in how they responded to important call groups. The first was to make do with or extend their general PBX infrastructures, as every PBX and UC solution has a minimal hunt group or automatic call distributor (ACD) capability. Historically, this make-do approach was frequently the only option for non-revenue or internal answer points.
At the other extreme was to purchase a specialized contact center solution. Even if a company bought its contact center solution and call manager system from the same vendor, it still faced significant implementation hurdles, including capital costs, integration, and training. As a result, vendors capitalizing on the need to provide specialized features spawned the creation of a stand-alone contact center industry.
These two options served both ends of the call center market well, but left a gap in the middle. On the high end, an organization could easily justify the investment -- by no means trivial -- of a dedicated system requiring new hardware, software, and specialized skills. At the other end of the spectrum, companies would make do with what they had, often at the cost of customer satisfaction.
Cloud contact center solutions provide advanced technologies on a per-user, per-month basis. Certainly the cloud presents a new delivery and accounting option (opex instead of capex), but more importantly it presents a viable solution for the underserved majority of the market. UCaaS providers, for example, now essentially offer contact center capabilities as pre-integrated add-ons.
New World View
Every enterprise organization and department has customers, and most of these customers have increased options. This represents the other side of the cloud, that the days of virtual monopolies created by captive, internal customers are long gone. The good news is that the tools to improve customer experience and loyalty are easily accessible, inexpensive, and do not require upfront or long-term investments.
Contact centers don't have to support formalized banks of agents. The difference between a receptionist and a single-agent contact center can be a voicemail box. Voicemail eliminated the busy signal, and now contact center technologies can eliminate the voicemail box in lieu of overflow routing, intelligent queues, and even self-help options.
The step up from basic UCaaS to contact center as a service is a click of the mouse. Many advanced features, including omni-channel capabilities, detailed analytics, integration capabilities, and speech recognition are available and feasible for even the smallest (single agent) environments. More and more companies view their main switchboards, departmental answering points, and many other environments and extensions as potential contact centers.
If "your call" really is important, then the calls should be routed and tracked responsibly. Can inquiries be resolved with intelligent self-service options? Is it time to embrace omni-channel options? How about virtual hold or targeted hold announcements? The cloud makes it possible to apply these features to one agent, a local group, or even a distributed group across regions and locations including home offices.
Contact center managers simply have no reason in 2016 to "make do" when cloud services offer such accessible intelligent call routing and reporting options. This is especially the case in UCaaS deployments because these features can be activated so easily. The UCaaS providers are fully aware of this, which is why so many are investing in contact center solutions. Consider the pattern:
Auto Europe avoided capital upgrades by switching to 8x8 for its UC and contact center needs, as announced recently. The company now has about 600 8x8 seats, of which about half are customer call center agents working together despite being geographically located on three continents.
An added benefit of a single provider for UC and contact center is improved collaboration across teams. For example, agents can reach out to other staff for support via instant messaging. Any extension can be easily upgraded to an agent allowing for easy expansion. In addition, a single provider can create a virtual campus environment across locations -- with consistent features, endpoints, and applications -- not to mention streamlined billing and support.
There has been plenty of coverage here on No Jitter and elsewhere about the rise of UCaaS as well as the overall growth in contact centers, but it's also important to note that the two services strengthen and complement each other. The contact center doesn't have to be just a complex bank of agents, but any function that critically interacts with others via phone, email, video, or social media. When these services are both cloud-delivered they are natural allies. More importantly, combining them increases system flexibility and improves internal collaboration.
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.