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5 Trends Poised to Change the Contact Center


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The disruptive innovations in enterprise communications are simmering to a dull roar. It wasn’t long ago that the concepts of UC, team chat, and WebRTC were new. Today, articles about those topics are more about improvements, and less about what the technologies are or why they matter.
The contact center is poised enough for some radical near-term changes. Primarily, as a result of cloud economics, the sector is both expanding and experiencing a steady rate of innovation.
The contact center isn’t exactly associated with innovation. The vast majority of the solutions still build around toll-free numbers and plain old telephone services. But, the shift from product to service is opening up new opportunities to improve and deliver customer engagement.
Premises-based solutions had significant barriers to implementation, including upfront capital, training, operations, carrier commitments, and more. Cloud-delivered services make advanced contact center technologies and capacity more accessible. The upfront investment is so negligible that it’s even feasible to implement advanced routing for single-agent applications (such as for receptionists).
Providers are racing to deliver transformative changes to the existing and expanding market. That, combined with decreased barriers to innovation, is creating a perfect storm for radical innovation and disruption in the contact center. “Customer engagement” doesn’t have to be a euphemism.
Here’s a look at five trends poised to change the future of the contact center:
1. Agents at Home – Not all positions can adapt to work at home, but call center agents are about as ideal as it gets. The contact center has already been digitally transformed, and the modern contact center doesn’t have to be dependent on space or location. Agents at home makes a lot of sense as the agent and management tools work remotely, and the customers they interact with are remote. The pandemic caused contact centers to solve agent-at-home challenges, and many organizations also saw a major increase in call volumes due to closed retail and branch locations.
The equipment is more portable than ever before. Phones and PCs converged into one device, then into notebooks, and now into Chromebooks. For example, RingCentral and Google migrated a 2,600 agent-filled contact center in the auto sales industry to Chromebooks early in the pandemic. Google reports a recent spike in Chromebooks worldwide and notes that call center and help desk applications were among the major use cases.
2. Self-Service Bots – Bots are changing contact centers in nonobvious ways and are very suitable for common inquiries. The obvious way to use them is for self-service use cases that avoid the need to speak to a human agent. Unfortunately, they’re good at reducing costs, but not particularly good at customer satisfaction as bot technology remains somewhat limited.
The emerging opportunity isn’t to use bots to automate existing calls, but to enable new kinds of interactions. Bots can be an improvement over the online web and mobile applications in certain situations. For example, processing a return for an online purchase is reasonably easy — unless you’re driving. Voice as a UI can be remarkably useful when a keyboard is unavailable or impractical.
Bots can enable self-service for more use cases. For example, Lemonade insurance company is disrupting the process without local agents. The company says you can file a claim through one of its bots while driving to the doctor’s office and get paid before leaving the waiting room. Lemonade is also using bots to advise and sell insurance products.
3. Advanced Authentication – There’s an uncomfortable truth that your mother’s maiden name isn’t confidential. Nor is the name of your first pet, favorite teacher, or elementary school. These tests are more of a trivia quiz than a reliable form of authentication.
Organizations want to use their contact centers to create differentiated service, but they still need to be sure that the person on the other end is truly who they claim to be. Most of the ways we have done this in the past are insecure, inefficient, and sometimes block the real person. The good news is things are quickly changing enabled by existing smartphone capabilities and new technologies.
Smartphones are fairly secure devices, so some contact centers are using apps to initiate authenticated customer service. The assumption is if you can unlock the phone and open the app, that’s a decent measure, but apps can also leverage the location and biometric sensors that smartphones have. Emerging technologies such as voice biometrics can be completely passive. There are some new innovations such as blockchain technology and zero-knowledge models that also promise to make authentication simpler and less obtrusive.
We also must work on outbound authentication — that is, authenticating the provider. Many of us commonly receive calls that are supposed “to verify your business is listed with Google,” from “card services” that want to lend money, and (timeshare) calls related to recent stays at “Hilton.” None of these are from the implied company. The customer will also learn to value new authentication solutions regarding outbound contact center interactions.
4. Expanded Services – Traditionally, building a contact center involves multiple vendors. There’s the core call distribution engine plus a variety of necessary components for scheduling, quality metrics, call recording, payment solutions, equipment, etc. Each new vendor brings additional integration and support obligations for the team supporting the contact center.
As we move deeper into cloud-delivered services, we are watching product scope expand. Cloud-delivered providers are far more motivated to drive adoption and retention than premises-based vendors have been. As a result, CCaaS providers are expanding into adjacent services such as scheduling and real-time analytics. This will allow contact center support staff to focus more on operations and outcomes than design and support. It’s also why Genesys recently created a workforce engagement division and Five9 acquired Virtual Observer.
Other services to expect include subscription-based hardware, integrated financial services, compliance management, the integration and bundling of other related services, and many more.
5. Gig Agents – A gig agent is a freelance contractor who can be hired as needed. Gig workers, such as students or stay-at-home parents, are often unable to accept full-time work. They are well suited for limited hours on their own schedule. After a contractor completes the screening and processes required to be eligible, they work whenever they like. Uber has revolutionized transportation by the use of gig drivers and offers higher rates to incentivize drivers to work during peak periods.
Contact centers will similarly use gig agents. The primary barrier to doing this is the necessary training required to process inquiries. However, augmented-agent (or agent-assist) technology could solve that. Here, the conversation between caller and agent is monitored and analyzed by AI technologies that interpret the request and provide the agent with visual guidance for resolution. It’s similar to the chatbots above but coaches the agent with multiple suggestions. The technology is maturing rapidly and is already reducing training and the impact of turnover. Combine augmented agent technology with remote work and the gig economy to make on-demand agents a plausible reality.
It isn’t clear if the gig agents will be hired by enterprises directly, a business process outsourcing group, or the contact center providers. However, Talkdesk recently launched CXTalent. It’s described as a gig economy for contact center talent that matches customer experience (CX) employers to agents seeking work.
These are only five trends, but the contact center industry is going through its own Cambrian explosion of innovation. We have never had so few barriers to innovation, as well as adoption, in customer engagement.
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

To learn more about enterprise communications that decision-makers face as we look to the end of 2020, attend the Enterprise Connect Digital Conference & Expo 2020 taking place online Aug. 3 to 6. On Thursday, Aug. 4, Dave Michels, of TalkingPointz, will be among the industry watchers joining the Locknote session, from 4:15 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The session will conclude with a live chat Q&A; to participate, register now!