Transformation in the Contact Center

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Over the last few years, contact centers have undergone a major shift. Once based almost entirely in call centers, customer service has moved to a multichannel and now omnichannel customer experience (CX) approach, with cloud-based communications, well-designed interactive voice response (IVR), and powerful reporting capabilities thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, natural language processing (NLP), Big Data analytics, and other technologies.

Yet the call center is still the stronghold of customer service despite the various self-service options available today, as many customers prefer to call for help with complex issues, especially when they pertain to finances, health, and other confidential areas where security and privacy, as well as personal attention, are crucial.

A market study by Customer Contact Week Digital, titled “The Future of The Contact Center in 2019,” found that 64% of organizations surveyed felt that customers should be able to easily reach a live agent even if self-service technologies are available. Amy Hudson, global head of discovery and enablement at CX assurance platform Cyara, says that one of the reasons people still prefer human agents is the poor integration of digital channels with the back-end systems that orchestrate customer journeys, leading to negative CX when customers cannot get their specific problem resolved and are stuck with generalized self-service functions. “CX today is much more challenging. The demands from customers are very high; they expect frictionless interaction,” she says.

Call centers still experience obstacles in providing a customer-first approach amid all the digital transformation. Issues that dissatisfied callers report include long wait times, incorrect routing of calls, or multiple call transfers—which all have simple solutions (like greater decision-making authority for agents or a comprehensive accessible knowledge base to avoid long call holds) that have been available for a few years now but that many companies have not implemented.

In the broader financial services sector, authentication presents frustration—customers understand the risk around fraud and identity theft, but sharing the same information with the call center that was already entered in front-end IVR generates annoyance. “With voice authentication, though, we are probably one to two years away [from] using your voice as your password,” says Kurt Schroeder, chief experience officer at CX consulting and technology firm Avtex.

But other speech tech solutions are available now and companies are already implementing them. “We are excited about the listening technology available to serve the call center agent the right answer to customer questions instead of the agent doing a search,” says Schroeder. “Being able to listen to the emotion in a call, we can automatically loop a manager in or transfer to a more senior agent if a call is starting to go sideways.” Other CX breakthroughs include augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and virtual reality (VR) for customers calling in for complex technical advice, especially in high-tech industries. These technologies will have a slower rollout, becoming available within the next 12 to 18 months.

Hudson believes the industry needs to be more focused on operational action rather than pure CX vision by creating a balance between the operational and strategic. “There is a heavy investment in the strategy of what the perfect CX would be but an underinvestment in what the CX actually is in order to benchmark and make it better,” she shares. While applying agile or DevOps methodologies can benefit CX, the cultural-mindset aspect of contact center leadership, which is integral to implementing process and cultural changes, must be considered as well.

Other key questions companies need to address remain. For instance, who, internally, has ownership of the customer-facing tech being deployed to maintain the continuity of CX across platforms? Though omnichannel is touted as the industry standard, organizations must determine which channels will handle which issues, and if certain channels are better suited for specific service requests. Lastly, finding the right people to field complex calls after customers have already tried various self-service methods is vital. As Schroeder points out, “The technology is changing so fast, so where do you place your bets? Where do you invest in tech that’s going to have some level of sustainability and adaptability for expectations around the experience?”

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