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Contact Center Trends 2015

February 5, 2015

Interactive Intelligence recently hosted a webinar presenting the top trends for this year. Guest speaker Ian Jacobs from Forrester provided insight from a market research perspective while Sheila McGee-Smith (McGee-Smith Analytics) and Don Van Dorn (Vanguard) added their views during the Q&A period. Tim Passios of Interactive Intelligence moderated and contributed his thoughts on technology involved in each of the trends. More than 2,000 people attended the webinar.

Here are highlights from the seminar, organized by the trends presented.

Trend 1: Customer Experience

While customer experience talk is not new, Jacobs sees 2015 as the breakout year in the ‘Age of the Customer’, where empowered buyers demand a new level of customer obsession. This transformation, Jacobs says, is driven by increased mobility, amplified communication via social media and disruptive technology.

According to recent surveys, most companies recognize the strategic importance of customer experience and many even see it as a significant competitive advantage. The challenge then is in execution. Companies must now find a way to link customer experience to operational results. Jacobs estimates that about 25% of companies have been able to do this in some way at this point.

We agree with Passios that there are several ways to quickly improve the customer experience through more meaningful and efficient interactions. We characterize this as a focus on reducing customer effort.

Examples include:

  • Dynamic IVR. The content of the IVR is responsive to the specific caller. If the caller is recognized, information from previous interactions (through any number of other communication channels) can be provided to shorten the call path and move the customer toward a quicker resolution.
  • Personalized Script. Give the agent information about the caller and the agent can then tailor the conversation to decrease customer effort and potentially increase upsell and cross-sell opportunities. That’s a win for everyone.
  • Customer Experience Routing. Match callers to agents that can best handle their styles, interests, behaviors and preferences. Customers are happier, the call is optimized, and agents are more effective.

Trend #2: Cross Channel

Only a few years ago, the emphasis was on multichannel. The desire was to offer customers options for how they contact customer service. Now it is clear that customers want to mix it up—using multiple channels to resolve the issue at hand. For example, the customer could start out with a Google search leading to review sites and your self-help pages. Next, they may start a chat with a customer service representative and then even switch to voice or video to better communicate a complex issue. Jacobs calls this cross channel interaction—a single journey that moves through many channels.

As contact centers map the customer journey it will become more obvious that customers often begin customer service interactions outside of the contact center. What starts as a player to player interaction in a multi-player game environment, for example, may culminate with a question posed to customer service.

The ability to communicate with others through so many different channels (voice, text, video, audio) and environments (apps, games, web sites) has increased the customer expectation that customer service will be ‘there’ when the customer needs them. Customers are more and more likely to assume they can reach you from wherever they are, thinking “I’m here. Why aren’t you?” if you are not.

Passios described how customers can rate and select their own agents through customer choice routing. Customers can view the talents, experience, reviews and wait times of various agents and select their champion, as it were. They can also select the channel to use with that agent.

Trend #3: Cloud

Jacobs sees 2015 as the year when companies will look to the cloud for benefits beyond cost. Agility is a key benefit sought. Control is another. With the cloud, companies may be able to move quicker and control functionality more granularly than with conventional systems.

Security concerns still loom, although the panelists agreed that the cloud can be as secure as premise-based solutions. As McGee-Smith pointed out, “Data security is a business issue, not a cloud issue.”

Passios emphasized that cloud solutions offer elasticity—they can easily scale up and down as needs change. Apps can be consumed anywhere in the world from the distributed cloud network.

Trend #4: Mobility

Mobile is not just a channel, it is every channel. Virtually every adult in the US (and a lot of younger people) have smartphones loaded with apps for text, voice, video, chat, gaming and so on. Every one of those apps is a potential channel for customer contact.

Jacobs notes that contact center managers should be thinking about how to leverage new technologies to reach their customers proactively. For example, they could leverage Google Now for breakthrough notifications when there are service interruptions.

Passios reminds that in the midst of all this, it is important to also remember mobile employees. Think of agents freed from their desktop app, supervisors using iPads for instant call monitoring and analysis. Mobile tools provide great opportunity for contact center improvements and make the environment more attractive to the mobile generation.

Trends #5: Workforce Optimization

As new channels and new modes of working develop, it is imperative that contact center management have the tools to optimize the workforce. Jacobs sees these tools divided into a hierarchy:

  • Foundation: Customer Focused. These tools focus on quality and recording.
  • Advanced: Operational Efficiency. Workforce management, eLearning and Strategic Planning come into play.
  • Mature: Customer Obsessed. Surveys, interaction analytics and program management are employed to ensure that the contact center has good intel and feedback from which they can measure success in terms of both customer experience and business operations.

Passios argues that it is key to have a long-term workforce forecasting tool, and that real-time speech analytics provide the ability to impact customer experience in the moment.

Final Thoughts

From our perspective, all these contact center trends support the fundamental truth that customers want easy and swift resolution to their issue at hand. They do not measure success based on one part of the journey but on the whole. Contact centers and the companies they serve are moving toward a broader understanding of the customer journey, the connection between discovery, purchase, and product use and how the customer perceives the company.

We see Customer Effort as a key concept that contact centers will begin to build metrics around. These organizations will seek to employ quick changes that have high visibility to customers, picking the low hanging fruit such as streamlined IVR, more meaningful messages, callbacks and notification.

We also see leading organizations documenting customer journeys to identify what channels are used when and where hurdles are too high. New tools and processes will help contact centers recognize and deal with customer baggage—the attitude and experiences that customers bring with them to the interaction.