For us in the communications industry, not a day goes that you do not hear about or read something related to contact centers or customer service organizations. Whether we're talking about providing exceptional customer experience (CX), following the customer journey, applying artificial intelligence (AI) for self-service and optimal routing, deploying chatbots and Web click-to-chat to round out multi-channel and omni-channel implementations, migrating to the cloud for agility, or applying analytics for deeper understanding of customer interactions and motivations, the business of contact centers has become one of the most dynamic and critical areas of the communications technology industry.
And why not give such attention to contact centers? They are integral parts of how business is done, the glue that keeps the company running, and the one department that touches more parts of the company than any other. In a nutshell, the contact center is where the company-customer relationship unfolds and grows.
Once upon a time, contact centers were regarded as a cost center -- a necessary cost of doing business, or in some organizations, the place where orders were placed and processed. These contact centers would staff low-level operators, weren't focused on customer service (despite claims to the contrary), and were still bottom-line driven.
By contrast, today's modern contact center can be looked at as the place where the "rubber meets the road."
Marketing teams, for example, will use contact center data to determine how certain products are doing, and plan marketing campaigns based on analytics. Research organizations may develop new products or discontinue older ones based on end users' responses to questions and surveys, or larger-scope buying trends. Sales departments may plan a product sales drive based on the insight that their customers are more inclined to buy at a certain time of year, or at a certain price point. Accounting teams can better calculate cost of goods sold; accounts receivables groups can better predict cash flow, bad debt, and profit based on customer buying patterns. Finance orgs can more accurately determine where the company stands financially against their competitors, and business development groups can plan expansions based on customer localities. Further, sales and marketing teams can collaborate on product promotions and operations, and infrastructure can be better prepared to gauge and size their needs.
Think back to Enterprise Connect 2018 in March; it seemed like just about every other vendor booth on the show floor was related to contact center applications. In fact, of the roughly 200 exhibitors, 67 of them self-identified as providers of contact center products and services.
The Modern Contact Center: Industry Perspectives
So what is this obsession that our industry seems to have with contact centers? There are a number of factors driving this, most of all, the vendors themselves. On the other hand, if there wasn't a demand by the end user for these services, the vendors would go merrily along their way and invest in other technology applications.
To gain a better understanding of modern contact centers as a whole, I asked some colleagues in different segments of the industry what they are seeing as trends, what they are gearing up for and why, and what end user organizations should be aware of when evaluating a contact center upgrade or replacement platform.
One of my fellow SCTC consultant associates and collaborators, Cheryl Helm, of Helm Comminutions, said that for her, "contact centers have always been queen." When she first started nearly three decades ago in her practice, which deals exclusively with contact center technology and operations, there were a limited number of contact center providers, and the systems were both expensive and designed for large enterprise users. SMBs had to make due with ACDs, IVRs, hunt groups, busy lamp fields, homemade solutions, and limited and expensive reporting capabilities.
Helm attributes the recent contact center explosion to several factors, in part:
- Demand by customers to receive better service from merchants
- Vendor respect for the customer's time, loyalty, and their choice to do business with a specific vendor
- Enterprises' need for big data and real-time analytics
- A highly completive global economy
- Years of stagnant growth that forced companies to do more with less
- Enterprise recognition that its own existing customer database is one of its most valuable assets
- Desire to increase customer loyalty
- Mining the existing CRM database
- And, of course, the rise of the cloud
Next page: More perspectives on contact center cloud, costs, and AI