Since the 1990s, when the first internet boom happened, people have been predicting the ‘death of the contact center’. Worse still, digital channels have become more mature, and this led to an even stronger belief over the imminent demise of the contact center.

In the era of the empowered consumer, the customer service industry has had to adapt and evolve faster not only to the growing number of communication channels, but also to the challenges of the new employee.

According to Microsoft, 90% of more than 5,000 respondents in its annual Global State of Customer Service report cited customer service as a key brand differentiator, which means it’s important to their choice of brand, and their loyalty to it. Further, data from Forrester shows that 84% of companies see customer experience as more important and urgent today than they did a couple of years back.

The more positive the customer experience, the higher the likelihood of the customer creating an emotional attachment to your brand, in turn building loyalty, and increasing customer retention. Consequently, the customer experience has never been more important to the bottom line, and the contact center sits at the crossroads of employees, channel, and customers.

Far from relegating the contact center to its death bed, digital channels are instead giving them a new lease of life.

In order to meet and exceed customer expectations though, the customer experience has to undergo rapid changes as consumers increasingly look to use digital channels for more meaningful, engaged conversations with brands.

Digital solutions, key among them automation, are at the forefront of transforming the contact center industry to ensure customers’ expectations are met and exceeded, so as to keep them loyal for the long-term.

Then and now: the digital evolution journey of the contact center

In the 1990s, contact centers replaced live interactions and were available to allow customers to reach out in case of any issues with a company or its products and services – not to draw them in and deliver excellent experiences that leave them satisfied.

Companies didn’t have the wherewithal to create seamless experiences that would ensure their customers were not only happier and satisfied, but also convert more because the technology to achieve this didn’t exist.

By the 2000s, channel access was broadened and by 2010, there were multiple channels but little or no integration for seamless experiences between them.

Today, we have Omnichannel access and integration, which means that conversations between companies and their customers are no longer limited to the traditional phone call or voice channels.

They’re more seamless thanks to perpetual connectivity and the widespread adoption of digital devices, which is constantly changing customers preferred ways of communicating with organizations. They expect to reach out to brands and engage seamlessly across multiple channels like mobile, live chat, social media, and video among others.

Companies are responding to these and other emerging trends by digitally transforming contact centers in form and purpose. Thus, today’s contact center is more of an interactive engagement center, where the customer is serviced across integrated telephony and digital channels.

In the next two years or so, digital channels will be the first choice for many enterprises, as they’ll transform the contact center into an experience hub that underpins and drives the customer experience, and the interactions companies have with their customers and prospects.

The main driving forces behind the transition from the old, disengaged contact center, to the new, digitally transformed and interactive engagement center are strategy, organization and culture, and new technologies.

Automation solutions for contact centers are key among the new technologies that companies are increasingly exploiting to enable a digitally transformed contact center and customer experience. They not only ensure a seamless and interactive experience, but they also allow companies to communicate with customers on their own terms, and meet their ever-changing demands and needs.

They also enable faster resolution of customers’ issues, reduce operational costs, and increase opportunities to engage with customers to upsell and cross-sell.

The end result is an improved customer experience that drives satisfaction and loyalty, and drives profitability for the company.

How contact centers have managed the digital transformation

Preparation for the future digital contact center is necessary.

A truly digital contact center isn’t just about having all the channels customers need, but it’s also about integration of technologies across the business that offers the full context of every customer interaction, and leveraging the customer data to offer proactive services.

It redefines the customer experience from the start to the end. For this to happen though, there are a number of things that companies need to do today to get ready for the environment that revolves around best practices for great customer service.

1. Socializing process change

Getting your team comfortable with the introduction, implementation, and success of a particular initiative can be tough especially if they’re not happy about it. however, it offers a way of increasing the confidence level in the process that will happen.

The goal here is to get employee and management buy-in and commitment for a digitized contact center so as to convert those who aren’t comfortable and certain about it into champions who will support it, and will be its proponents across the organization.

When you do this prior to the actual start of the process, the likelihood of success and buy-in will be much higher throughout the organization. Plus, it’ll enable smoother implementation, especially if you already have an in-house change management component.

Consistency in the message you deliver to all affected employees is important as is providing an effective forum for feedback, which keeps everyone engaged. Some of the techniques that can help socialize the process change include one-on-one conversations, meetings with contact center staff, small group meetings with individuals, lunch & learns, and after-hours events.

2. Getting buy-in among employees

According to Gartner, 85% of customer service interactions will be automated without human involvement or assistance by 2020. This translates to reduced workforce needs and costs in contact centers, because Artificial Intelligence (AI) can manage multiple tasks, doesn’t need much training, salaries, or benefits.

While automation brings many benefits to the organization, it won’t save the business if employees buck management. How employees react to the digital experience will have a huge impact on getting the transformation right, as some will embrace it while others will be reluctant to champion the change, or even outright resist it.

Organizations are different and require unique approaches, but there are some things you can try to win employee buy-in for the digital transformation experience. These include:

  • Openly communicating with contact center employees across all levels by having an open door policy and proactive messaging from the management team
  • Empower employees to know how their roles and work contribute to the project’s overall success
  • Investing in the employee experience design so as to mitigate the ups and downs on the path to their end goal
  • Be responsive about employee concerns over the project and actively monitor them to respond appropriately
  • Create unique strategy presentations for the team showcasing the benefits they care about to show that you’ve considered how they’ll be affected by the project at both individual and team level
  • Keep the team updated with the project’s progress, wins, and any challenges experienced along the way for better accountability and transparency
  • Back up your strategy with research to prove why you’re doing the project. Include your own metrics, and the way forward after implementation

Selecting pilot processes

Instead of waiting until the contact center modernization process has been perfected, set up a pilot process that’s minimally viable and then rapidly cycle improvements through live testing with customers until the entire process meets their predefined requirements.

This way, you can redesign one customer journey at a time, and build the capabilities needed to scale quickly with a goal or releasing a basic version of the project within a given time period.

Rather than digitizing multiple elements all at once, focus on selective transformation, singling out what matters most to your customers, mapping the flow across channels, functions, and devices, and identifying where the pain points are.

The next step is to reimagine the customer’s optimal journey experience while ensuring a clean intersection between the processes across different platforms like mobile, social, and cloud, to deliver a superior customer experience.

Creating centers of excellence (CoEs)

In order to transform all key customer journeys, it’s important to scale new capabilities quickly. You can do this one process after another, for instance organizing by themes or by the customer journey, and establishing clear standards and performance metrics to continuously improve the digital transformation program.

A center of excellence (CoE) includes people, processes, and technologies that will maximize all the benefits of automation in the contact center.

It has several roles, among them presenting the vision and strategy for the digital transformation, and change management. It also provides effective governance of the overall automation effort including determining and tracking metrics to assess progress against the main strategy, and presenting these results to the shareholders.

In order to build an automation center of excellence for your contact center, you’ll need to:

  • Assemble and train the automation team
  • Collaborate with the IT team on infrastructure change, compliance, security, and other IT functions
  • Establish a governance framework that will determine interaction and participation in the automation initiative, manage the process of best practices will be developed, documented, and implemented, as well as analyzed and reporting of results
  • Plan scaling and change management of the automation initiative in the organization while envisioning how employees work after their tasks are transferred to robots

Reporting successes

Contact center technology ensures you not only reap the benefits of efficiency and modernization of operations, but it also allows you to measure the value of your solutions by offering automatically generated reports of tangible metrics important to your unique business objectives.

In some cases, you may need to have a plan in place for reporting successes and/or failures to the steering committee. Measuring ensures you continually improve your CoE processes, and substantiates the need for ongoing funding of the modernization process.

Digital transformation within a contact center changes how people and processes function. It also helps create processes that reduce the time agents spend looking for information to respond to the customers’ queries by giving it to them, thereby enhancing the customer experience and increasing the number of productive customer conversations.