The arrival of 2014 will bring with it a wide-ranging opportunity for call center operators to raise their game. But it is also a time for call center decision makers to be selective about which technologies best support their core mission. I have outlined here eight critical tech trends that should be examined carefully, during the new year:
Fitting in the Cloud
Companies in the region are embracing the cloud for a myriad of reasons, including scalability, speed of deployment, and the capability it provides to trial new applications quickly and cost effectively. But some of the broader adoption has come as a result of cloud providers addressing restrictions that previously had held companies back, such as security, reliability and go-to-market models available in Latin America.
In larger enterprises, hybrid adoption is most frequent as part of legacy replacements and that generally begins with interactive voice response (IVR) or when looking to innovate quickly with the adoption of additional channels like social media. In small to medium-sized contact centers, or within departments of larger enterprises, we expect to see adoption of the all-in-one contact center in the cloud.
However, Frost & Sullivan does not perceive that contact centers in Latin America are flying to the cloud en masse. In fact most customer contact solutions will continue to be premise-installed for quite some time. There is still a considerable number of legacy but still highly functional switches, IVR systems, and outbound dialers inside contact centers.
What we are seeing, and we will continue to see over the next few years, is a hybrid environment in most contact centers, where some of the solutions are in the cloud while others are premise-installed. Contact centers are slowly adopting the cloud, whether to replace older solutions that have outlived their usefulness, or to obtain new capabilities, such as customer chat, proactive customer contact, and enterprise feedback management.
Virtual agents are speech- or text-driven applications that facilitate much of what can be done with a live agent. Sort of like an IVR, but with a persona and conversational capabilities. They allow a customer to cut to the chase and ask a question, have a dialog and go through transactions, or be routed quickly to the right spot rather than go through tedious menu prompts. Depending upon the degree of sophistication, these agents can offload a tremendous amount of calls from a contact center, and help complete transactions on the web. But they can also reinforce a company’s brand image because the personas can be designed to closely represent the type of agent and way a company wants their agents to interact with customers. Virtual agents can be smart, friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and consistently on-message with respect to brand values, which it is hard to get live agents to consistently do.
Virtual agents aren’t new. They have been around for a long time, but haven’t taken off in a big way, but that is changing. Perhaps the biggest constraint has been the lack of awareness about them and what they do, but after the SIRI (from Apple) introduction things have changed. Even though SIRI is a consumer grade personal assistant, and not a business app, it still paved the way for adoption in a big way.
Use of Video
I’m not talking only about video contact centers with agents that can be seen by people. I’m also speaking about the creative use of video in customer service applications in and outside the contact center, for example, a help desk agent pushing a video on how to troubleshoot something, or how to do something. Or video kiosks in bank branches for connecting with loan specialists. Or even using smartphone cameras for customers to take pictures of an accident and send to the insurance claims customer support rep to start the claims process.
Even though those applications and thoughts have been around for a while, what makes me think that video is going to start playing a larger part in customer care is the fact that people are so into it now, using video as part of this daily life, at home or at work.
Mobile Apps for Mobile Customer Care
Smart phones and tablets are revolutionizing the way customers interact with every business. Many companies are trying to embrace mobile customer care by simply moving existing Web applications to a mobile platform. Typically, these apps are transactional, allowing customers to check a balance or a flight schedule. But as more customers move to smart devices, they expect more from apps and abandon those that aren’t useful to them.
Mobile embraces multiple aspects of an organization and as they change and bring in more functionality they have the potential for an even greater impact. So in contrast with what we have now, early mobile customer services app enabled web access, but weren’t designed as customer service apps. Interactions and call times were often lengthy. The interactions themselves were not particularly engaging. Instead of improving the customer experience, interactions seemed disconnected with no fluidity between contact channels.
Social as a customer care strategy started in 2010. Many expected it would take off soon, but it didn’t. And the biggest reason for the holdup was a lack of cross-organizational support.
At Frost & Sullivan we perceived various stages of social customer care adoption. When companies first start out they primarily are in listening mode, with occasional reporting, listening at the point of need, and they are reactive and unaware of social media. They then begin to broadcast, primarily on Facebook and Twitter, but it is pretty standard marketing stuff.
In phase two they begin to do much better marketing and create a social media strategy. They do engagement marketing and brand dashboarding, but have minimal customer care involvement. Most of Latin American companies seem to be at this stage right now. They then move onto social as being customer care in more of a managed process that’s also scalable.
Later is where proactive customer engagement comes in. This is where they are using social media as business, and they add creative content to help customers and are proactive in providing care and in getting sales.
Finally there is the total immersion stage where the entire company participates in social media customer care. Currently, not many companies are there.
The benefits to be gained through the deployment of social media in the contact centre are massive. Having a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter does not make a social media strategy by itself. It is still about customer engagement and creating that one-to-one experience. It is critical for a long-term success to share context across channels including social media to map out and understand the customer journey.
Increase in Specialized Vertical Market Solutions
Banking and financial services has been a big focus in this regard. We’ve seen packaged solutions aimed at solving issues in, such as using speech analytics as a tool for regulatory compliance and voice of the customer initiatives. An application might trigger alerts and deliver information to agents and supervisors during live debt collection calls, or heighten security by using speech analytics to automatically remove PCI sensitive authentication and cardholder data from incoming call recordings or call recording archives. Fraud detection using voice biometrics is another good example that can be applied, not just to banking, but other areas such as retail.
Big Data in the Contact Center
Frost & Sullivan defines Big Data as volumes of data so large and moving at such a high velocity that they are difficult or impossible to work with using traditional database management tools. Big Data represents the collective and exponential growth of both structured and unstructured data, from every imaginable digital source, including data logs, pictures, audio and video. For instance it can come from social networks, sensors, such as RFID tags on physical assets, financial or medical records or clickstream data in web interactions.
Big Data isn’t new. However, when combined with the more traditional sources used in the contact center, it can bring a new level of customer insight, and helps drive real-time decisions on customer handling and workflow.
One of the biggest and richest sources of Big Data is recorded calls within the contact center. We are already dealing with a huge source that we can tap to completely change the customer experience, improve the back office, and enhance the agent performance.
For companies which are willing to provide high levels of customer service, a multi-channel strategy is no longer an option. It’s not a question of when, but how. Currently, we are moving past that to creating an omni-channel experience. Omni-channel is about ensuring a consistent, high-quality customer experience, regardless of how and where a customer chooses to interact with an organization, and no matter the purpose. It ensures that data and context from initial contact carries over to subsequent channels, reducing customer effort, improving the customer interaction, and enabling the business to tailor the customer journey.
We are moving there, but it’s going to take work. Currently most companies have multiple platforms and applications. So there is a lot of integration work to be done by companies in order to ensure that they can provide a seamless customer journey, but also a seamless way of capturing all the data from those journeys to turn around and make changes to improve the customer journey.