From Envisioning the Call Center of the Future

I posed a question on LinkedIn asking folks if they had any vision for what a call center may be like in the year 2012 (not that far off...!)...and what kind of breakthrough technologies they could see emerging in this space. Answers varied in relation to call center phone systems, call center furniture, call center software, etc.

"I consider it more of a 'breakdown' than a 'breakthrough', but I'll bet you some companies will have an avatar-AI-natural language personage who does the initial meet and greet, and qualification of the issue. I'm calling it a breakdown in the sense that jobs will probably be scarce as it is, and I'm not sure how well-received this approach might be. I'm not saying this new thing will be successful, but it may be, and there may be some circumstances where it makes sense, especially with internationalization support fed through a text-to-speech convertor. All these are currently available, but the combination into smooth, effective functionality is not yet there.
- Bill Nigh

"This is an interesting question. Let me start with the most radical suggestion. I don't think there needs to be a central call center in 2012. If your representatives have high-speed internet access from their homes, there will be no need for a centralized building to warehouse this staff at all! Now, I think most call centers do a rather poor job of making productive use of the technologies that are currently available. Interactive voice response (IVR) and web-based customer service wizards (for both web and messaging inquiries) will continue to be the first line of defense. Once a call is referred to a person or transferred, the customer service desktop should already have a pretty good idea who the caller is based on telephone number or IP address. And once identity is confirmed, for goodness sakes, save that information for next time and pass it along with the call. No more of answering the same "who are you" question for every transfer. The next change I hope to see in 2012 (although you could certainly do it in 2008) is the use of integration and workflow technologies to allow for seamless transitions between supporting systems and to support "once and done" call center support. There will be a need to confirm contact information (telephone, e-mail, IM), but once a customer has made an initial contact, the process should take care of itself with recontact only to confirm the request has been fulfilled or to ask additional questions. Companies should learn from those additional question contacts to enhance their workflow and customer service desktop applications to minimize that recontact need. I don't think anything here is truly radical, but sometimes a good use of existing technology can feel radical all by itself."
- Stephen Cottle

"All incomming communications will be converted to IP at the gateway. Fully integrated with all caller id tech's, Skype and it's competitors, and web voice, video, and text chat. Most initial information culled from the client via automated interaction. 70-80% of client requests answered by automated system. Automated system uses machine learning and Expert Systems technology to keep expanding its ability to answer questions with out human intervention."
- Jeffrey Pound

"What I would add is that contact centers will have a single customer repository for all channels including transaction history from the store, call center, and online. Second is that they will have channel agnostic tools that have a single product catalog (even though all products may not be available in all channels - because of size/hazardous materials, etc.) and they will have inventory visibility of those products in each of the channels. This is happening now, but it's slow in coming because of the legacy systems deployed and difficulty in integrating them. This will substantially improve the customer shopping experience."
- Michael Julson

"Looking at the challenge from a different lens and customer point of view. I would like round the clock service in a language and an accent that suits me. (Some offshore companies have had negative press). Would not like to wait in a queue or go through an automated voice prompt or have to press numbers on the keypad several times but just ask my question and get to resolution of my answer as my time is precious (that would be compelling). Now tell me what technology can solve that problem and you have delivered a breakthrough. As a customer, these are my articulated needs and the call center industry has still not yet delivered consistently here."
- Simon Shah

"I believe that it is the maturing and better integration of existing technologies more than any new technology breakthrough that will have the most significant impact to the call center in 2012. Channel Convergence: A call center, as some of the forward thinking enterprises already realize, will be more of a contact center. The word "call" in the call center assumes a connected, real-time voice interaction. By 2012, the visual, interactive and voice channels will converge and "contact center" interactions will transcend all three. When you click on the "call for help" link on your retirement plan website, the contact center of 2012 is smart enough to know who you are, what you are trying to do (e.g IRA roll-over), what language you speak and how to call you (or just as easily initiate a call from your phone). Likewise, the IKEA expert helpline will be able to initiate a video session to provide interactive feedback on why you have 8 bolts and 3 pieces of wood remaining after you had just put together the coolest looking crib on the planet. As was pointed out, a call center no longer has to be confined in a single physical location. A single, virtual and distributed call center can consist of experts form all over the world. This means that a computer science graduate student in Sau Palo, a retired software engineer in Houston and a lead developer in Delhi that just quit her job to stay home with a newborn, all of whom can only be available for a couple of hours on a given day, can be part of a virtual call center. Since they are all experts in their respective fields, the requisite training and time to market will be greatly diminished. Since they are highly skilled, most contact center interactions will terminate with them than getting escalated to another level. This leads to both higher customer satisfaction and lower cost of service. Since all these interactions are now captured, smart algorithms can scan them to find patterns. Both humans as well as machines will start identifying certain patterns, for example, new father + is a software engineer + cool crib from IKEA = angry support call. Once these patterns are identified, the systems that function in the call center (or other parts of the enterprise) of the future can scan the customer interactions in real-time, akin to a computer scanning for viruses. The systems can take immediate remedial action when they detect a known pattern. In case of IKEA, the longer term solution will be revise the instruction manual, while the shorter term fix might be for the call center software to intercept an incoming request (caller-id to pull-up the latest purchases showing that a crib was purchased) and route it to a new interaction flow (a recording that asks did you assemble a crib and are you left with 3 pieces of wood? if so would you like to see a video that shows how to correct it?) otherwise of course you route it to the next available agent"
- Anu Kulatunga

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