The concept of the contact centre has evolved dramatically over the decades, from manually operated switchboards to automated call distribution and on to the PABX that has enabled anything from local enterprise huge multinational corporations to centralise customer communication. In addition, the contact centre has, over the years, become increasingly digital and has thus migrated into the data centre, enabling more cost effective and efficient solutions to be implemented. However, we are now ready for another contact centre revolution, enabled by the cloud and IP-based technologies – that of the contact centre anywhere, writes Andre Deetlefs, executive: lines of business at Jasco Enterprise.
As data centres migrate to the cloud, so too do contact centre solutions. Additional technologies such as smart devices and mobile connectivity enable virtual contact centres to be created where agents can work from home, on the move, or from virtually any location. This not only creates the ability to incorporate a pool of skilled agents from anywhere in the country (or the world), it also opens up the contact centre to a far broader market. This enables any business from Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) to large corporations to leverage the benefits of a single, centralised point of customer contact.
Changing customer requirements and technology trends
A number of trends have influenced the direction of the modern contact centre, from the need for omni-channel communication to the evolution and revolution of cloud-based computing. With the growth of smartphones and mobile apps, the way customers conduct business with organisations has changed dramatically.
Multi-channel environments, incorporating a number of different communication channels such as social media, SMS, instant messaging and more have given way for the need for omni-channel environments, which create a seamless, consistent and high-quality experience for users regardless of how and where a customer chooses to interact.
In order to do this, it is essential to ensure that data and context from initial contact carries over to subsequent channels, reducing customer effort, improving the customer interaction, and enabling the business to improve the customer journey.
Coupled with changing customer requirements, contact centres are also faced with demand for always-on services while providing an improved experience for contact centre agents themselves. Far from the stressful environment of the contact centre of old, where thousands of agents were located in one building working shifts, answering calls and customer enquiries, technology today offers a very different solution. With Contact Centre Software as a Service (CCSaaS) growing as a preferred model due to its speed, scalability, flexibility, reliability and low investment, the entire contact centre model is actually poised for change. With cloud-enabled and virtualised services, agents do not in fact need to be in the same building – or even the same province or country. They can be located anywhere in the world and still provide effective, centralised contact centre services and solutions.
Contact centres have over the years migrated into data centres, meaning that critical equipment is no longer housed with agents in the same building. As cloud-based solutions are increasingly adopted, this equipment has become virtualised, sitting elsewhere in a virtual data centre, with agents simply making use of soft devices and dumb terminals. All of the technology elements for the contact centre anywhere are already in place, save for one. Connectivity is the critical requirement in the concept of the contact centre anywhere. With the increasing availability of LTE mobile broadband as well as fibre to the home, it is now possible to overcome this final hurdle. However, such a wholesale change in operations requires the adoption of certain solutions to ensure the same quality of service as a contact centre where all agents are housed under one roof.
Enabling the contact centre anywhere
A significant part of the challenge is the need for quality control, which is an essential contact centre component. In order to deliver this in a virtual environment, you need analytics-driven quality control that enables the monitoring of interactions in near real-time, flagging any issues so that managers can hone in on them and identify whether those issues exist within the environment, the contact centre process, the connectivity and so on.
Workforce Management Adherence is another important component in an environment with distributed agents, in order to guarantee that agents are following the required processes and workflows to create a standardised contact centre environment. In addition, personal dashboards allow remote and distributed agents to measure their performance against the group as well as against their own past, providing a similar environment to that of the centralised contact centre. Organisations can even make use of mobile workforce management apps, depending on the industry or nature of the business, and these can be used to enhance workflows and logistics, improve process and more.
The technology behind all of this is Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC), which enables organisations to provide agents with a standard device, such as a laptop or even a tablet that is then used for all customer interactions. Using WebRTC, all agents must have an Internet connection. They then open a standard browser window and log into the system to access all of the available contact centre software and services, including the agent softphone. This leads to a reduction in setup and maintenance as no specialised software or configuration is required on the Agent’s computer.
Existing Web based security protects the contents of the data and calls across the internet. The devices themselves can even be offered as part of a complete managed services package. This opens up the contact centre market to even the smallest business, as it is fully scalable from a single agent to thousands. With a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, organisations benefit from fixed, affordable monthly fees, and can scale their contact centre as the business grows.
The contact centre of the future
The contact centre anywhere is the next evolution of the contact centre, and is a reality today, as all of the technology elements are currently in place. Organisations looking to leverage this to their advantage should ensure their solution is simple to use, can be customised according to their requirements, and provides all of the necessary functionality.
This enables organisations of all sizes to focus on improving customer interactions through better contact centre processes, without the need to worry about managing technology. It also creates the opportunity to introduce remote agents and an improved working environment. The technology is there, now all that organisations need to do is be brave enough to cut the cord and take the first steps.