Is the Contact Center Going the Way of the PBX?

A lot has been written about what came from last month's Enterprise Connect 2018, and I've got a takeaway you may not have yet considered. The contact center, one focus of this conference, is very much part of the broad communications landscape, especially when considering collaboration across the enterprise, including both the office and the contact center.

Disruption is the new normal these days, with cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) invariably being the main drivers. Based on all I heard and saw at Enterprise Connect, I would contend that the short answer to the question posed in the headline is "Yes."

VoIP gave us the IP PBX, which was the beginning of the end for the rule of telco vendors, and that seed of disruption has brought us to what is widely viewed now as the "post PBX" world. Compounding what VoIP started, of course, was the rise of mobility and the cloud, each of which has changed the enterprise telephony landscape. Strange as it may seem, IP telephony shipments are still going strong, but we've long moved on from the desk phone being the hub of workplace communication.

You Can't Get There from Here

I'm not alone is seeing similar parallels for the contact center, but this came into sharp focus for me at Enterprise Connect. There we heard how the majority of contact center seats remains premises-based, and, as with phones on office desks, how switching costs are high. Office and contact center premises solutions may continue to work well for their intended purposes, but they don't really meet the needs of today's market. While the virtues of premises-based systems are valid -- quality, reliability, durability, scale, own-and-operate, etc. -- they create inertia for change. This model has limited adaptability for new technology, and being CapEx investments, their utility is somewhat driven by CFO considerations.

As with enterprise telephony, many contact centers are now looking for ways to migrate their on-premises infrastructure to the cloud. While scalability concerns will hold back larger contact centers, the cloud model seems very much ready now for prime time.

The second disruptor, AI, is certainly the trend du jour, and for the contact center, AI can be a panacea for many ills.

Hype aside, AI has a legitimate role to play for improving self-service. This is a huge need for contact centers, not just because the bar is so low with IVR, but because automation is the only way forward. Contact centers simply can't afford to keep hiring agents to keep customers happy. Plus, with today's 24/7 service expectations, live agents can't possibly support the volume of inquiries. AI and chatbots are still evolving, but there is clearly a readiness now to use these technologies.

Not only is AI seen as a way to reduce costs and drive automation, but the hoped-for "intelligence" can help contact centers provide a better customer experience (CX). This is quickly becoming the raison d'etre for contact centers, as management views customer service as one of the best ways to create differentiation in the marketplace.

Continue to Page 2: It's All About Cloud and AI – not Telephony