by Robert Wakefield-Carl
Before Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in January 2007, the most widely used wireless technology was a RIM BlackBerry that gave you simple access to your email and calendar. Fifteen years later, we do almost everything on our mobile device possible on your office computer — and then some.
In increasingly short spans, the way people interface with technology has massively shifted. Before smartphones, business was typically conducted in offices or one central location. From integrations to networking, everything was configured from the office, so employees had more technical capabilities at their office desks than they ever had at home. This paradigm has flipped itself on its head. What used to only be possible within the confines of an office can now be done from the palm of our hands. Work is no longer a place, but what you do.
In addition to shifting technical paradigms, the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath forced organizations to accelerate digital transformation and rapidly enable remote and distributed workforces — making technology innovation and agent enablement top strategic initiatives for many contact centers and the customers they serve.
The contact center technology landscape continues to rapidly evolve. Today’s consumers expect to access information at a moment’s notice, and they take these expectations with them into their professional lives as contact center agents. To keep up with rising consumer and agent demands, we compiled four contact center technology trends to follow in 2023 and beyond:
1. Self-service functionality is best driven by consumers’ preferences and behaviors.
While self-service solutions were once a business efficiency play, they have transformed into a fundamental and strategic customer-centric strategy. Historically, businesses focused on deploying self-service capabilities to expedite customer requests, save operating costs, and improve agent efficiency. Self service is not a new trend, but it is driven by consumers’ preferences, behaviors, and needs more than ever before. Self-service expectations are, or must be, set by how they serve the customer’s needs, not cost savings for the center.
In one recent survey, 88% of respondents shared that they expect brands to have a self-service support portal. Consumers today expect to be able to access website content, engage with chatbots, check their accounts through mobile applications, opt-in to text updates, and engage in other self-service activities regardless of the business they are interacting with. COVID-19 heightened these expectations even further as businesses digitally transformed to continue serving customers where they were — which was largely at home, on their mobile devices.
Unfortunately, for many organizations, consumers’ expectations have outpaced current self-service capabilities. To keep up, companies must develop new strategies for unified, omnichannel experiences that consider interaction channels, technologies, and escalation processes from self-service digital tools to full-service live agents. Businesses that deliver consistent, relevant experiences to their customers across all channels — enabling them to do business on their own terms and by their own means — will be more equipped to remain competitive amidst the economic uncertainty of 2023.
2. Agent enablement tools are key to a unified and simplified employee experience.
Just as your customers need the ability to serve themselves, your agents need to be enabled and empowered with the right technologies and tools to effectively do their jobs. After all, 72% of customers expect agents to have access to all relevant information and 60% are now willing to walk away after just one bad experience.
Contact center agents must regularly navigate multiple systems, which can complicate and overwhelm their ability to efficiently serve customers. Your agents need to access information across several systems, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, billing systems, and others. The key to solving this challenge is leveraging a fully integrated platform that provides agents with a unified view of important customer information.
In addition to providing a unified agent desktop experience, agent enablement tools and technologies, like softphone integration, workforce management (WFM), customer assist solutions, AI bots, and robotic process automation (RPA), can help simplify and streamline your agents’ workload. This offers them more time to focus on delivering the high-quality, memorable interactions your customers have come to expect.
Without foundational agent enablement tools and technologies, you risk distracted agents, long wait times, inaccurate data representations, and worst of all, frustrated customers. Your customers shouldn’t have to wait for your agents to load new screens or navigate different systems. Nor should they feel neglected by an agent who is consumed or confused by your organization’s systems. It’s critical to treat your agents the same way you would treat a customer: give them the tools and technology they need to do their jobs effectively and efficiently so they can focus on fueling exceptional CX.
3. Operational data and reporting are essential, but no longer sufficient.
Globally, we create roughly 2.1 exabytes of data daily (1 exabyte equals 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes). By 2025, that number is conservatively expected to reach 463 exabytes. We live in the information age, where people are hungry for all the data they can get their hands on. As a result, the contact center landscape has developed strong, foundational data practices and operational reporting.
Contact center managers are often tasked with optimizing the expenses associated with their contact centers, so they need access to data points like call resolution, response times, average handle times, escalation rates, and others. Analyzing these data points is critical to maintaining an optimized, high-performing contact center.
However, many organizations fail to think beyond operational reporting because they think of their contact center as a cost center instead of a critical customer care investment. Organizations should think beyond operational reporting to data that paints a bigger picture about how their contact center is impacting their top and bottom line. Once you have your operational contact center data in place, it’s time to answer strategic business questions like:
- Are our customers generally more satisfied?
- Are our customers brand lovers, loyalists, or detractors?
- Has our churn rate decreased?
- Have we seen increases in upselling and cross-selling?
- Are our agents staying at the company longer because of job satisfaction?
- Is our lifetime customer value increasing?
- What is our Net Promoter Score (NPS)?
- What is our cost to acquire customers?
- Has our revenue increased?
Remember, it isn’t just about the data you collect, it’s about how you leverage that data to uncover gaps or links impacting results, foster stronger relationships, personalize the experience, and measure customer profitability.
We’ve merely scratched the surface in terms of what’s available in the contact center data and analytics sphere. Looking ahead, organizations are going to get much more sophisticated with their data strategies, especially as technologies like machine learning and AI advance toward everyday deployments and standardized tools.
2023 will re-establish the importance of effectively leveraging large volumes of data from multiple systems and sources across all ends of your organization. The end goal of any strong data and analytics strategy should be to make your data live and actionable, drive the next best action, and deliver exceptional, personalized experiences to your customers.
4. The strength and use cases of virtual assistants, chatbots, and AI will vastly expand.
When it comes to virtual assistants, chatbots, and AI vehicles, contact centers are still in the growing stage of deployment. A good analogy is that we have a new car, but we’re still learning how to apply the power and limitations of autonomous driving.
That’s not to say organizations aren’t deploying these technologies. In fact, the opposite is true. The use of virtual assistants, chatbots, and AI to fuel customer interactions is steadily increasing. And business leaders recognize this and its potential impact on business growth, which is why 57% plan to increase their AI budgets by at least 25% in 2023.
Most organizations are deploying chatbots with a specific goal in mind. Many of them are looking to automate more mundane tasks and free agents up to be more efficient in their roles. Others are looking to deflect or contain calls to save costs.
The problem with deflection or containment is that often customers may be open to more valuable interactions if the technology doesn’t have the flexibility or range to identify opportunities. These can include upselling or cross-selling additional services, identifying gaps or issues seen, or creating more personalized experiences.
I believe we will move away from basic call deflection and containment strategies. Instead, organizations will structure chatbots and AI to ensure their customers are getting not only what they want out of the self-service experience, but also the opportunity to build a stronger relationship with the brand.
We’ve opened the door to the potential that chatbots and AI can bring forth for contact centers. The next step is to improve these technologies to center on emerging customer-driven self-service demands and superior customer experience and relationships. Customer journey mapping, voice of the customer (VoC) research, and continuous feedback loops will be key to understanding your customers and designing these self-service experiences accordingly. In 2023, we’ll see organizations reshaping the future of AI. They will shift to think about AI in terms of the total experience, not just a single interaction.
Evolve for 2023 and Beyond
A strong customer experience rests on a strong technical foundation. Technology advances quickly and it can be difficult to keep up. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. TTEC Digital’s decades of collective experience in CX enables us to help organizations innovate, enhance, and integrate technology ecosystems to deliver more exceptional customer experiences.