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AI, biometrics and the cloud – investing in the contact centres of the future

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/lenetstan)

Technological changes in the call centre market have transformed an industry once the butt of jokes for poor service delivery, and enabled it to deliver richer levels of customer service than ever before. The humble call centre of the past has become the customer contact centre of the future, able to provide unified communications across time, space, and channels. Technologies such as voice recognition, social media, and web chat – as well as various social media channels – are already driving contact centre performance. Innovation and the development of new technologies seldom comes cheap though, and the companies developing the solutions that are facilitating the development of the contact centre market are no different.    

Fortunately for the erstwhile call centre and newly-monikered contact centre industry, with the ongoing success of technology aimed at call centres, increased funding is becoming available to the companies delivering these technology solutions. One need only look to funding deals such as Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank’s recent £3.5 million investment in call intelligence provider ResponseTap, and Balderton Capital’s late 2016 investment of $8 million in call centre software-as-a-service company Aircall. With technology companies within this space receiving significant venture and growth capital, it is likely that this sector will continue to see an increase in technical enhancements.   

Contact centres of the future 

So, what are the technologies that forward-thinking contact centre leaders are looking at? According to industry analyst Contact Babel’s UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers Guide: 2016, when asked about technologies that they would be implementing in the next 24 months, 14% of the contact centres surveyed named speech/interaction analytics, 13% named mobile customer service apps, 12% identified web chat, and 11% singled out automated speech recognition, with an additional 11% naming social media services. With this focus on technologies targeted at customer interaction, experience and communication, there is a clear shift towards improving customer engagement.   

Focus on customer engagement   

Digital interaction tools such as screen sharing and web chat, are directed at improving customer engagement and enhancing the customer experience. In a 2015 survey, Gartner found that more than 50% of businesses would redirect investments to customer experience innovations by 2018. And as early as 2015, the company found that 89% of companies expected to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% four years previously. Today’s customer demands an enhanced customer service experience, and the ability to make contact at any time and via multiple mediums. “By the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator” (Walker). Based on these statistics, it is clear that customer experience and the interactive tools that support it are a critical focus for the contact centre market in 2017 and beyond.   

The changing face of human interaction   

Undoubtedly, the call centre market is already experiencing fundamental changes. This is a trend that is likely to continue into the future, as the way we communicate shifts and adapts to include new innovations and the digital native generation. In their report titled UK Contact Centres 2016 – 2020: The State of the Industry and Technology Penetration, Contact Babel states that telephony volumes will fall to below 65% of total contact centre interactions by 2020, while the use of mobile service applications will grow to 60% by the same year.   

At the same time, according to IMImobile’s Digital Consumer Interaction Report 2017, 67% of consumers believe their customer service-related enquiries should be answered within 5 minutes. However, 78% are willing to wait longer via channels such as web chats or social media messaging services, provided their enquiry is acknowledged. These findings show that automated technologies are due to see rapid uptake from contact centres throughout the UK. 

With customers demanding new methods of engagement, it is perhaps unsurprising then that 1 in 4 contact centres are looking to implement a web chat service within the next 12 months.   

The role of Artificial Intelligence 

But it isn’t just the way that consumer want to interact with businesses that is changing. By 2020 85% of customers’ interactions will be managed without human interaction (Gartner). While this may be the case in the future, today the use of artificial intelligence (AI) is already a reality, with technology such as machine learning, and speech and language analysis in use. In addition, biometric authentication currently allows customers to use factors such as voice recognition and speech analysis, for authentication purposes. The biometric authentication market is expected to grow at an estimated compound annual growth rate of 17% from 2015 to 2020; and generate approximately $25 billion by 2020; and this is just one facet of artificial intelligence being used in the call centre environment. Tomorrow’s technology is in need of – and receiving – funding today.   

Technological advancements create space for start-ups and SMEs  

Within the larger contact centres of over 100 seats, a number of highly sophisticated technology stacks are in place, dealing with call management, agent performance and rostering, customer data integration, and compliance. Spend in this area is substantial, based in some part on the sheer number of people working within the industry. In Europe alone there are more than 3.4 million people working in call centres. Within this software spending, and in line with other sectors, the clear trend in recent years has been to move data and applications to the cloud. This has created the space for a number of start-ups to gain market share. Further, the emergence of the software as a service (SaaS) model has allowed a number of innovative SMEs offering customer engagement and artificial intelligence solutions to gain market traction.   

Increased investor interest  

With contact centres investing in the technologies that enhance customer experience, many investors are in turn backing the SMEs that deliver AI, biometric authentication and customer engagement innovation. In 2017, BOOST&Co provided leading voice security solutions provider Aeriandi with an investment of £1.5 million growth capital to scale development and sales capabilities; and omni-channel digital solutions provider, Vizolution with £1.5 million venture debt funding. These are just a few of the examples of the ways in which venture debt lenders are helping customer engagement innovators to grow and develop market share. With the ongoing expansion of this market, and with call centre technologies truly beginning to resemble futuristic science fiction, one can only expect to see further investment in this space.   

Melissa Yvonnou, Principal at BOOST&Co 

Image Credit: Lenetstan / Shutterstock

Melissa Yvonnou
Melissa Yvonnou is a principal at BOOST&Co and has worked with dozens of innovative businesses across sectors, to help them meet their growth objectives. She has a special affinity for innovative businesses that offer disruptive technologies in the software, telecommunications, digital media, and e-commerce spaces.