If there is one industry which can be revolutionized with the advent of analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) technologies, it is the contact center (CC) space. Today, nine out of 10 businesses differentiate themselves based on customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX), which have, by far, become two of the most important success factors for any new or existing product or service. As an industry, contact centers have existed for more than three decades, but the transformation to CC 2.0 is now becoming real with the introduction of omnichannel communication, virtual assistants and chatbots, customization based on application programming interfaces (APIs), cloud deployment, and most importantly, advanced customer journeys integrated with end to end enterprise ecosystems.
The success of customer support has always been based on how quickly and accurately we can solve the customer’s query and/or problem. The needle is shifting towards how fast we can prevent customers to get into already-known issues, basic configuration or usage scenarios, general billing related queries, and so on. This implies a reduction in incoming calls or incidents into the support function and the ability to intelligently assist the customer with meaningful automatic responses. This is known as proactive reduction of customer requests or intelligent virtual assistance (IVA) technology.
Let us look at how enterprise contact center infrastructure was setup in legacy, and what is the shift that is required to implement virtual assistants as proactive as stated above. Over the last three decades, there have been disparate systems for telephony, automatic call distribution, contact center agents, call recording, and workforce management, among others, which were the key components of any contact center environment. There have been several vendors or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who have provided their own proprietary hardware-based solutions for these components and have been partnering with value-added resellers (VARs) or system integrators (SIs), to put this all together for small, medium, or large enterprises. This has served as an end to end mechanism for managing and resolving customer problems and has been fully integrated with internal customer relationship management (CRM) databases and incident management systems for the last several years.
There have been advancements in software capabilities of real-time voice, video, and collaboration along with omnichannel integration leading to next-gen virtual assistants. Coupled with the availability of latest AI and analytics techniques and the ability to deploy all of it in Cloud, this has transformed the way contact centers will be operated tomorrow. We are already seeing this disruption in the industry and there is a plethora of new software entrants in this market space, who have come up with niche solutions, that include virtual assistants among other options, and that provide end to end capabilities. Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) and Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) are the two most prominent cloud deployment models which are currently gaining huge market traction. They can provide higher flexibility in customization for customer journeys and interactive voice response (IVR) workflows, reduce capital expenditure (CAPEX) with subscription- or usage-based OPEX billing models, and accelerate time to market.
The distinction between CCaaS and CPaaS is basically the balance we need to strike between off-the-shelf ready functionality and the ability to customize and develop our own vertical applications and workflows. Again, the emergence of API-based communications is transforming the way startups and tech-savvy enterprises are adopting the new norm in customer experience.
One of the other trends, which we observed, is the need to combine unified communication (UC) capabilities with contact center platforms, in order to provide seamless features like the ability to escalate a voice call to a video session with a subject matter expert (SME), instantly share and transfer files, and make browser-based collaboration and sharing for real-time troubleshooting and communication, through WebRTC technology. This blend of UC and CC propositions is key for large enterprise requirements and we already see that Gartner Leaders in this space are coming up with unique unified solutions for the same.
As we talked about legacy environments and the new normal, the next obvious question is to ask what is the migration path— from On-premise to Cloud; legacy multi-vendor fragmented infrastructure to harmonized and unified platform setup; time-consuming IVRs and workflows into the latest customer journeys, to reduced time for resolution, as well as end-customer satisfaction. There is no short cut for this transformation journey and we, at HCL, believe there are two key pillars of this journey:
Platform Transformation and Experience Transformation
Let us look at both of these pillars in detail.
Platform Transformation includes the identification of the new contact center services core platform (ACD, WFM, reporting, and recording, among others) and the associated applications (agent desktop, IVR, and VA, among others) which could be an on-premise, hybrid, or a pure cloud (CCaaS or CPaaS) setup. The primary phases will include platform selection, migration, customization and integration, and rollout of contact center services. Advanced Omni-channel, Automation and DevOps will be the key levers to attain higher productivity and enhanced development to maintenance ratio.
Experience Transformation remains the key pillar for bringing business benefits to the enterprise, focusing on customer journeys, intelligent IVR-based self-service, application development, and contextual actionable insights. Most of the experience transformation elements will not just depend on the new platform, but also on the end to end applications and ecosystem components in the digital journey at enterprise level. Some key business outcomes or critical success factors will be the reduction in the number of agents, enhanced customer experience, and improved agent/employee productivity.
HCL’s deep product engineering experience in Telecom, UC and CC, and cloud, combined with a global enterprise presence in various vertical segments makes us uniquely positioned to define, design, implement, and support the contact center transformation journey of any small, medium, or large enterprise.
I would like to express my gratitude to my colleagues Ram Ojha and Nikhil Vishwanath Datar who have helped me to evangelize the CC 2.0 proposition and market positioning for HCL.