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The Ground is Shifting Beneath Contact Centers

By John Hernandez

As cloud technology continues to disrupt businesses of all sizes and industries worldwide, the contact center communications market remains a bit behind. This is a typical trend that has been historically seen in this space. Of the 14.5 million call centers around the world, over 90 percent are still powered by premises-based technologies (CMSWire). As customers increasingly seek service in a growing number of digital channels — including video, social, messaging apps, and chat — not all traditional solutions have the agility to keep up because they’ve been optimized for voice interactions.

Now, I will note that not all prem solutions are created equal and they all have different investment profiles. With that said, the future of customer engagement is conversational service, meaning service that is frictionless, instant, and highly relevant, rather than the reactive nature of most service interactions. As customers engage in a mobile-first, digital world, businesses powered by cloud-based solutions are better equipped to meet, if not exceed, their customer’s expectations. It’s time for a major shift in the contact center landscape — customers are demanding it.

Traditionally the premise based technology that powers contact centers around the world can be summarized on the following three categories:

  • Unified Communications & Routing: Systems delivering voice, chat, video and mobility
  • Workforce Optimization: Solutions to deliver quality assurance, scheduling and feedback
  • Servicing Apps: Businesses rely on CRM, ERP, or homegrown solutions to manage customer relationships

Previously, these three premise-based technology categories meant that contact center leaders relied on a host of disparate vendor solutions to weave together an integrated contact center platform for their companies — resulting in a disconnected customer journeys, administrative headaches, costly annual maintenance and inflexibility in bringing new service channels to their customers. Customers want to serve themselves and, when needed, expect to engage with a single face of the company, and not have to navigate departments to get things done. Agents want access to a single screen for customer information and meet customers on their channel of preference on that same screen.

I’ve been in the business for over 20 years and have spent a good portion of my career in call centers. You’d be amazed at the number of high-end brands who use antiquated systems — such as retailers that sell luxury items and yet, when a customer calls in with an issue, the agent has to navigate multiple green screens to get to the bottom of the issue. Managers need integrated reporting and IT staff need predictability and compatibility in managing a single customer service platform, instead of a host of disparate systems to manage. It’s no wonder that turnover in customer service department staffs is so high.  

Enter Salesforce and Cisco. Recently the two companies announced a strategic alliance to jointly develop a complete customer service solution, from communications infrastructure, digital channels and an integrated, intelligent agent desktop experience that takes the complexity out of managing the customer experience. This partnership brings the kind of disruptive, cloud-based technology to the contact center that allow companies to connect with their customer in the mobile first era of customer engagement, while reducing operational overhead and IT costs. Agents will now have a single desktop bringing together all voice and digital channels and providing a true conversational journey for customers as they change channels throughout an engagement. Analyst Sheila McGee Smith wrote about power of this partnership in her post, “Cisco, Salesforce Kick It Up in the Contact Center.”

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