This is the time of year when we look forward to anticipate to what we think may occur so that we can proactively and reactively respond successfully.
Kevin Parrett is director, contact center at Presidio Networked Solutions (News - Alert) (www.presidio.com ) which provides unified communications, wireless, security, optical, telepresence, storage, managed and hosted services and supporting networks. He offers his look forward at the contact center trends for 2011 in an interview with Customer Interaction Solutions.
CIS: Describe the state of the contact center industry today and going forward. Outline the key trends affecting it and what are the drivers?
KP: The contact center business is certainly increasing, but will likely move away from megalithic contact center entities towards integrated business / client interaction service centers. Advancements in wider communications technology have given consumers several choices for how to interact with companies, and so today's contact center technology is evolving to meet these consumer demands by creating ways to communicate back to them.
CIS: Discuss the encroachment of ever-more-sophisticated automated voice and online (web, e-mail/SMS) solutions--tools that the new generation of users grew up and are comfortable with--on live agent voice. Will this make contact center reps as rare as building doormen and elevator operators: which exist only in the toniest buildings, serving the higher-end clientele? What functions--including social media response--do you see contact center staff providing? Which ones will be provided by self-service?
KP: The near-term impact of this encroachment is that it will increase the relevance of individuals, and the long term impact is that it will change the meaning of the contact center; however the call/contact center agent is far from extinct. This job is changing and requires a more visible interaction with customers through social media, but the human element has not been replaced. Self-service provides customer satisfaction to the new generation that doesn't want to talk with anyone. This new generation of users wants to get the information they need and they want it immediately. As companies grow more aware of the impact customer service has on the new generation and their tendency of less loyalty, contact center interactions become more important than ever and we will see a more skilled agent workforce as a result.
CIS: Which “shore”--onshore, nearshore/offshore and “homeshore”--do you live agent contact centers ending up on and why?
KP: This will always be mixed. Many companies who experienced the lower operating costs of offshore call centers have realized the quality of the interactions was poor, resulting in longer average handle time, less first call resolution and more customer satisfaction issues. Some of these companies have already moved their call/contact centers back to the U.S. as a result. This does not mean that offshoring will be dead; it simply means off-shore call centers will adapt and provide a higher quality service in the future.
Homeshoring of agents shows a lot of promise with reduced overhead costs, extensive workforce availability, and higher morale, which for many agents, results from working at home. One way or another, no single “shore” will win. It will always be mixed.
CIS: Do you foresee the formal contact center being downsized if not replaced by unified communications linking customers with subject matter experts?
KP: What contact centers will inevitably change over time as business needs change. We may see some replacement or downsizing of call centers with unified communications and subject matter experts in some industries, but I do not see this being the case for many verticals.
CIS: The next generation is text- driven; they seldom use voice. Does and will this translate into fewer calls to and out of organizations and if so how should they prepare for this shift both with formal and informal contact centers?
KP: One would expect more “calls” as data sources become irrelevant, and while we may see some changes in the preferred method of communication, contact centers have already begun adapting to these changes to provide the same or better levels of service through different mediums (i.e. live online customer service chat sessions). I don't think calls will become obsolete, but I believe consumer preferences will dictate the communication methods that contact centers utilize in the future.
CIS: There is a big debate between premise-licensed and cloud/hosted either third-party or OEM platforms for contact center solutions. Suppliers are creating ever-larger all-in-one suites. Third party hosting firms are adding to the array of solutions they are offering to organizations’ contact centers. Are the days of premise-licensed products for each function ending or do you see all of these functions being integrated into one platform offered by competing suppliers either for premise-installed or hosted either by these companies or by third parties. And do you see hosted supplanting premises-installed products?
KP: Several of our customers have inquired about hosted solutions, but few have actually acted upon them. Although hosted offerings continue to improve by offering closer feature parity to premise solutions and more control to end users, many customers can't get past the idea of their data being exposed to a third party. Third party hosting firms have to provide highly secured solutions to ensure that none of their customers can access other customer information, but the level of trust by end users is not there across all industries. As a result, premise-based solutions will still make up the majority of contact center solutions deployed over the next several years.
There certainly is buzz about moving contact center solutions to a cloud environment, but the question still remains whether contact centers will end up in public or private clouds. With a multitude of regulations contact centers must abide by, it is difficult to rationalize a major shift toward any public clouds in the near future. Premise-based solutions, including private clouds, provide a higher level of control, which is necessary to meet the stringent regulatory compliance demands that are placed upon contact centers today.
CIS: Is there a need and a future for outsourcing live agent contact center functions?
KP: Outsourcing live agents has allowed companies to scale rapidly without a tremendous investment up front. For seasonal spikes and to meet rapid growth needs, the outsourcing of agents absolutely has a future.
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi