The Top Customer Service Trends: Contact Centers Grow Use of the Cloud, AI, and Other Technologies
At the beginning of the year, contact centers were already starting to trend toward solutions that help with the integration of different channels, flexible call routing, and the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots. The COVID-19 pandemic added a sense of urgency to those investments, as contact centers had to quickly pivot from centralized offices to agents working remotely.
Technology investments rocketed almost immediately after stay-at-home orders were enacted, and that is only expected to continue. In fact, Grand View Research expects the global contact center software market to reach $72.3 billion by 2027, registering a compound annual growth rate of 19.7 percent.
The research firm cites increasing consumer bases and the high adoption of cloud-based services, social media, and mobile analytics among the drivers for that market growth. The demand for improved omnichannel experiences and technological advancements in communication services will also contribute to market growth, it says.
Among the advancements, a growing use of AI, particularly in business analytics, is expected to accelerate market growth. Other advancements in business process automation are reducing the workload of customer care representatives, while the furtherance of interactive voice response (IVR) and automatic call distribution (ACD) software has boosted agent productivity.
“The trends that were already in place were somewhat accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Brad Cleveland, senior adviser, founding partner, and former president and CEO of the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI).
ACCELERATING MOVEMENT TO THE CLOUD
To enable agents to work from home, companies quickly saw the need for cloud-based contact center platforms that would allow agents to log in from anywhere, but there were other factors involved in the trend. “The increased adoption of cloud-based contact center services has empowered organizations in reinforcing the security of customers’ confidential information through web security and centralized databases. Additionally, cloud-based contact center services provide multiple customer points of contact, which allow access to the necessary data from anywhere and at any time across the globe,” Grand View concludes in its report.
“Cloud-based contact center services also easily integrate with AI, machine learning, omnichannel, and various analytical tools, subsequently opening up ways for an organization to advance technologically,” it says.
And cloud adoption is not likely to stop anytime soon.
According to recent Cisco Systems research, 62 percent of contact center leaders plan to implement cloud technologies in the next 18 months, a number that it acknowledges will go even higher in the wake of COVID-19.
The cloud, it says, offers the unique ability to scale up and down rapidly, enabling more agents to work remotely.
COVID-19 moved 80 percent of agents to work-from-home environments, according to Cleveland.
But the move to cloud-based technologies did not come easily, as contact centers were one of the last bastions of on-premises technologies, according to Rebecca Wettemann, CEO and principal at Valoir, a technology industry analyst firm. Contact centers, she says, had been reluctant to move operations to the cloud prior to the recent pandemic.
Yet legacy on-premises systems also made it difficult to integrate new channels, like social media, into customer service efforts.
Customers are three times more likely to interact with companies via social channels today than just a few years ago, according to Amanda Sternquist, executive director of HGS Digital, who also sees a growing use of text messaging. These owned conversations provide much more value than just emails and phone-based interactions, so companies need solutions that can incorporate them, she says.
Additionally, the success of cloud offerings convinced some of the laggards, according to Wettemann. “Amazon has been promoting what they are doing out there. Salesforce has expanded its Service Cloud offering. That is driving a lot of people [to the cloud].”
Retail was one of the fastest industries to adopt the cloud for its contact center services, according to Grand View. “The demand for contact center software and services in the retail segment is driven by the rising need among organizations to ensure satisfaction of customers and overcome challenges involved in customer retention processes.”
Telephony, on the other hand, has been the slowest industry to move its contact centers to the cloud, Wettemann says, blaming the industry’s large investment in on-premises systems and concerns over disruption of customer service while making the move.
“Just the potential for an hour of downtime means that it’s a big deal to make,” Wettemann explains.
AI CONTINUES TO GAIN STEAM
Artificial intelligence, also cited in last year’s CRM Top 100 report, is gaining even more favor in 2020, according to experts.
Opus Research estimates that companies around the world are spending roughly $2 billion to bring elements of AI into their contact centers, usually in the form of conversational intelligent assistants. Opus expects that spending to double in the next five years.