Are contact centres primed for a revolution?
The contact centre is undergoing its biggest transformation since the invention of the Automatic Call Distributor in the 70s. Is your organisation keeping up to speed?
When organisations move their contact centres to the cloud a common mistake is to assume that an infrastructure update will be enough to transform operations.
Of course, adopting cloud technology can help your CX to become more agile, but it’s simply not enough to just replicate what you had before.
True cloud contact centre transformation needs to go much further. Not only should the digital cultural shift be embraced, but also companies can seize the opportunity to innovate and take advantage of the cloud’s agile benefits of speed, scale and flexibility. Cloud alone isn’t the answer. Indeed, simply focusing on cloud delivery will do little to address the real issues that need resolving in order to deliver simpler and less frustrating customer experiences.
Creating a CX platform that delivers what your business actually needs
Data is at the heart of any successfully transformation, and is hugely important in establishing an objective view of what both your business and your customers need. And the more you have, the clearer the picture becomes.
Many businesses still fail to recognise just how much valuable data sits untapped within contact centres. Making sense of that information is now more accessible and cost-effective due to the rise in AI and machine learning technologies. This enables us to move from simply evaluating heritage customer behaviours, to now predicting responses such as how different customers will react to new services or charges.
So the first challenge is to bring all this data together – from multiple clouds, from CRM, from back-office line of business applications, from customer feedback systems, as well as from online and chatbot data – to create a true record of your end-to-end customer journeys. And it’s also important to listen to what your agents have to say – particularly in relation to the process disconnects that cause the most customer frustration.
Data is at the heart of any successfully transformation, and is hugely important in establishing an objective view of what both your business and your customers need.
The interplay between cloud and data is key here. Once data becomes more accessible, it can be used to drive insight, build feedback loops and to help the business validate decisions. For example, we can use speech recognition technology and advanced analytics software from Google and Amazon to gather an enormous depth of detail about why customers are calling, how they behave within the contact centre, and what resolutions they need. It also becomes much easier to help CX teams to predict at an earlier engagement stage and start to remove the more erratic person-to-person journeys that do so much to reduce customer satisfaction.
What this also starts to mean is that every decision we make within the CX environment can be kept in check with data. For example, when we teach a virtual assistant a new response to a question or provide it with a new transactional capability, it is because we have observed a specific opportunity for it. The return on our efforts can be justified by productivity gains and improvements to the customer experience. The same principles apply to smarter routing decisions, or enhancements to the client or employee facing user interfaces. Data drives decisions.
Enabling contact centre innovation at software speed
The biggest barrier now for contact centre innovation is not technology but old ways of thinking that fail to take advantage of digital tools. With new and extremely exciting technologies emerging every year -indeed the contact centre is perhaps undergoing its biggest transformation since the invention of the ACD in the 70s! Now, knowing what to focus on becomes the biggest challenge.
With today’s contact centre technology, a business needs to move at software speed and apply design thinking to the way that their customers and employees engage with the systems. Changes that previously took months can now be measured in minutes or hours. Cloud contact centre owners will have the ability to respond and make changes quickly, to A/B test, apply benchmarking and compare results.
This level of development focus sounds fairly standard for a team used to digital technologies and innovative methodologies, but it’s a very new approach for contact centre operators who are used to working with bulletproof - but inflexible - telephony platforms. These teams may be accustomed to upgrades every few years, changes to routing or IVRs that take months, and integrations to business applications that require hardcore engineering.
One of the most significant challenges of a cloud transformation is the shift in thinking required. Evaluating new features no longer requires justifying expensive new hardware – and if a project doesn’t work out, so be it. So, it’s incumbent on contact centre management to build a culture that embraces change as a constant, putting them in a position to seize new opportunities as they arise. During a cloud transformation, it makes more sense to be courageous rather than conservative.
Evolving towards the programmable contact centre
With digital interactions soaring, adopting more agile methodologies will help organisations to focus on how their customers and agents engage with their contact centre systems. Transitioning contact centres to the cloud helps, but organisations also need new ways of working if they are to successfully support today’s more complex customer journeys.
Traditional contact centres, with their inflexible telephony platforms and lengthy upgrade cycles, make it much harder to enable effective digital-driven customer engagement. And legacy systems often prove a barrier when it comes to rapidly designing, prototyping and deploying the channels and technology you need to improve your customer experience.
That’s why a growing number of organisations are starting to take advantage of what Forrester calls the ‘Programmable Contact Centre’, and specifically how its application can help contact centres be more agile. What’s particularly important here is how development teams need to look beyond technology such as APIs and low-code platforms, and also start to factor in essential design and UX issues if they are to stay agile and drive continuous customer experience improvements.
During a cloud transformation, it makes more sense to be courageous rather than conservative.
What’s clear for contact centres is that true digital transformation will increasingly require a much tighter relation between operations and IT – particularly if CX teams are to remain agile and adaptable and if the customer journey is to improve iteratively. For example, when we’re looking to build a virtual agent, we develop a simple version of the bot that does the job sufficiently. We then direct a small amount of traffic to it, watch the results and refine it accordingly. If a new feature doesn’t work in practice, we abandon it early and pivot, avoiding wasted resources. If the initial results are promising, we keep improving, testing and adjusting.
For this it’s necessary for stakeholders to be prepared to green-light rapid innovation, or delegate approval to someone closer to the project. A slow or overly cautious approval process can negate the cloud’s agile benefits of speed, scale and flexibility. It’s important to remember that trial and error are allowed, providing the process remains focused on building features that matter – and avoiding unnecessary bloat, wasted development effort and cost.
Adopting an agile model
Following an agile, programmable contact centre approach will lead to a contact centre that’s designed to keep adapting and improving as new opportunities and new channels emerge – or as customer demand shifts.
For loveholidays, one of the UK’s fastest-growing online travel agencies, the requirement to deploy a configurable cloud-based contact centre was in direct response to exceptional levels of customer demand during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. Interaction volumes scaled dramatically, with customers seeking re-assurance about their holidays and travel restrictions. The company estimated that they eventually supported the equivalent of around 12 years of contact centre work over a busy four-month period. Thanks to the flexibility of their customisable contact platform they were able to prioritise urgent inbound interactions, while also adapting the platform as frequently as required to make sure that customers were getting the right experience.
Another organisation that has successfully adopted an agile model and taken advantage of the latest programmable contact centre approach is Allianz Direct. The company’s recent contact centre transformation initiative has just been recognised as the ‘Most Effective Business Transformation Programme in Customer Service by the judges for the European Contact Centre and Customer Service Awards.
Allianz Direct is focused on building the future of European insurance, and its CEO describes the business as ‘a technology company with an insurance licence’. Having deployed a disruptive CX solution drawing on technology from organisations such as Twilio, Amazon Web Services and Azure, the Alliance Direct team has worked to ensure it can now deliver contact centre innovation at a revolutionary pace.
Stuart Dorman is Chief Innovation Officer at customer contact technology specialist Sabio. Stuart is a recognised thought leader in the contact centre industry, regularly producing thought provoking white papers, speaking at industry events and judging top industry awards in Europe.