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A look at how contact centers are evolving for the future

Customer service
(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/lenetstan)

Contact centers act as a fundamental intermediary paving the way for a more wholesome customer experience for customers across various channels. Contact centers aim to deal with customer support in terms of both technical assistance and sales. Contact centers typically integrate call centers within their processes whilst also maintaining other forms of customer contact, such as emails, webchats, social media interactions, and website support.

There are four main types of contact centers:

  • Hardware contact centers
  • Cloud-based contact centers 
  • Hosted contact centers 
  • Virtual contact centers

Regardless of which form a business utilized to manage their customer interactions there are changes coming. Changes that will change the contact center as we move into the future. 

Machine learning & AI 

For decades, contact centers have leveraged advanced technologies, most predominantly applications in artificial intelligence (AI) gained traction in the 2000s and has been increasingly impactful since. The mass adoption of smartphones, social media, and consumer-friendly apps have significantly altered customer expectations. Customers were now accustomed to short waiting times, instant free communication with family, friends and businesses and new technological advances became regular. Hence, expectations had risen for constant improvement, little to no waiting times and more personalized customer experiences. 

The growth of powerful new machine learning and AI had been implemented in contact centers with the aim of meeting these expectations. In fact, enterprise executives today cite customer experience as the number one reason for investing in AI. So how has machine learning & AI impacted different agents?

Customers 

AI-Powered Customer Assistants have been the most recent trend within the contact center space, allowing a solution that could quickly identify and deliver specific information that callers needed. The problem was callers were tired of interactive voice response (IVR) systems wasting their time and finding little success for finding the information they needed. Thus, many customers would constantly repeat the infamous “speak to agent” and avoid the pain of navigating through IVR, which historically had led to overloaded centers. 

Management 

As customer expectations have risen over the past few decades, new technologies have allowed such expectations to be met and maintained. Customers are being able to communicate using their channel of choice at increase hours of day and night. This adds to the convenience of increased communication channels. Companies are more expected to utilize social media as a method of customer service, on top of traditional telephone lines and more recent live chats. 

Moreover, this comes alongside the increased use of smart bots allowing customers to perform real actions without the need of a customer agent. For example, Amazon’s chat assistant is able to automate certain activities such as refunds, re-orders, replacements and other simple actions that would otherwise be time-consuming for customer service agents. Moreover, such bots are able to use big data to analyze the reliability of customers and their information at higher rates than humans, allowing greater success rates and superior KPIs.

Business leaders 

The rise in AI should drive cost reductions in contact centers due to increased self-service. Assuming a traditional contact center, you will need to ensure a sufficient amount of staffing to avoid exceeding average patience. Average patience refers to the average length of time a customer will stay in the queue before hanging up. As mentioned above, with the current environment of ever-increasing customer expectations, customer experience becomes the predominant factor for converting one-time customers into repeats and one bad customer experience can easily end your chances of doing that. 

The implementation of self-service helps business leaders retain customers at greater rates whilst minimizing the costs of maintaining high numbers of staff. This is done by reducing wait times for customers due to the load AI is able to maintain, with higher capacities than traditional workers. 

Upcoming tech coming to the market.

What does the future hold? 

Automation frees agents to deliver deeper customer value and develop richer trusted relationships. “Customers want speed and convenience, but they’re also seeking empathy and commitment to the core issues that they care about”. But what will the contact center of the future look like? How will AI change the environment for both agents and customers? 

Next five years 

There will be little traces of a contact center over the next five years. Business leaders are finding working from home advantage for customer service. With lower overheads, management is able to maintain a level of control over agents with tracked targets and measured call volumes and times. Also, working from home has come with a level of personability, whereas before customer service used to be like a transaction between the two parties: now it’s two people in their homes having a chat. The agent is able to build greater relationships with customers and maintain their expertise with information being widely available through their computer.

With this also comes a level of freedom for agents and managers. Agents will be able to choose their preferred work schedule. 24/7 support will become more applicable to businesses. Customers, being able to choose their preferred social channel any hour of the day will undoubtedly acknowledge a greater level of customer experience.

The hybrid system will require some tailoring for each business, but the use of integrated management and evaluation platforms such as those created by Playvox will help level the playing field between those still office-based.

Next 10 years 

Following the next 10 years, it would be unlikely to have any contact center; instead, it will be ‘contact anywhere.’ Agents can receive calls from anywhere in the world and AI will be able to match customers with agents based on personality and emotional intelligence.

Artificial intelligence will be able to turn what used to be a non-personable customer service call into a client interaction with purpose. Customers will be able to choose an agent they would like to speak to and schedule calls to that specific agent. 

AI and self-service will continue to develop and solve most customer queries, in fact becoming the main method of technical support. Agents’ roles will shift more towards customer behavior, psychology, and relationship management as opposed to solving specific issues. A contact center changed forever over the next decade one that all businesses will need to adapt with too.

Lee Cottle, European Director, Playvox

Lee Cottle
Lee has over 20 years’ experience in the software, hardware and services industry ranging from both start-ups to established multi-billion dollar companies.