Tony Iero

2017 Contact Center Trends

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2017trendsIt’s that time again, when pundits and soothsayers make their predictions on what will be happening in the coming year. While some will be watching whether interest rates or hemlines will be rising or falling, those responsible for contact centers have plenty to look forward to in 2017, especially with the rapid development of cloud technology and the application of big data.

So, what are the specific contact center trends to watch out for? Here are the most important that are already changing the customer experience.

Cloud Based Systems
Investing in costly on-premises infrastructure and maintenance agreements seems downright old-fashioned. In 2017, we’ll be seeing even more companies realizing the cost and time-savings of moving their contact system to the cloud. With a pay-as-you-go system, scaling up and down is much easier. It makes having a distributed workforce much more realistic. They’re also much easier to integrate with third-party solutions, such as CRM.

Are you still confused about the difference between multichannel and omnichannel? If so, the differences will likely become crystal clear to you in 2017. Call centers became multichannel contact centers when they introduced additional channels, such as email or chat. However, omnichannel means connecting the dots by creating seamless journeys for customers across the growing number of channels they expect, whether they are apps, social media, text message or traditional voice. Omnichannel melds all channels of service and communication into a single, seamless experience.

To make this happen, most companies require infrastructure upgrades. Legacy voice-centric systems are simply not equipped to support omnichannel customer engagement. If you’re struggling with an outdated system that is frustrating your customers and creating IT headaches because of channel integration issues, 2017 may be the year to consider a move to a contact center platform that support omnichannel engagement. Those who continue to hang on to their tried and true systems will soon discover that customers no longer have the patience for anything less.

Customers are increasingly preferring the ease of self-service over having to dial a number and wait on hold to be routed to a representative. This makes sense when you consider how far self-service has come in the last several years. Technological advancements, such as speech recognition IVR and robust knowledge-assisted channels powered by big data, have made it easier to complete an interaction via self-service than with an agent. When augmented with options, such as VHT Digital, which integrates non-voice interactions with existing call routing systems, the percentage of interactions being managed via self-service is only going to grow.

Virtual Assistants
Although virtual assistant technology is more than a decade old, it has primarily been used as a novelty on websites until very recently. Now, this technology, which powers smartphone personal assistants like Apple’s Siri, is being used in exciting new ways to help customers get answers to questions quickly and efficiently. With a combination of speech recognition, natural language understanding and machine learning, applications are already being seen in B2C industries, such as travel, hospitality and telecom.

Of course, like with any new technology, virtual assistants need to be carefully integrated into the customer experience to be effective. This may mean deploying them on messaging apps, IVR, web chat and other channels that customers are already familiar with.

Another application for virtual assistants, which is showing tremendous promise, is incorporating them on agent desktops to improve employee productivity. This is a trend that will be evolving quickly in 2017. There are likely to be some surprises by industry innovators who see the potential of this versatile technology.

Messaging Apps
First there was email, and for the last few years, we’ve all been focused on social media and text messaging. What’s next? The latest and greatest form of digital communication is now messaging apps, like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat. While consumers are increasingly using messaging apps for everyday communication with friends and family instead of email, service organizations haven’t been so quick to see the opportunity to connect with customers using this channel. This will soon be changing.

For customers, there are big benefits to using a messaging app over email. First, it’s a fast and effective way to connect with a company on an app they’re already using. The response is also instantaneous and offers more personalized engagement. From a business perspective, messaging apps offer a variety of opportunities. For example, a virtual assistant can be embedded into a messaging app, pulling data from a knowledge base and also leveraging contextual data.

A Move Away from Traditional KPIs
Until recently, contact center performance was primarily measured on metrics like abandoned calls, calls answered, and average wait time. However, as service organizations become more focused on customer satisfaction, it has become more necessary to monitor first call resolution, average age of query and customer call frequency.

With growing service expectations, it has also become more important to understand what is necessary to maintain high levels of customer satisfaction. Tools like customer satisfaction surveys, customer advocacy programs and Net Promoter Scores will be even more closely assessed in 2017.

Single Integrated Agent Desktops
With most customers starting interactions on the web, they’re now only switching to a voice channel when they want to escalate an issue. This means agents are getting more complex problems than ever before. They are also using more applications and screens to handle these interactions. Having to switch screens, enter multiple logins and understand a growing number of processes, agents’ work environments have become more stressful and less efficient. This reality is leading more service organizations to choose a single, unified desktop to enable agents to work from a single source to handle every type of interaction, regardless of the channel it started from. With a single view of all interactions and touchpoints and access to a knowledge base and contextual data, agents can focus more on providing service and less on navigating screens and applications.

Customers with Less Patience
The average amount of time that customers will wait on hold continues to drop every year. With our growing expectations of everything on-demand, the thought of waiting on hold for minutes to speak with an agent is no longer acceptable. Solutions like call back software can help eliminate extended hold times by giving customers the option for a callback that’s convenient for them.

While it may seem quaint and retro to wear vintage clothing or listen to music from a bygone era, there is nothing exceptional about running an outdated contact center that diminishes service levels. Staying on top of the latest trends is necessary to meet today’s customer expectations and stay competitive. Yes, this takes a commitment to service and investment in the future. However, it’s the best way to sustain market share and differentiate your business from the competition.

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