Latest in Contact Center Technologies for 2019

Digital transformations, AI, self-service and more



Kindra Cooper
10/16/2018

The chatbots of 2018 were stilted and zoid-like, disliked by customers for sounding, well, like chatbots, and detested by contact center agents for being a cesspool of IT glitches. But with the mainstreaming of AI in people’s homes as much as in contact centers, many call center technologies have finally caught up to our lofty ambitions of frictionless, predictive, proactive and personalized CS.

Here are the six contact center tech evolutions we’re excited for in 2019.  

1. Greater integration of AI

Until now, the typical role of AI in contact centers was to automate routine tasks like collecting a customer’s name and purchase history to facilitate an account inquiry or handling FAQs so that the agent could focus on higher-level requests. But AI has evolved to include “agent assist” and “virtual agent” functions, where the AI works alongside the agent to interpret customer intent and prepare a response.

Through natural language processing and IVR technology, the AI “listens” for what customers really want across multiple channels including chat, email, SMS and the phone, and makes recommendations to the agent including knowledge support articles, suggested responses and even special offers for the customer.

Technologies like Google Cloud Mitel can even perform a trend analysis that tells you why your customers are contacting you, such as a glitch in your website or faulty product feature you might have otherwise missed.

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“With channels like Apple Business Chat, companies can use operating system-level data, such as a customer’s location, to provide support,” said Sarah Patterson, SVP of product marketing & strategy at Salesforce. For instance, say your flight is delayed and you need to switch hotels. When you call the hotel chain or initiate a chat, the AI detects your location and can recommend branches in your geographical proximity - something your web browser already does without asking.

Furthermore, implementation times for chatbots are plunging dramatically. In the past, companies had to pre-program their AI with a database of FAQs and canned responses by guessing what customers might ask. But with natural language processing, the AI is trained to glean customer intent even from colloquial speech patterns.

2. Digital transformation

A truly digital contact center redefines the customer experience from start to finish. This is because providing an omnichannel experience is rooted in organizational structure and not simply a matter of purchasing new CRM software with a snazzy dashboard that displays emails, SMS and call history in one place.

In some businesses, different teams oversee specific channels. For example, voice and email might be the purview of customer service, while the marketing department oversees social media interactions. But fragmentation is the enemy of the seamless digital experience.

“Without unity across all touchpoints, the organization cannot deliver the fast, consistent, contextually relevant experiences customers demand from digital channels,” CCW Principal Analyst, Brian Cantor, wrote in a recent Special Report titled ‘The Digital CX.

But many organizations still treat their various channels as disparate, leading to a fragmented experience not only on the customer-facing side but in an organization’s ability to unify data and synthesize it into holistic feedback. According to a CCW Digital Market Study on CX, less than 25 percent of organizations treat live chat as a “full service” channel, and just 13 percent treat social media as such.

Source: CCW Digital Market Study: The Customer Experience

3. Call Center analytics

Contact center leaders recognize the potential to mine a wealth of qualitative information from call recordings, chats and SMS to understand what their customers want, but manual observation generates anecdotal evidence at best. Plus, there is simply too much information to be harvested. Omnichannel contact centers will adopt analytics programs to build dashboards with the relevant statistics that affect their business, leading to more robust customer satisfaction metrics.

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For example, livestreaming software company Wowza scours response time and other metrics on its chats and support tickets in order to deduce customer sentiment en route to resolution.  

“I look at how long the customer waited before we picked up the chat, how long between responses, the duration and the topic,” said Rob Poach, senior director of global service delivery. When it comes to support tickets, Poach judges the quality of the interaction on the number of replies before the ticket was solved. But even a simple interaction that ends in a resolution isn’t necessarily perfect, which is where analytics can be used to tell you how a customer felt during the interaction.

“Customer interaction with an app, bot or piece of knowledge should be evaluated for reduction of agent and customer effort, and customer satisfaction.” - Charles Godfrey, Genesys

4. Two-way social media conversations

As more and more businesses offer Facebook Messenger as a contact channel, customers are starting to expect companies to be responsive on social media. Also, expected response times have gone down across all channels. While it was once acceptable for a business to take several hours to respond to an email inquiry, support ticket, or social media post, today’s customers expect near-instantaneous responses as the most enterprising companies race to outdo one another. Remember, your real competition is not your top industry rival but the organization that provides best-in-class customer service.

5. Increased investment in self-service resources

Key to providing a frictionless experience is enabling the customer to solve the problem themselves. While this might seem counterintuitive to CS traditionalists, empowering the customer to find solutions in your online knowledge base or even complete their own transactions through your website saves them the effort of calling or initiating a chat, to say nothing of the wait times and potential for miscommunication.

Customer experience expert Shep Hyken predicts that how-to type videos will become an essential medium in the online knowledge base. “The use of videos will not only offer answers to questions but showcase how to use a company’s products,” said Hyken. “This video-based support doubles as a marketing technique. Yes, customer service is the new marketing!”

6. Proactive customer service through predictive analytics and IoT

Google Maps is a prime example of using predictive analytics to be proactive: from tracking your location and travel patterns, the app delivers recommendations for restaurants and attractions based on where you spend most of your time. In addition to providing an unasked-for service before the customer knows she needs it, predictive analytics can be crucial in retaining an at-risk customer or even closing a sale.

“Take the common situation of a customer who’s struggling with an online checkout experience,” says Patterson. “They pause for 20 seconds and stop interacting with the page. A predictive customer experience system would recognize the pause, then kick in to help determine if the customer is having second thoughts about an item in their shopping cart.”