Predictions for the contact centre of the (not so distant) future

BLOG: David Ford, Managing Director, Magnetic North

With customer experience on everyone’s lips, the contact centre is undergoing a huge – and arguably much needed change. The age of The Customer is upon us, and the success of the contact centre is increasingly being defined by its ability to resolve the increasingly complex needs of its multichannel customers. As the pressure mounts on brands to offer customer service that excels, agents need to be on top of their game. For this, they need sophisticated technology and flexibility – perhaps an entirely new work culture.

Here are our ten predictions for the (not so distant) future:

1. “Channel pivot” will close the divide between voice, web chat, social media.

No more discussing which channels are ‘best’. Finally, 2016 will be the year that companies understand the necessity of combining their contact channels. The leading contact centres will give every channel equal mindshare with the emphasis on customer choice and ultimately satisfaction and companies who don’t will be left behind. As well as this, every agent will have a full view of the recent interactions and queries to allow them to help the customers using all the mediums available.

2. Cloud WILL become the default…

…for contact centres of every size. Advances in technology and infrastructure continues the recent ‘charge to the cloud’, allowing companies to rent bundles of equipment and software, and stay competitive, at a fraction of the cost. Until recently, larger contact centres wouldn’t have entertained cloud solutions but this is no longer the case. Contact centres are now shifting greatly as those 500+ agent contact centres embrace the ‘contact centre as a service’ model and finally make the switch. 2016 will be the year cloud goes mainstream.

3. A new, remote work culture for agents in the contact centre

In 2016, an increasing number of contact centres will be discussing or revisiting the benefits of remote agents with a view to carrying this out. The stereotypical ‘inbound’ image of a contact centre is swiftly becoming a thing of the past. We are seeing a new interest and adoption of the more flexible, homeworking model amongst many of our customers. The days of rows of agents in a room are gone. More companies will allow agents to work anywhere and anytime, giving contact centres the opportunity to ‘flex’. Seasonal peaks can be met and this offers a better work life balance for employees.

4. Instant next generation call routing systems

Intelligent call routing is already available of course, but the latest technology will ensure that customers are connected directly with a technical specialist, able to help them on the spot, with no need for further transfers. As CRM and workflow management systems develop, an intricate matchmaking process will occur every time a customer calls, to ensure the right expert is on hand to solve every problem. The companies that don’t do this effectively will be left behind and lose customers as a result.

5. Humans not robots

Who wants to sound like a robot? Contact centres will soon abandon the old fixed agent script in 2016. Nearly all of us have experienced the irritation of talking to a human being who seems incapable of answering simple questions without moving off their script. This is increasingly being overtaken by an interaction that is much more like a real conversation, as the result of dynamic agent scripts, with smaller prompts, rather than rigid scripts presented to the agent, providing a 360-degree of the customer.

6. No more long queues

Innovative software platforms can completely reconstruct the queuing experience, meaning that call queues needn’t be so much of a frustration for customers. Companies can now take advantage of advanced call flows that meet business priorities while providing a more streamlined customer experience. For example, virtual call queuing and callback options mean they can hold their place without waiting on the line, or actually specify a time they’d like a callback. This typically results in call queues that are 65% shorter. Other customers can also be given ‘VIP status’ priority so they don’t have to wait in a queue.

Call queues can also be personalised, with important, appropriate information like an estimated delivery time played to the customer. This often satisfies the customer’s query – they can then hang up without the need to keep holding for an advisor.

7. IVR: from irritating interface to customer enablement tool

Like call queues, IVR, or interactive voice response, has in the past often been one of the annoyances of calling a contact centre. However, in 2016 self-service will start to come into its own, helping customers find the information they need when they need it, handling simple transactions like taking payments and dealing with simple interactions without having to talk to a live agent.

8. The continued rise of the super agent – the last resort for customers

Customer self-service will pick up pace in 2016 – already becoming a trend this year. We will see speaking to an agent become even more of a last resort for more complicated queries, leading to the rise of the ‘super’ customer service agent. These multichannel communicators will be experts in their product knowledge with the skills and ability to deal with trickier customer issues. Making sure your agents have these skills will ensure that you can stay on top of your customer satisfaction ratings and avoid customer defections in 2016.

The contact centre has come to a point of rapid evolution, and as cloud reaches its tipping point the technologies needed to meet customers’ changing communication are becoming much more accessible. However, these technologies need to be matched with changing contact centre culture, processes and agent skills – the businesses that achieve success here will provide the best customer experiences, giving them the edge on their competitors.