5 Call Center Trends That Stand the Test of Time

This blog is the first one in a series of posts on trends in the contact center.

Quick excursion into Call Center history: Call Centers received mainstream attention after Rockwell patented their Galaxy Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) back in 1973. Obviously call centers have evolved since the 70s, but there are some call center trends that have withstood the test of time, and continue to be used.

Here are 5 contact center functionality trends that have stuck around for a reason, and will continue to play a role in the future.

  1. Omnichannel Customer Journey – Multichannel has been around for a long time. It has not only remained, but evolved into the broader concept of Omnichannel, mainly because today’s customers are more influential and demanding than ever before. They expect their experiences to be

    1. Easy –In the customer’s channel of choice and with little effort [i.e., a lower overall Customer Effort Score (CES)]
    2. Personalized – Across all channels, at any time
    3. Quick – Regardless of channel, customers expect their issue to be resolved upon first contact [i.e., increased First Contact Resolution (FCR)].

The majority of research predicts that these expectations are not only here to stay, but will increase over time. Keeping track of — and actually fulfilling growing customer expectations across more and more channels — requires insight into the Omnichannel Customer Journey. You must have the flexibility to serve customers in the channels they choose, at any point during their journey, while giving your agents immediate and complete insight into that journey.

  1. Self-Service Channels – The number of times where the interactive voice response’s (IVR’s) requiem was being composed are countless. However, front-end and self-service IVR are alive and well, with or without Speech Recognition and Text-to-Speech. So are other Self-Service channels, old and new (think FAQ’s, Communities, Virtual Agents, Chat Bots etc…). It looks like self-service is going digital, just like the agent assisted channels are in most contact centers. Kate Leggett from Forrester research indicated in a blog post from March 2016 that “Web and mobile self-service interactions overtake all other channels”. This is based on research that in 2015, over 80% of US online adults used help or FAQs on a company’s website (a sizable increase from 67% in 2012). The trend is here to stay, and surely will intensify. Just remember to ensure your agents understand where your customer “came from” when they reach out to your agents for live support. They need to be aware of what actions the customer has already taken via self-service.
  2. Inbound Phone Calls – Inbound calls are here to stay. They may take on a different role in the customer journey, but as customers emancipate and get more knowledgeable, the phone will not be the only or even the first channel any more. Voice is starting to turn into a channel for interactions that are urgent, difficult, or emotional. inContact research confirmed years ago that access to a live company representative is preferred by 81% of U.S. adults when they are dissatisfied with an order. In such a situation, real-time interactions (voice or chat) are preferred over non-real-time such as email or online self-service. And the recently released inContact Customer Experience Transformation Benchmark Study reaffirms: voice calls are here to stay, with 2/3 (66%) of all customer service experiences involving the customer calling the company, regardless of growth in digital media.

  1. Outbound – There will be continued need for the more “traditional” outbound call centers for the foreseeable future. However, today’s customers have increasingly grown to appreciate proactive outreach as an integrated part of their customer journey. Outbound interactions are not necessarily just the dreaded collections call anymore; today, outbound calls, emails and/or texts are used to simplify and streamline interactions with a company and provide an elevated level of service in the case of alerts, reminders, tracking and the like.
  2. Skills-based Omnichannel Routing and Universal Queue – Customer interactions turn into sophisticated customer sessions. Those session can comprising multiple interactions in different channels over time, or even concurrently. Customers become more knowledgeable with increasing use of self-service. Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) are more and more turning into Customer Service Experts (CSEs). And finding the right expert with the correct skill set and level of proficiency to resolve customer issues and answer questions is becoming more important. As many customers become more knowledgeable, your agents “mature” as well – to the degree that in some contact centers you may want to let your agents decide whether or not an additional channel should be added to an interaction. For example, let the agent decide whether making an outbound call to a customer while they are on a chat makes sense to achieve FCR and improve the customer experience. Some contact centers may - now or in the future - handle interactions that are complex enough to leave it to the agent to decide if and when they are ready to handle an additional interaction, as well as how many interactions they can handle concurrently based on personal Cognitive Load.

Share with us – which other call center trends do you believe will continue to play a role in the contact center of the future?

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of this series: Trends Up and Coming, and Trends that will Go Away.