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The cloud is calling

(Image credit: Shutterstock / issaro prakalung)

The technical requirements of a contact centre agent has meant that, unlike their colleagues in other departments, working from home wasn’t usually an option for agents. 

All that changed when Covid-19 struck, and swathes of employees were forced to decamp to their homes. Business continuity plans were swiftly actioned, and it was up to IT to ensure they had the hardware and software in place to work effectively at a time when many, notably banks, saw call volumes increase exponentially.  

The crisis undoubtedly exposed the operational risks facing some firms due to legacy on-premises systems, not easily transferable to other locations. It certainly put them at a disadvantage compared to those who already had a cloud contact center platform and were able to move from office to remote working with ease.

According to our research, 60 percent of companies say they will have agents working from home for the foreseeable future. Beyond the pandemic, we could see a rise in virtual contact centers as they look to reduce costs, increase flexibility and recruit more widely.

Companies increasingly depend on the data-driven insights and rapid reporting functions available through their business software. Yet even if the wider C-suite (and not just the CTO and CIO) buys into the vision, their enthusiasm is sometimes tempered by fears that a full cloud deployment will be costly and disruptive.

Instead, they might tread the middle ground, agreeing for you to apply cloud functionality on top of legacy systems, such as a basic web portal. However, this ‘sticking plaster’ approach only prolongs the problems caused by legacy systems, namely lack of integration, high maintenance costs and siloed data.  

As long as there is a clear strategy in place, full cloud deployment improves processes without exposing an organization to unnecessary risk. An open architecture cloud contact center means you don’t have to replace existing customer experience (CX) systems wholesale but can instead gradually move key operations and applications to the cloud. Then, over time, you integrate other systems and processes according to resources and budgets.

As you migrate more applications to the contact center cloud platform, you start to create a data-driven, resilient and agile business. This enables managers to reconfigure business processes quickly in response to new opportunities and challenges, including changing CX demands. They gain real-time insights that allow them to address issues quickly and make continuous improvements. Last, but not least, they save time thanks to automated workflows across different applications, which reduces complexity and vendor management.

The evolution of cloud contact centers

We’ve come a long way from the early SaaS applications, even if they were an improvement on some on-premises systems.

The problem was these applications tended to be architected for lighter applications, such as websites, rather than data-heavy enterprise systems. Integrating a CRM and ERP, for example, is likely to be complex, slow and would still require some on-premises deployment. Costs could mount up too due to the frequent updates and system validations required.

Contrast this with the cloud-native platforms you get today, which allow you to easily integrate with the most data-heavy enterprise systems. Salesforce, Google, Microsoft Office are all in the cloud, and publish APIs to support secure and stable integration points.

When it comes to security, even the best on-premises firewall can be compromised by out-of-date systems, since the integration points with other applications are weak. Data is also slow to synchronize, so it’s more difficult to spot issues and address them.

A web application firewall (WAF) on cloud-native platforms offers the same granularity of control as on-premises firewalls, while also being far faster at detecting malicious traffic.

Sitting between the web and cloud application, it filters all traffic with users passing through the WAF to gain access. As new threats and vulnerabilities emerge, WAF policies can be updated to improve response times.

Delivering the gold standard in CX

Businesses can only deliver seamless omnichannel communications by integrating applications and data. Whether staff are based at home or in the office, they need to engage with customers through their preferred channel, not waste time opening different applications.

By integrating the CRM with the contact center platform, customer data is displayed without having to log in each time. The more data agents have available to them, via a range of applications, the quicker they can resolve enquiries.

When an order management system is integrated too, they’ll immediately see the status of an order, while an integrated marketing automation system could trigger a response (e.g. voucher) if someone has raised a complaint.

Taken together, integrated core CX applications enable contact centers to reduce call handling time, improve first-call resolution, reduce development time and optimize staffing.

Automating customer interactions

In a fast-paced environment like a contact center, it makes sense to automate straightforward, time-consuming and/or error-prone tasks such as call routing, logging or simple customer requests. Freed up to work on more complex cases, agents can resolve enquiries quicker, therefore enhancing CX and promoting lasting loyalty.

Technology means it’s possible for entire transactions to be handled without human intervention. When someone calls to chase up an order, their speech is converted to text, automatically checked against the order management system and converted from text to speech again as the customer is informed. Integrated with marketing automation software, compensation can then be issued if needed.

Companies are increasingly building machine learning capabilities into their cloud platforms too, in order to identify behavior patterns and optimize CX workflows. Moreover, AI is helping them to develop more sophisticated chatbots that mimic human speech and assistants to proactively guide agents and callers through next best steps.

Securing buy-in from the C-suite and users

Mapping out the journey to full cloud deployment as we have done should allay the concerns your senior management team (and users) might have.

The next step is to deliver on your proposal, ensuring that you choose user-friendly systems, and deliver straightforward interactive training that gets people up-to-speed. User-experience (UX) is inextricably linked to CX, since it enables agents to do their job better, so choose a system with a strong graphical user-interface (GUI) that looks like a consumer-facing app.

Contact centers do not operate in isolation, and should not embark on cloud deployment alone. As we’ve seen, the technology is most powerful when integrated with other areas of the business, such as fulfilment and marketing.

Working with department managers, you’ll play a pivotal role in unlocking the benefits of cloud technology, overseeing applications and helping to improve business performance.  Adoption isn’t the end-point though – as an IT leader, it’s important to gain feedback and iron out problems to ensure systems deliver ROI. 

Contact centers are a critical part of any organization, especially during a crisis like Covid-19. Whatever change and disruption we see in the future, a cloud platform offers the flexibility and scalability required to adapt quickly and raise the bar on CX.

Susan Ysona, VP EMEA, Talkdesk

Susan Ysona is VP EMEA at Talkdesk.