Apocalyptic Forecasts and the Contact Center

By Donna Fluss

Every few years the soothsayers among us predict global trends that are either totally alarmist or too good to be true. Here are some of my favorites from the past few decades:

  • The world is running out of oil. This started in the 1970s.
  • New age sensibility and meditation will bring world peace, circa 1970s.
  • The office is going paperless, circa 1980s.
  • Programming will be so easy anyone can do it, circa 1980s.
  • All interfaces will be speechified, circa 1990s.
  • The Y2K bug will bring the modern world to a catastrophic end, circa 1990s.
  • Two thousand eighteen will be the year of driverless cars, circa 2016.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and robots will replace all human workers, the “big news” in 2017.

The call center world hasn’t escaped its share of sensational claims, which include:

  • Voice response units (VRUs, predecessors of the IVR) will replace the need for live agents, circa 1980s.
  • Email will replace the phone as the primary form of customer service, circa 1990s.
  • Social media will eliminate the need for contact centers, circa 2000s.
  • Web and mobile apps will eliminate the need for live agents, circa 2010s.

Time has put to rest most of these claims, although it remains to be seen what will happen with driverless cars (by 2018) and AI/robots. But as they’re here on the list with all the other failed predictions, my opinion is clear.

While apocalyptic forecasts and sweeping claims make for great headlines and generate a lot of discussion, they rarely come true. And if they do become a reality, it is often over a longer time and with much less impact than originally predicted. Despite the silliness of some of these predictions, they reflect what society and the business world is thinking about.

It’s clear from all the bombastic rhetoric about contact centers that there has been, and continues to be, a push to reduce dependence on live agents. As contact centers are people-intensive organizations, where agents account for 65 to 75 percent of departmental costs, it makes sense for businesses to look for ways to reduce their dependence on live agents and make them more productive.

DMG does not believe that contact centers are going away for the foreseeable future. However, we do expect they will change. Here are a few of DMG’s predictions about contact centers and the likelihood of each scenario happening:

  • Robotics (robotic process automation [RPA], aka bots) will automate an increasing amount of work currently done by agents in contact centers within the next five years: 0.9 probability.
  • Machine learning will be incorporated into many contact center applications to improve performance and reduce dependence on IT resources within the next five years: 0.9 probability.
  • Speech analytics will replace the traditional quality assurance (QA) process in the next eight years: 0.7 probability.
  • Customer journey analytics (CJA) solutions that capture, analyze, and identify opportunities for improvements will emerge in the next eight years: 0.65 probability.
  • AI will drive omnichannel routing to ensure that all interactions get to the right people in the organization to resolve the issues, while considering the cost of handling each transaction, in the next eight years: 0.35 probability.
  • Contact centers and back offices will merge in the next ten years: 0.3 probability.
  • Self-service solutions will eliminate the need for live agents in the next ten years: 0.1 probability.

The overarching theme these contact center trends have in common is productivity improvement. What makes this push different from what we’ve seen for decades is the use of technology to automate activities previously done by human beings instead of motivating agents and supervisors to perform their jobs faster and do more with less.

It is our job as executives, leaders, and managers to discount silly claims while considering the relevant ones. The objective is to increase contact center effectiveness every year by taking advantage of technical and operational innovation while improving the service experience. The pressure rightly is being put on contact centers. Those that identify and embrace the right trends and innovation will experience measurable improvements, but organizations that stick to business as usual will be left behind in the digital transformation.

Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.