The contact center solutions industry is in the midst of what can best be described as a major transformation. Improving the customer experience now tops C-level priority lists around the world. What used to be named “call centers,” have rightfully been more accurately and hopefully more often termed, “contact centers.” They have gone from being viewed as almost necessary evils to must haves for leveraging customer interactions into differentiated and sustainable value.
While the transformation may not be a revolution, it certainly has picked up remarkable speed the last few years. 2014 promises to be a year of further acceleration both in terms of upgrading contact center customer interaction functionality, be it premise-based or increasingly in the cloud, as well as the morphing role of the contact center as a hub of inter and intra-corporate data interchange a vital cog in enterprise-wide collaborative efforts to improve customer experiences.
As a result of the year coming to a close and this being look ahead to next year time, I have made it an annual thoroughly enjoyable habit of checking in with Interactive Intelligence Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Joe Staples of an expert view on what customers are seeking that will drive the market and the competitive landscape. Below are some of the highlights of our recent discussion.
ContactCenterSolutions: You have to like the fact that we now commonly refer to call centers as contact centers and that it has become all about optimizing customer interactions. What are we looking at from a high level for 2014?
Staples: It is certainly gratifying validation of the Interactive Intelligence’s approach over the years. The good news is the emphasis on the customer experience will continue to evolve over the next few years. It will result in contact centers becoming a much more important part of the overall business strategy. As if not more significantly, every employee is going to be tasked with the broader role of customer experience advocate.
These changes will drive a number of important industry trends. In fact, we have identified several key trends that are going to continue to disrupt/transform contact centers at an accelerating pace all the way through 2019. These include:
ContactCenterSolutions: Let’s walk through a few of these. Should cloud be at the top of the list?
Staples: It has to start with the cloud. While our premise-based solution continues to have robust market acceptance and the flexibility we offer of having the same solutions available from our common software platform whether a customer wants a premise, cloud or hybrid deployment today to meet there needs, the move to the cloud is compelling for Interactive Intelligence, the market and most importantly for customers.
The proof points for moving to the cloud are indisputable. It speeds access to the latest applications, makes deployments, provides end-users more intuitive, easy-to-use interfaces for an even better customer experiences, and has demonstrable impacts on improving operational efficiency as well as effectiveness. This does not mean it is optimal for every situation, but it has traction across all segments and geographies.
We bet on the cloud early and have been rewarded for leading the way. Interactive Intelligence will top 50 percent of our order volume as cloud-based which by comparison was 5 percent. We pushed on it more than other vendors. The benefits resonate. Customers constantly tell us that they look back and say it is best decision we ever made. They like that they turned something over to trusted third party, and the experience has exceeded expectations.
The cloud is standing the test of time and is well beyond being thought of as a fad. Plus, with things like our Small CaaS offering, SMBs are being attracted to the ease and cost at which they can have all of the capabilities of larger companies including things like multi-channel interactions and speech analytics.
ContactCenterSolutions: What are you seeing with multichannel?
Staples: This is an instance where you ignore particularly social media at your own risk. Social is an important part of most people’s lives these days. The interesting thing is that not a lot of companies are fully implementing it. We are still early in the learning curve of appreciating and leveraging social’s value. Many companies have started where it makes sense by listening for their brand name. The challenge is that in actuality listening is much more than that and you need to know what you should be listening. This means honing in on different key words, understanding context (for instance someone wanting to buy a washing machine versus posting a negative review) is critical going forward.
That said, listening is just a start, and actually hearing is only half the battle. The next key step in leveraging social is how hearing gets translated into treating the customer in a compelling and satisfying way. We are working with partners on doing things like better understanding sentiment, and with customers to better understand best practices for multichannel interactions, particularly social ones.
ContactCenterSolutions: How important is mobile?
Staples: This is another aspect of multichannel in that you have to interact with costumers the way they want to interact with you and the experience has to be optimized based on their context. This means based on what they are communicating on, but also being able to pass contextual information from a mobile interaction to a live agent interaction, enabling customers to schedule call-backs for service via their mobile device. We all know how frustrating it is to initiate something on our personal device and then having to go over the same information once we escalate to a live agent. Interactive Intelligence offers this ability to provide context transfer and the importance of this is going to grow over time because of its substantial differentiated value.
ContactCenterSolutions: Self service is a double-edge sword if not done the right way, but it is on your list. What are you seeing here?
Staples: You are correct about the need to implement it correctly. It is good for companies because self-service frees up agent time from having to deal with mundane matters, and customers like it if it leads to quick resolution of their issue or a quick transfer to a human who can help them. This is a crucial area in the transformation of all aspects of customer interactions and improved customer experiences since some industry experts are forecasting that by 2020 up to 85 percent of customers will interact with an organization without any human intervention thanks to advancements in IVR and web technologies. It is also where the other things we discussed about integration of social, using mobility and transferring context all come into play for optimizing customer interactions.
ContactCenterSolutions: The distributed workforce has become an important element in the growth of contact centers, anything to note in 2014 here?
Staples: The benefits are known in terms of giving companies the ability to attract, retain and monitor remote employees. This is an area where cloud adoption makes things even better, particularly for SMBs for a variety of reasons relating to cost and accessibility of skilled labor.
ContactCenterSolutions: Since it is on your list, why are real-time analytics and big data big deals for contact centers?
Staples: The simple answer is that real-time analytics, particularly voice analytics, is maturing quickly and going mainstream fast as its value is appreciated by more than just early adopters. We know this first-hand because our speech analytics are developed in-house. We have great engineers and negative spotting of keywords has gone done remarkably and reporting is improving all the time.
This is an enormous advantage to contact center supervisors in terms of their ability to know in real-time where problems are arising so they can be more responsive in helping not just customers but in improving the skills of agents. This is a valuable learning tools as well as one for improving resolution issues in real-time. As I said, we are moving out of the early adopter phase in lock-step with the rapid maturation of the technology which is why 2014 looks promising.
As to big data in general, the role of the contact center as a rich resource and conduit of actionable insights is driving more and more interest in a host of big data implementations as the need to share information across the enterprise to optimize the customer experience becomes paramount.
ContactCenterSolutions: The last item on the list is Proactive Communications, what are you referring to?
Staples: The outbound functions of contact centers are crucial, particularly as marketing has so much influence over the use of social media. Plus, there are compliance issues, involved that must be tracked and available for auditing. This is an area where Interactive Intelligence has years of experience in things like outbound dialing and automated notification services. It is another one where the cloud can be really helpful. It is where our TCPA application has gotten significant traction.
ContactCenterSolutions: Any final thoughts?
Staples: Along with us seeing a huge shift to the cloud where our pipeline is now almost 90 percent, we are seeing as a result of the spying revelations a lot of concern over data containment and compliance that will be an important part of the mix in 2014. Again, there is a big cloud play here, as well as a big competitive advantage because of our ability to offer customers the flexibility of moving easily from cloud to premise to hybrid depending on their unique needs.
We also see a the market for our marketplace apps, we know have more than 55 certified with the roster growing all the time, as a huge opportunity. Companies appreciate the value of the apps and as importantly the value of having them being certified for use on our platform. It provides not just a level of versatility for improving operational excellence but also peace of mind.
ContactCenterSolutions: Thanks, Joe. 2014 is certainly going to be an exciting year for Interactive Intelligence and the marketplace.