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Cast your mind back to early-1900s America. Telephones were creeping into homes, moving pictures were starting to appear as curiosities, and a young man named Henry Ford was beavering away in his workshop producing newfangled vehicles called automobiles.

Ford believed he could create cars cheaply enough so everyone could afford one. But  Americans weren’t buying his vision. Cars, they thought, were an expensive plaything for the rich and famous. Indeed, Ford once quipped: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

It’s an interesting observation. In hindsight we know that cars and horses can hardly even be considered comparable modes of transportation. But when you ask people what they want, they usually request a better version of what they already have, even if something totally new would be better. 

The same is as true for contact centers today as it was for personal transport in the 1900s. Business owners will often persist with old legacy systems, steadily retrofitting them to improve functionality rather than investing in something new. But just as Americans discovered with the automobile, new inventions can offer so much more.

Collaborative and unified

The modern contact center represents an integrated approach to communications and customer engagement, uniting business experts and contact center agents across every channel to deliver a seamless and engaging customer experience.

Although it represents a substantial break from the on-site systems of the past, new platforms are built on the foundations of the technology that came before. By taking the best existing elements and augmenting them with new ideas, techniques, and tools, we are building a new generation of contact center platform.

Take your service to the cloud

Until very recently, contact center software was installed on-site. Each installation was a big, clunky IT project that needed a small army of IT consultants and contractors. While it was possible to add functionality and features, integrations were often bespoke—and fragile.

Modern platforms have migrated away from on-premise technology. Instead of installing your platform on servers in your building, modern platforms run from the cloud. There are a ton of benefits to this, two of which stand out:

  • First, upgrades and improvements happen a lot more quickly. With on-premises technology, someone had to physically come to your company to install an update. Now, every update is made on the cloud and automatically rolled out to contact centers.
  • Second, cloud technologies are designed to work with other services. While you could hook a legacy contact center up to something simple like a CRM, the process was excruciatingly slow and technical. Nowadays, modern systems have those integrations built-in. If you want to link RingCentral to your CRM, chatbot, or scheduling software, chances are it’s a one-click installation process.

Empower your agents to collaborate

For the best part of two decades, business executives have treated call centers as a necessary evil. They often sat apart from other business departments, an entity unto itself. Even internally they were fragmented. Billing agents dealt with invoices, refunds, and subscriptions; customer service agents dealt with complaints and feedback, and so on. 

But the way consumers interact with contact centers has changed, and this older contact center model doesn’t make much sense anymore. Today’s consumers turn to contact centers when their own research has failed and they usually need specific, in-depth advice, not surface-level troubleshooting. 

With consumers asking for much more advanced support, agents must be empowered to help them, which starts with access to information: ensuring you have open APIs so they have secure access to your CRM and other backend systems. Building those information pipelines means agents can reach information across the company without having to transfer the call or manually ask for help.

But agents cannot solve every problem on their own. Increasingly, contact center agents must work collaboratively with colleagues and experts outside their immediate team to solve complex issues. That’s why modern platforms must support internal communication and collaboration.

Meet your customers on their channel of choice

Consumers want to choose their communication channel. If they only use Messenger, they’ll want to chat through Messenger. Ten years ago, this would have struck fear into the heart of even the bravest customer engagement executive. But no longer. 

Businesses are increasingly recognizing the benefit of unified communication (UC) that’s centralizing all your customer communication on one platform. By managing communications from one platform, it doesn’t matter if you support one channel or one hundred—it’s all managed in the same place.

While UC on its own delivers huge benefits, the organizations that are excelling are the ones integrating UC with their contact centers, uniting previously separate business areas to provide improved customer and employee experiences.

A better, cheaper, more profitable service

For nearly 20 years, people treated call centers as a functional entity: it existed to solve problems as quickly and as cheaply as possible. But that changed with the rise of contemporary contact centers. Now, some businesses are deploying them as a competitive asset—and they’re reaping rewards.

When utilized correctly, contact centers can improve an organization’s Net Promoter Score (NPS), creating happier and more loyal customers. They can also significantly reduce employee workloads by using AI and automation tech that relieves the pressure on human agents. Finally, modern contact centers create new sales opportunities. As physical retail sites continue to decline, contact centers have taken over many of their functions—including up-selling.

Once business leaders see the potential benefits of contemporary contact centers, it’s easier for them to adapt their mindset, to stop seeing contact centers as a necessary evil and start seeing them as an invaluable business asset that needs to sit closely alongside other departments.

Originally published Apr 27, 2020, updated Jun 20, 2024

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