Trends for the Call Center Industry

Recently the two studies crossed my desk; Dimension Data study the “Top Eight Trends Shaping the future of Contact Centers”, and the Ventana Research study on contact center maturity and I thought it was a great starting point for some crystal ball gazing into our collective future.

Over the few issues of Customer Reach I wanted to share some of our thinking opposite these two reports and where insight call center and contact center operators need to focus to succeed and continue to thrive in this shifting marketplace.

First let’s examine the Top 8 Trends as identified by Dimension Data, the “top eight” list is;

1. The Role of the Contact Center is Shifting and Changing,
2. Sourcing & Service Models,
3. Process Management Orientation,
4. Self Service,
5. Performance & Productivity,
6. Integrated Architectures,
7. Procurement & Support Models,
8. Customer Experience,

The Role of the Contact Center is Shifting and Changing.
I agree completely with this point, the rate of change within the contact center space has continued to accelerate over the past ten years and increasingly the call or contact center is being viewed today as a strategic business unit in as a strategic asset. The shift from a cost center to that of a strategic business asset is shifting the focus away from cost-cutting and cost containment and instead is increasingly focusing on cost management, and value creation and retention. This isn’t to say that cost is now unimportant; we shall see that a number of the other top trends still focus on cost reduction, but it is no longer the sole or primary reason for change within the call center. The shift to a value focus however exposes the costs incurred with some of the cost reduction initiatives that center embarked upon in the past five years. Some of these chickens are coming home to roost. These include addressing issues such as staff retention/attrition, business alignment across functional silos.

There is no longer just two ways to manage your contact center inside or outsourced; today the options are virtually limitless with co-sourcing, home sourcing, virtual agents and increasingly blended environments. This is a reflection of both the increasing maturity in the contact center space as well as the increasing plethora of options available to centers of all sizes.

Maturity of contact centers and the supporting marketplace and infrastructures mean that companies with more than one center are looking manage these resources on an enterprise rather than individual or silo basis and are increasingly moving towards global market management. The increasing availability of technologies that were once the sole domain of large, sophisticated, robust and expensive application suites, to an ever shrinking breakeven level has been driven significantly by ASP or Software as a Service organizations that today can offer virtually any call center technology on a per agent per month basis.

Process Management Orientation.
With contact center representing the primary channel for interacting wit our customers process management has always been a key requirement. The recent shift from cost to value has forced organizations to increasing look at how their internal and customer processes impact on the customer experience and on customer loyalty. Our experience has shown that virtually every contact center can be operate more efficiently and most can be operated more effectively. The key challenge to most operators is how to attain the best bang for the buck in terms of maximizing the customer experience and thereby protect the existing revenue stream while at the same time ensuring the center operates as efficiently as possible. This shift in orientation means that companies will be increasing looking to streamline processes and self service will continue to grow in popularity (a hold over perhaps from the cost reduction models we are used to working with). We would expect that the most significant opportunities will continue to be ignored by many operators, due to fact that these changes are not easy and require significant effort though the returns are almost always significant. These hard strategies include mapping processes across the enterprise rather than just with the silo and addressing alignment issues on an enterprise level.

Self Service.
Streamlining of processes leads us inevitably to automation and self service. Self Service hold out the carrot of an improved functional process at a significantly lower operating cost. Where it is executed well and where it is appropriate it can work extremely well.

Key Self Service initiatives include speech recognition which is in use or planned in almost 50% of call centers, it is no longer the sole domain of larger centers. The next level of speech recognition is the fully virtual agent that can at times be so well designed and implemented to actually appear to be a live agent. Both of these examples as well as considered and rational expansion of existing and next generation IVR’s can assist companies to deliver improved effectiveness and efficiency within their contact centers.

The majority or organizations will continue to try to shortcut this exercise and where the proper due diligence hasn’t been completed they will run the risk of offending customer and eroding loyalty. Of course this result isn’t solely attached to self service as this is a risk with any of the trends we are discussing here, but self service which eliminates a live communication channel can do far more damage before the real cost is discovered than can occur in the other trends examined here.

Performance & Productivity.
Increasing focus on value creation and effective cost management (Trend 1) will drive an increased focus on Performance & Productivity. Agent analytics has become the fastest growing sector of the call center industry according to the experts at Gartner and Datamonitor.

This challenge has spurred and will continue to drive an increasing number of organizations to implement Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) and Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). The risks here are primarily that the companies may not know what the SLA or KPI’s should be and fall into the benchmarking trap (what is good for someone else might be good for me) rather than assess what their customers expectations and their resilience to change.

Of course there is lots of room for improvement with agent utilization at only 59% on average. Expect to see increased adoption of forecasting and staff scheduling applications as centers strive to improve the return on their single largest investment…their staff.

Integrated Architectures.
IP telephony is now mainstream and with it we have seen organizations start to view their voice and data infrastructures on an integrated and enterprise level. This shift can result in significant benefits to the organizations make this leap, though if poorly planned and executed it can lead to a very expensive and uncoordinated exercise that can actually damage customer loyalty and employee morale and confidence. The most common mistake is to fail to step back and envision the integrated architecture as a single entity, by not embedding the singularity of this viewpoint companies often attempt to cut corners, to save cost, but actually end up with higher expenses and less functionality. Add IP isn’t just about carrying voice over your data network, it must be about redeveloping your network to deliver two mission critical service to the company and not just one. Only when this is completed can organizations truly leverage the opportunities and capabilities that a robust distributed network can offer.

Procurement & Support Models.
As the price of entry for many contact center technologies declines, increased competition, IP telephony, hosted applications and Software as a Service more and more companies are avoiding the capital cost associated with their call center infrastructure and moving instead to rent based agreements. This can benefit organizations by reducing their initial capital outlay as well as enabling them to move more quickly to adopt new or emerging technologies than was possible previously. At the same time their on-going costs align better with the provision of service to their customers and less so upon managing infrastructure.

Increasingly contact center operators will move to a rental based agreement and outsource increasingly their network and data management requirements. On the whole this will increase the speed of adoption as outlined above and will serve to further reduce the cycle time of contact center application development. This increase speed of development will cause purchased equipment companies and those who manage their own network and data infrastructures to effectively be penalized as they cannot afford or easily justify the move to new technology faster than their current 5- 7 years cycle times.

Customer Experience.
The contact center business has been around for fifty years and more than two decades we have been hearing how important our call is to the company that leaves us on hold for twenty minutes, but there are signs this is changing. Increasingly organizations are realizing that customer loyalty is increasingly fragile. Customer satisfaction is what the customer says it is and customers will vote with their feet if you fail to deliver the promised (or expected) service. This shift, from ‘cost based management’ to one of ‘value based management’ portents a great and potentially positive change in the contact center landscape. Further this shift will create significant opportunities for the early adopters. A key prerequisite of this change is the involvement and understanding of an organizations senior management team of the realities of their own contact center and the expectations of their customers. One of our clients, a Fortune 500 company each month distributes the Voice of Customer cds’ to their senior officers and the this group actually listens to them and discusses what they are hearing. Would this company have embarked on a significant overhaul of their customer facing infrastructure without this backdrop? We will likely never know this answer but I would suggest that it is highly unlikely that the budget for this change would ever have been approved without an in-depth understanding that cannot be achieved in a two hour meeting.

Let us know what you think of this article or any suggestions you have for future issues by email at [email protected].

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