2019 in the contact centre: a year in review

2019 was a big year for contact centre technology, and while advances continue thick and fast, so much has changed that pinpointing exact key trends is often challenging. The industry’s digital revolution is only growing in momentum, too.

A recent report by Technavio found that the global contact centre solutions market is poised to grow by US$5.45 billion during 2020-2022. Now we are fully into the swing of 2020, it is time to take stock of the trends that really stood out in 2019. Here are the top four unified communications (UC) trends I saw gain momentum over the last year.

The progression of the chatbot

The idea that chatbots are the perfect elixir to all customer service problems has only recently been debunked as a myth. In the last year or so, many have realised that, though useful, chatbots are better suited to act as part of a wider portfolio of customer service offerings. According to recent research from Customer Contact Week, only 9% of people surveyed felt that they would be best served by a chatbot for serious enquiries. Whereas, the figures for a voice call were in excess of 80%.

We are seeing now a reborn Golden Age of Voice, largely thanks to the resurgence of voice-led interactions driven by home assistants such as Alexa, as well as the fact that important queries overwhelmingly require the aid of another human. This has led to a growing maturity in the consumer base that sees the chatbot becoming a valuable channel, by virtue of its ability to remove agent time spent on routine enquiries. Looking into the future, what is more exciting, is the prospect of the convergence of written and verbal chatbot technology to create an advanced conversational user interface.

NLP goes mainstream

During 2019, Natural Language Processing (NLP) began to step out of the Proof of Concept (PoC) stage and become mainstream in the UC industry. Over the past year or so, NLP has cemented itself as a tool that opens up unprecedented insight into voice data, especially in customer journey analytics. The results are far richer than those gleaned from the metadata analysis we have been restricted to until recently. Now a much larger quantity of data can be analysed, and turned into actionable insights.

By using NLP, customer calls are categorised much more precisely, so that agents know exactly what a customer’s issue is by the time they answer. Queries can be resolved faster and more accurately, since the agent is more prepared before the call and doesn’t need to spend time searching for answers in real-time while in conversation.

AI understands your feelings

The momentum for many sectors to roll out NLP increased throughout 2019 and it is set to be a gamechanger in the contact centre industry, since it is manifestly more efficient than a traditional Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and supports agent activity.

Advancements in sentiment analysis were already well underway in 2019, and will be the next big step for NLP in 2020, continuing to pave the way for monumental gains in the UC industry. This is where a sophisticated mix of keywords, tone of voice, and volume create a much deeper picture of the caller and their needs for the agent. With this information, businesses can ensure that each caller is routed to the agent or department best equipped to deal with their enquiry. For example, if sentiment analysis detects a customer who is distressed, the call can be routed to an agent who is experienced or trained in handling these types of conversation. This streamlines processes and ensures customers are always served by the most suitable person.

Cloud contact centre becomes a value centre

Traditionally, the contact centre industry has been viewed by organisations as a method of saving on resources. This has led to a focus on very restrictive performance metrics, as well as a general desire to reduce the number of agents taking calls by automating as far as possible. However, with increasing importance being placed on customer experience as the key business differentiator, particularly in service-based and subscription organisations, there is a growing demand for the scalability made available by a cloud contact centre model.

Whereas before, the need to replace legacy infrastructure was largely driven by expensive equipment failures, we are now seeing a widespread buy-in for cloud services from C-level executives who want to improve their customer engagement. As a result, over the next two years there will be an acceleration of the shakeout of on-premises solutions towards cloud-based omni channel infrastructure.

As technologies such as NLP and sentiment analysis have become mainstream over the past year, it is now more important than ever for organisations across the industry to start investing more in cloud technologies that improve the experience for their customers, and their agents in 2020 and beyond.

By Martin Taylor, Co-Founder and Deputy CEO at Content Guru

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