I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at the Opentalk conference where we discussed how the traditional call center is evolving and where it is headed. We had a good discussion so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the topic more broadly. In particular, we discussed two key questions:
- Why is the call center changing from a voice-only cost center into a contact center focused on increasing customer lifetime value?
- What does the call center of the future look like?
The panel was moderated by Robert Sur, head of platform, at Talkdesk and also included Jay Blazensky, chief revenue officer of VoiceBase; and Joe McFadden, VP of customer success at PlayVox as panelists.
The answer to the first question is rather simple. It is quite natural that as markets become more saturated and competition for customers intensifies, companies look for new ways to differentiate to acquire and retain customers more easily. Over the past two decades, the internet made it easier for customers to churn because competition is now only one click away. In addition, since 2008 with the launch of the mobile app stores, new, all-digital startups have been disrupting existing industries and taking customers away from traditional enterprises, intensifying competition even more. Because competition for customers is at an all-time high, customer service—and more broadly the customer experience—has become a key competitive weapon in the battle to attract and retain customers. This explains why the contact center, as the primary touchpoint for customers at most B2C businesses, is evolving quickly with new technological investments that aim to retain customers, delight them and increase overall customer lifetime value.
Unique Vantage Point at Nexmo
We have a unique vantage point at Nexmo because we work with both digital native companies such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb that are disrupting traditional industries and also with traditional enterprises that are being disrupted by the new upstarts. Our digital native customers know that in order to compete with large enterprises they must innovate in the way they engage with customers. This is why hailing a ride from a car hailing startup using a mobile app is a much more pleasant experience than standing on a street corner or calling a dispatcher and praying that your taxi will show up in time. Those startups innovate fast by adopting API building blocks rather than building infrastructure from scratch. This approach enables them to focus on curating the best experience for their customers rather than building and maintaining the required plumbing.
We’re now seeing that larger enterprises are beginning to adopt API building blocks for their customer engagement as well. They realize that the legacy infrastructure they deployed in their contact centers does not allow them to innovate fast enough. Often those large enterprises have innovation teams who act more like the Silicon Valley software companies that they now compete with. We recommend that all enterprises begin experimenting with API building blocks now. In particular, as you look to add the next channel to your contact center, for example SMS, a mobile app, Facebook Messenger, WeChat or any of the new chat apps, consider using APIs to integrate the new channel with your existing contact center. Then over time, as your needs evolve, you’ll be in a better position to innovate faster with APIs across other parts of your contact center. This is what many of our customers such as KLM Royal Dutch Airlines are already doing.
Key Trends Shaping the Future of the Contact Center
Now let’s address the second question posed at the conference. What does the call center of the future look like? There are three key trends that are shaping the future of customer engagement that give us a view into what the future contact center will look like. These trends are contextual communications, omnichannel conversations, and human plus.
First, let’s consider contextual communications. Contextual communications means that the contact between customers and companies is driven by the context in which the interaction was initiated, such as why you are calling, what device you are on, what your location is, and so on. For example, if you call your airline while in the process of changing a reservation in the airline’s mobile app, the agent should know that you are calling about a change to your reservation.
Second is omnichannel conversations. And here I emphasize conversations—not just omnichannel. The problem we see with omnichannel deployments today is that while the customer thinks he or she is having a single conversation with a brand across different channels—in reality the brand treats each interaction as a new conversation. That is because channels today are siloed. So the trend we see is for true omnichannel conversations where the interactions between a customer and a company become a continuous conversation regardless of which channel is used for each interaction. For example, if a brand sends you an SMS about a package delivery and you decide to call the company back, the contact center agent should know that you are calling about that package delivery. This is the type of service we used to receive when there was only one channel (the neighborhood store) and the shopkeeper knew you personally, greeted you by name and remembered your recent visits to the store. The contact center of the future will replicate that personalized experience, but across channels.
The third trend we see is what we call human plus. This is the idea that as artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more useful, bots will support the conversations we have with human agents, rather than replace those agents. The combination of a live agent with the power of AI will make for better conversations that improve the customer service and make the agents more productive. For example, bots will listen in the background of calls between customers and agents and will help the agents solve more complex problems without the need to put customers on hold to research an issue or to escalate to a supervisor.
At the heart of these trends is the idea that the way companies engage with customers is a defining part of the service itself. The relationship between companies and customers will become a friendly, even if business-like, conversation.
For more on the future of the contact center refer to The Future of Customer Engagement.