The Emergence of Real-Time Solutions for Contact Centers

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Contact centers are real-time organizations. They respond to customer phone calls and, increasingly, text messages, in real time, yet depend upon procedures and systems that are reactive. This is fine for assessing the performance of a contact center or looking for trends, but it's not ideal when agents need guidance or next-best-action recommendations to get their jobs done.

In the past two years, vendors have been working to build real-time capabilities for contact centers. They are being delivered in the form of real-time guidance and real-time speech analytics. The opportunity for such applications is huge, and DMG expects to see new capabilities introduced to the market over the next few years. Workforce optimization (WFO), performance management, and speech analytics vendors are starting to deliver solutions dedicated to influencing or altering the outcome of calls.

A New Generation of Real-Time Applications

The new breed of real-time–enabled WFO solutions utilizes predictive analytics, decision engines, business rules, and workflow to drive smarter interactions and help contact center agents consistently take the right actions to address customers' needs. End users are beginning to place more emphasis on real-time capabilities that enable agents and supervisors to react in the moment, alter outcomes, and have a positive impact on the customer and agent experience. Following are some examples of how real-time applications are being used to improve various aspects of contact center and agent performance and the overall customer experience.

Real-time guidance. The presence or absence of a speech and/or desktop event can trigger a predefined set of instructions or a script. During customer interactions, agents are presented with real-time coaching prompts to remind them to complete a critical compliance step, notify them of exceeded limits, and possibly provide them with an optimal upsell and/or cross-sell offer. Based on the real-time context of the interaction, an agent can also be given links to a knowledge base, an Internet/intranet site, or other training material. Real-time guidance is of particular benefit for new hires, as it can help expedite the training process while maintaining quality standards.

Real-time next-best action. Next-best-action capabilities rely on an application's ability to pull real-time data from disparate systems and databases and combine it with contextual information about the interaction from the agent's desktop and/or conversation. Information about the agent's profile (tenure, skill proficiency, key performance indicators, etc.) can be factored into the analysis through integrations with quality assurance, workforce management, and other applications. Data about the customer profile and preferences can be retrieved through integrations with the CRM or servicing system. The data, gathered in real time while the caller is on the line, is aggregated and compared with business rules or predictive analytics models. Based on the real-time data analysis and client-defined business rules, the application presents callouts or pop-up boxes that provide agents with the most appropriate action to take or offer to make.

Real-time workflows. A real-time decisioning engine can provide contact center agents with next-best-action and next-best-offer recommendations while they interact live with customers by phone or in a chat session. Some solutions can provide real-time, step-by-step guidance based on an agent's skill level and quality scores, as well as the customer's profile and data on past interactions and preferences. Some solutions can also take into consideration what the customer is saying.

Real-time process automation. This application automates data entry and propagation, screen navigation, and look-ups. It can also aggregate relevant data from multiple applications into a single view to improve operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Real-time reports and dashboards. These feedback tools give supervisors and agents a visual snapshot of what is happening at the agent desktop or in the contact center environment, in the moment.

Real-time alerts. Pop-up alerts and workflow flags notify users when action is needed, metrics have breached acceptable thresholds, or something out of the ordinary has occurred.

Analytics is going to play an essential role in the future of all service organizations, including contact centers. WFO vendors are the leading providers of analytics to contact centers, and many are continuing to make substantial investments in their analytical capabilities. Today, leading WFO vendors are offering many analytics applications, including speech analytics, text analytics, desktop analytics, and performance management. But these are just the beginning of the analytical capabilities expected to emerge in the next five years. Predictive analytics has been talked about for years, but is just now attracting investment dollars and is starting to be delivered in product packages. Capabilities such as next-best action and real-time guidance use business rules and, increasingly, predictive capabilities, to help contact center agents consistently take the right actions to address customers' needs (see chart).

Final Thoughts

There is great potential to use real-time insights from analytics applications to alert agents and supervisors about sales or problem-solving opportunities immediately, while the caller is still on the phone, and to provide feeds to other contact center applications or processes. DMG expects to see significant investments in the area of real-time capabilities during the next five years by both vendors and other customers, as this is going to be one of the next major waves of investments in contact centers.

Donna Fluss (donna.fluss@dmgconsult.com) is founder and president of DMG Consulting, a provider of contact center and analytics research, market analysis, and consulting. Deborah Navarra is a senior analyst and consultant with DMG. She is a contact center technology industry analyst and operations specialist with more than 25 years of experience.

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