Rapid Uptick In Customer Adoption
With particularly good reasons and with great intentions, contact centers have been one of the last domains within companies to move their core technology to the cloud. As a critical customer-facing function, contact centers have so much at stake that it makes sense for them not to take chances with customer interactions and customer satisfaction. For years, many contact centers felt that things were not broken, and there was no interest in fixing them.
COVID-19 changed all of that. In 2020, many contact centers needed to make a quick jump to the cloud just to manage agents working from home. While remote agent teams can be managed on a premises-based system, it is much more natural to manage a distributed workforce with cloud-based tools. 2021 saw an explosion of sales of contact-center-as-a-service (CCaaS) solutions as companies switched from survival mode to deploying more permanent solutions. For example, CCaaS specialist Five9’s revenue in the first quarter of 2021 increased 45% year over year.
More Than Just Increased Adoption
Yes, adoption rates are up, but this is not the inflection point I’m referring to — there is a bigger change happening in the market. Until last year, cloud-based contact center solutions provided better and simpler ways to do the same thing that the premises-based systems were doing. Historically, the value of a CCaaS solution rested in greater flexibility, security, reliability, and ease of use. Connecting a cloud-based CCaaS system with a cloud-based CRM has always been a much simpler task than trying to connect a premises-based ACD (automatic call distributor) to a Siebel CRM system. Cloud-based contact center systems provide tools that make ongoing care and feeding more straightforward. This frees up IT resources to work on more strategic projects and allows the contact center to take more control of the customer experience and be more responsive to changing conditions.
We are now at an inflection point where cloud vendors can provide value that a premises-based system cannot. Many of these capabilities have been around for a while, but now they are gaining traction and becoming mainstream, providing real differentiation for CCaaS systems over their premises-based counterparts.
What Is New Here?
There are three key areas where cloud systems are taking on capabilities that will not be deployed on-premises:
- Digital customer engagement. Premises-based contact center systems have been able to support customer interactions via email, chat, and SMS for some time. CCaaS systems now provide the ability to support customer interactions from a single desktop with a single routing engine across a variety of different digital channels, including social media, messaging applications, SMS, and many others. You can deliver digital customer experiences with an on-premises-based system, but not really in a cost-effective way. And most vendors are starting to bring together voice and digital solutions into a single platform — something even more impractical on-premises.
- AI. Most of the thinking around AI today in the contact center is related to chatbots and voicebots. While it is easy to front-end a premises-based contact center system with a cloud-based chatbot or bot-based interactive voice response system, AI is finding its way into many other corners of the contact center where deeper integration is required. Agent assist applications provide agents with customer sentiment information, critical information at the right moment, and next best actions to drive sales and customer satisfaction. AI-based analytics applications can take the insights from agent and customer conversations and turn them into business insights to improve not just contact center performance, but also to drive enhancements across the entire organization. These sorts of applications are only being built and delivered in the cloud.
- The cloud mash-up. I already spoke about how CRM integrations are easier in the cloud, but that is just one place where this is true, and many new integrations are continuing to extend the value of the cloud for the contact center: Microsoft Teams and other collaboration tools accessible from the agent desktop; integrated workforce optimization capabilities for ever-smarter scheduling and reviews; data collection, analytics, and dashboards to provide more data for smarter personalization and analytics.
These are just some of the areas where cloud contact centers are starting to improve customer service experiences in ways that premises-based systems cannot match. The inflection point is here.