Today’s contact centres or call centres have evolved over years into comprehensive customer experience management platforms that combine voice, email, chat, social media, and mobile applications to provide an omnichannel customer service experience.
They also incorporate advanced analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to improve customer service, personalise interactions, and automate routine tasks.
This insight explains how contact centres have evolved and what you should be aware of today.
A Little Bit of History around the Contact Centre
Like most industries, Contact Centres are always evolving. Originally called Answering Services, they started life back in the 1960s, used for handling inbound and outbound calls.
During the 1970s, the term ‘call centre’ was introduced and we saw telephone sales, airline reservations and banks starting to use them.
The call centre industry continued to grow through the 1980s and spurred on by the rise of the internet, even more so in the ’90s. With the website starting to become the central point of contact and sales for an increasing number of companies, call centres become essential for servicing their customers.
In the 90’s we were introduced to a new term; ‘Contact Centre’ which was defined as ‘a coordinated system of people, processes, technologies and strategies that provides access to information, resources, and expertise, through appropriate channels of communication, enabling interactions that create value for the customer and organisation’.
20 years on.... Where are we Now?
The terms 'call centre' and 'contact centre' are still commonplace, but with the continued enhancement in technology and customer expectations, they have changed, and they’ve had to!
The classic contact centre model was dominated during the ’90s and 00’s by vendors such as Cisco, Avaya, Aspect and Genesys who provided businesses with propriety ‘on-premise’ platforms. These products required businesses to buy, build, deploy, administer, maintain and scale hardware and software.
The model then started to change in the late ’00s and into the 10’s when Cisco, Avaya and others started to offer hosted solutions where the vendors would build and host the solutions themselves and operate them directly on behalf of customers.
However, these models brought several issues with them:
Lengthy procurement process due to complexity;
Deployment was slow and costly due to significant build and testing requirements;
Service support was often lacking due to a lack of real-world knowledge of how contact centres worked and how the business functioned;
Contracts needed to be for a minimum of 3 years to make any business case work with minimum commits demanded by the vendor;
Architecture utilised propriety development languages and was complex; and
Upgrades were infrequent and often required a tech refresh, were relatively risky and required PS and internal time and therefore costs
Cloud is now the talk of the town which basically means that instead of accessing contact centre software from on-premise hardware, it can now be accessed via the internet which leads to faster deployment times, scalability and lower costs. There are several variants of the cloud:
Contact Centres as a Service (CCaaS) – this is a framework for contact centre infrastructure management that combines the principles of contact centre hosting and cloud-based contact centre infrastructure. Providers maintain and develop the software which allows contact centres to focus on using the service and provide better customer experiences.
Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) – this is a technological trend that leverages the cloud to provide discrete communication services (voice, video, messaging, collaboration, etc.) that can be embedded into applications, websites and workflows, providing highly integrated communication tools that enable real-time collaboration.
The cloud contact centre is bringing with it a real benefit to the businesses that use them:
Quick to deploy with products continually refreshed at no cost to the customer.
An abundancy of APIs using common development languages.
Business Self-Service, full audit trails and immediate rollbacks.
Usage-based pricing with no significant upfront costs.
Reduced financial and contractual commitment.
The success of the internet followed by the success of smartphone technology means that consumers can now choose to contact businesses at any time and from almost anywhere. Today’s consumers also demand faster, simpler ways to engage with companies and resolve issues. Digital platforms like web and mobile make it easy to self-serve, and these continue to raise customers’ expectations.
Across the industry, we have a hybrid of channel models being utilised by businesses. Which one are you?
The classic call centre which utilises the voice channel to deal with inbound and outbound enquiries from consumers.
The multichannel contact centre which allows businesses to engage with their consumers across different channels such as voice, web and email but the journey is disjointed as the technology utilised for each channel is siloed to each channel.
The omnichannel contact centre that also allows businesses to engage with their consumers across multiple channels but this time with technology that is connected and integrated to provide a seamless customer journey.
Where exactly is your Business on the Contact Centre Journey?
Businesses and their customers have different needs and wants and therefore there isn’t a ‘one fits all’ solution. But, with the enhancement of technology, there is definitely a solution out there that will tick everyone’s box, and at a price which should no longer scare.
Research shows that many businesses don’t have the right communication solutions in place to support their customers and business opportunities, whether this is due to lack of knowledge or strategy, finances or other priorities.