7 Predictions for the Future of Customer Engagement in the Contact Center

By Tom Goodmanson

The “smart” technology that revolutionized our cell phones is finding its way into just about everything: medical devices, baby monitors, smoke detectors, thermostats, running shoes, even cows. Yes, cows: A company in the Netherlands has developed a sensor that attaches to a cow’s ear, monitors its vital signs, and reports back to the farmer via email or text.

The pace at which technology marches forward is incredible. The researchers at Gartner estimate that nearly 12.5 billion devices are connected to the Web. By 2020 the number of connected “things” is expected to rise to 30 billion, and devices will outnumber people on the Internet. Should we be worried? Are computers finally taking over? Experts like Carlos Dominguez, a technology evangelist with Cisco, don’t think so. Reassuringly, Dominguez predicts that although machines will be automating more and more processes, humans will still be in control – and responsible for the outcomes.

When it comes to the power of all this data, it’s time the customer engagement folks get involved. And that begins in the contact center. Here are my seven predictions and a few tips about where the contact center is going in the future.

Prediction #1: Brands Will Be More Proactive. It’s the year 2020. Your washing machine stops working, but you’re neither worried nor surprised. It’s a relatively new model, equipped with sensors and communications technology that automatically alert the manufacturer if the appliance needs service. The manufacturer has already notified you (via email, which it recognizes as your preferred method of contact) that the machine needs repair.

A virtual agent initiates a service call by accessing your calendar application of choice to set up an appointment. On the scheduled day, the technician gains access to your home by entering a single-use passcode into your front door (which is outfitted with a smart lock), completes the repair, and triggers an automated confirmation email to both you and the manufacturing center. The ticket is closed, and you are washing your next load of laundry before you are ever affected by the issue.

For contact center leaders, however, this vision of the future might seem daunting. A service environment with this level of automation, one that blurs or breaks the line between agents and distributed “experts,” doesn’t create itself, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. You need the right tools and partners to get all the moving pieces to work together. You also need to build a culture in which this blurring is even possible, which may actually be the bigger of the two challenges.

Prediction #2: Virtualization Will Break Down the Walls of the Contact Center. As work becomes more of a thing we do and not a place we go to, more customer care agents are working remotely. They work in different states, different time zones, and different languages, so contact center systems for workforce management, CRM, and analytics will have to be that much more integrated.

Prediction #3: Self-Service Options Will Continue to Expand. The expansion of self-service options – from the traditional interactive voice response (IVR) and website help to community-based tech support (what some call social customer service) – will also increase, enabling customers to get fast answers to their questions, especially routine ones, without human interaction. Remember that, no matter how service is delivered – by a human or by a machine – the customer is still interacting with your brand. Is that interaction positive or negative? Does it strengthen or weaken your reputation? Understanding these touch points and how they shape your customer’s experience will be more important than ever for retention and repeat business.

Prediction #4: Everyone Will Be an Expert in Something. If self-service and automation will be the norm in 2020, what will that mean for agents? Employee’s roles will certainly change, and the need for specialized care from subject-matter experts inside the enterprise will increase drastically.

In the future the first point of contact for the customer whose problem is not routine might be a subject-matter expert. Ideally contact centers will know enough about who is calling, emailing, or texting and why so they can automatically direct the customer to the right person on the first try. The full expression of this will be a tier-less agent system in which every customer-facing employee is able to access the same service processes and technologies.

Prediction #5: Customers Will Live and Buy in an Omni-Channel World. We will build and live in a digitally messy world. Once customers had one channel: the phone. But call centers aren’t just for calls anymore; now we have email, social media, and even texts to manage. In 2020 we’ll have even more channels, and your contact center must be flexible enough to support all of them in an integrated way.

Machine-to-machine communications has become known as the Internet of Things (IoT). We’ll see more of this as communications channels open. We saw this in the washing machine scenario, in which the sensors in the machine communicated with another machine (a computer) and set the whole process in motion. Touch points are going to multiply, but standards – though important – will lag. Which clients (for example, washing machines) will communicate with which smart home hubs and with which protocols, and who will actually get the call? It will be challenging, but customers will demand the seamless, no-fuss future they were promised.

Prediction #6: Security Will Be a Priority with Deeper Customer Engagement. With all this connectedness and emerging channels comes the need for smarter security. Security is not a new concern for contact centers. We now have to protect a bevy of new and in many cases, yet-to-be regulated customer data – not just credit card numbers or medical records, but location data and biometric information, too. Think of the security risks at every point in the connected washing machine example: access to the customer’s calendar, physically entering the home, trusting the home’s network security, and so on. Now imagine one of your contact center reps having to identify, diagnose, and resolve an issue in this tangled web from a remote location.

Prediction #7:  Data Won’t Matter without Powerful Analytics Tools. Analytics will be vital for the multichannel contact center of 2020. It will be critical to have systems in place that can handle all this data, organize it, and mine it. Then, once you’ve mined it, you must have the infrastructure and company culture in place that allows you to act on it.

With the right analytics systems, you can take huge volumes of data and pick out the important patterns and trends without having to know the right questions to ask. The right analytics will allow companies to tap into one of the single most powerful capabilities the contact center has to offer: real-time, root-cause analysis.

Tom Goodmanson, president and CEO of Calabrio, has twenty years of experience leading software and technology companies.

[From Connection MagazineMay/June 2016]

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