In the late 1990’s when I first worked in contact centres, the most cutting edge innovation was the now redundant fax machine. Getting call centre agents and managers of an Australian insurance company in Australia to consider leveraging the humble fax was hard enough. Then having the discussion identifying the need for email based communications with, and from, clients was found to be just too radical. It was 1999. The insurance firm in question perhaps unsurprisingly has had near death experiences, although it has managed to survive.
In 2000 when I first provided analyst and consulting services on the call centre BPO market, it was all about offshore outsourcing. The shift from 1999 was proof even a stagnant market can move quickly if the fundamentals are disruptive. In 2000 the structural elements for call centres were focused on cost. Again, not everyone could embrace the technology and relate to the potential offered. Both vendors and internal service providers fell to disarray as they were unable to shift their capability and cost structure to take advantage of offshore outsourcing.
Fast forward to 2016. While a combination of offshore/nearshore/homeshore is the dominant service delivery model, the supply and demand side of the market is constantly evolving.
Enterprises globally are struggling to service their customers and prospects in a multi-channel environment. The expectation of service is measured against their best experience regardless of whether that is a bank, retailer, or any service provider. Online support is critical to ensure purchase or to manage post-purchase support. Deployment of Bots and online chat are standard. Cognitive computing tools are close to becoming mandatory to drive the customer experience, reduce costs and enable self-service for the customer. Meanwhile, “human” agents still matter, security of data, identity and process, is non-negotiable and technology is critical for the customer experience centre operator.
As a result of this capioIT believes that PAST is the future for the contact centre. PAST is the four underlying investments essential to optimize the contact center and to optimize customer outcomes.
People – The contact centre team is still the front line for the client. It is critical that the skills of the people on the forefront of the customer experience gain investment, training, and support. The contact centre is evolving, but it will remain a genuine career option for many and needs to be invested in with this in mind.
Analytics – Investment in analytics is undoubtedly critical for the management of the contact centre ecosystem. This mission critical status applies to both the management of the contact details, and subsequent optimization, i.e., customer contact method preferences, as well as for agent management. There is no excuse for contact centre providers not to have undertaken critical investments in predictive analytics, again across the board. As highlighted earlier, this investment also has to parlay into cognitive and Augmented Intelligence solutions.
Security – The security risk for the contact centre is as real for any other site that captures, stores and manages customer data. Threats exist inside the contact centre, as well as outside. Many contact centres have lurkers outside that want to coerce employees into giving access to classified information. At the same time, hackers are trying to gather customer information such as banking records. It is a constant battle. Investment to overcome this needs to look at the entire ecosystem of security. There is no point just having a focus on one facet.
Technology – As with other industries, technology is the core business process and investment priority that underpins all investment in contact centre environments. This investment is aligned with the People, Analytics and Security components highlighted above as well as for all other aspects. Without technology, at the centerpiece, it is unrealistic to be able to compete in the marketplace for new opportunities or to service existing clients. Technology will clearly restructure the roles and requirements from a human capital perspective in the contact centre. This cannot be positioned as a threat, rather as with all technology the opportunity to build and drive improved customer outcomes.
The contact centre market has continued to evolve over the last 20 years. It is no longer a function that can be simply outsourced or left to hang on the edge of the enterprise. Successful multi-channel centres can provide a differentiation point. This differentiation requires that investment is made in the PAST (People, Analytics, Security, Technology) to enable the future for the provider and its clients.