What does the future of the contact centre hold?

The relationship between customer and customer service advisor is changing. ‘Call centres’ have evolved dramatically since their conception in the 1960s, with the emergence of new technologies that push the boundaries and alter the traditional parameters of a basic phone call. 

New technology allows for continuous improvement of customer service and it is exciting to see how sophisticated speech analytics software systems and other technology trends such as Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) and Session Initiation Protocols (SIP) are bringing communication into the new age.

“Please hold the line”

Call centres have traditionally functioned through the use of an automatic call distributor (ACD), distributing incoming calls to agents in a first in, first out (FIFO) system. This has been a test of patience for most customers who are forced into a “virtual line”, waiting to have their call answered. 

Technology is now allowing modern contact centre solutions to disrupt this traditional method and offer an alternative option for customers by utilising ‘virtual queuing systems’, allowing customers to receive callbacks instead of remaining on the line while they wait for an operator to become available. 

This is done via a virtual placeholder taking the customer’s position in the queue, or a scheduling system allowing customers to choose a time and date in the future at which to be called back. This gives back control to the customer – an important component in building positive relationships, especially in instances where the caller may be calling a customer services department to make a complaint.

Adaptability and emotionally intelligent engagement are additional characteristics the customer has come to expect from client services. Interactive voice response (IVR) is a technology that starts to build up to this by utilising speech recognition and keypad tones in order to direct a call to the most suitable advisor using information supplied by the customer. 

Where traditional ACDs could only play a greeting and queue calls using the FIFO system, IVRs can profile a customer and reduce call transfer and queue times. Callers speaking different languages can also be routed to an appropriate agent based on their language preference. With more sophisticated IVR, different approaches can be tested and refined to adapt to the customer’s response and conversational IVR can even greet customers by name, to add a personal touch.

Adapting to the modern consumer

Historically, customer support has been delivered through call centres but today modern contact centres use computer telephony integration (CTI) to communicate through a variety of channels including online chat, forum style support ticket platforms and social media. 

The chart above shows how customer service interactions changed between 2006 and 2015. An immediate and flexible approach is something that has come to be increasingly expected by the modern consumer. Where once customer advisors were only required to have excellent verbal communication skills, now their writing and adaptability is being put to the test. 

In addition to a demand for capable cross channel communication, the modern customer also want to see intelligent engagement. Cloud based call management, recording and intelligent call analytics are a crucial tool in enabling businesses to improve their sales performance and deliver excellent customer service, where voice is still the preferred means of communication.

Speech analytics software in particular, is revolutionising the way companies are able to identify repeated problems by looking at commonly used phrases and analysing the sentiment of phone calls. Sentiment analysis can be used to determine any number of things, including a caller’s state of mind, and indeed, how call handler is dealing with their calls. Analysis will specifically identify a speaker’s tone of voice, stress levels and speed of speech, as well as specific phrases that will build a profile of the call to develop an understanding of the caller’s sentiment.

Improvements in machine learning and automation can identify patterns and trends in sentiment, which might then raise any flags if a particular call handler has a number of similar calls. Complaints can be automatically picked up and forwarded to development teams to improve future products and services, while customer advisors who consistently turn complaints into positive outcomes can be identified and rewarded through sentiment analysis. 

With communications solutions now being integrated with CRM systems, the data generated from contact centres can help to build an informed profile of each customer. Repeating information is frustrating for the customer, but when UC solutions are integrate with CRM systems, an advisor can see all their available information. This not only does this create a much more efficient way of working, with the customer potentially taking up less of a call handler’s time, but it also contributes to a better experience for the person on the other end of the line.

Nice to see you! 

In a future that’s inching closer and closer to reality all the time, it appears that the introduction of session initiation protocol (SIP), which allows for multimedia communications, could mean that calls do not have to be confined to only voice. In the future, IVR can be extended to IVVR (interactive voice and video response), giving the option of video calls with customer service advisors. This will allow systems to read customer emotions by analysing facial expressions, and can also use facial recognition to identify and greet callers.

In place of security questions and difficult to remember passwords, video calls can use biometric identifiers such as iris scans to prevent fraud. Where customer emotions were once identified by an advisor’s sympathetic ear, sentiment can now be detected by software that can enhance customer understanding. 

The value of being sensitive to the needs of the customer still remains, but the emergence of new technology allows the modern day contact advisor to do their job more efficiently. By integrating IVR with CRM systems as well as workforce management systems, customer service has the potential to be completely transformed into a proactive element of business development for businesses with a large customer base that require frequent interactions.

James Slaney, Co-founder, Dubber
Image source: Shutterstock/lenetstan