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The noise of the contact center technology market is deafening

  

Why you shouldn’t go it alone. (Warning **Contains a little self-promotion)

I know I usually write about the state of the industry, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I think it is absolutely something you need to think about. The technology landscape is moving so fast for us in the contact center space that literally no one can keep up. 

Let me quantify that statement because it does feel a little self-serving since one of the things I do is assist companies in finding the right technology. I spend a lot of time researching and speaking with new and existing technology players and almost every day I run across a new company bringing some kind of service or technology to our space. If I am constantly reading, researching and talking with these tech companies and am still finding new companies, then I can not imagine what it is like trying to sift through all of this from scratch. 

Big Changes in the Landscape of current providers:

Excluding all the new startups and providers expanding their product solutions, there have been a significant amount of transactions and changes to the technology landscape over the last few years. The big ones were Genesys’s acquisition of Interactive Intelligence, Mitel’s acquisition of ShorTel and then Mitel getting acquired by the same VC that owns Rackspace and Nice’s acquisition of InContact. In other big news, Avaya’s migration into Bankruptcy and subsequent transition out of bankruptcy with an acquisition of Spoken (which is a cloud contact center solution provider) adds a whole new wrinkle into things. Then there was the launch of AWS’s Connect platform last year which brings a scary big player into the market and created a lot of noise. 

Also, we have seen a tremendous amount of hype out of the AI sector which is generating a large increase in demand for innovation from the BPOs and their customers. Because of the potential increases to efficiencies and automations in communications almost everyone in the market has at least started to plan how to approach AI. Let’s be honest, it really comes down to the fact that since I entered this market when I was a wee lad the highest cost for contact centers has and always will be…go ahead and say it…people. That’s right, people. So logically if AI has the potential to have the greatest impact on the highest costing line item on a contact center budget then guess what the owners want to invest in.

How to prepare for technology selection:

Hire us! Ha ha…kidding, not kidding. 

But seriously, you first need to take time with your team and discuss what problems you are looking to solve. What technology initiatives are already in place? And then you must be able to answer the typical acquisition questions of when, how and how much. 

Don’t just throw this over to IT and ask them to solve all your problems. Customer experience is a company wide initiative. We all know that after reading countless industry surveys and research papers, an effortless customer experience is what the people want. To get to an effortless experience, I see no other logical path then to leverage technology. But you need to approach it as a business problem and not just an IT problem.

As you likely know from my past articles, I truly believe that data is king. With that being said, I always talk to my clients about their digitization process and where they are at in the scope of total digitization. How close are they to creating a single source of record to house or at least report on the data they collect? If you have not even started that process, then you really need to get moving. I am not saying all is lost and throw in the towel, but I am saying you need to move because you are in a marathon and you haven’t even passed the first mile marker and your competition is sprinting towards the finish line.

I am a strong believer in moving forward quickly and with a clearly purpose for any project of any size. Adding a new technology to your contact center services shouldn’t be approached as if you are simply adding a spoiler to the back of your car. Especially if your car is an old run-down dinosaur that doesn’t even work with modern parts and you are looking for speed. Sure, it looks like it could go faster but it doesn’t change how fast the car goes.

Sorry for the car analogy but I think you get my point. Know your business reasons for this and take the time to really think through the impact on your business and most importantly your customer.

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Earlier Thoughts

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Hey Contact Centers and BPOs, Innovation is not an option!

 

1 idea to get started. (Hint, it is not just about the tech!)

Most of my followers/readers know that I try to post my own images  and tie them back to the article. Acropolis still stands today as a  testament to innovative builders in Greece that created marvels such as  this. I believe we should all aspire to build things that withstand the  test of time which I believe most do. There is no better example that  resonates for me then the many ruins of Athens. However, if you do not  continue to cultivate and curate your business even the greatest  businesses will crumble. I know I normally write about the tech side but  this isn't about the technology as much as it is about innovation as a  whole.

I recently posted on LinkedIn an offer to have open discussions with  industry leaders about what the contact center of the future could look  like. I am a consultant, so people pay me for my time, but I really  wanted to get some idea of where the industry felt we were heading and  what it looked like from their eyes, so I offered my time for free. I  feel like the value for both parties was significant and it was only the  time for a few calls that was being given. Simple right? 

I received a few thought provoking comments about how some centers  were really changing their focus to be on the employee and driving  performance through increased engagement and satisfaction. I also  received some great commentary on AI and the impact they seen in their  current environment and what they seen as the future of that technology  for their business. I think this is a great start but what surprised me  more is that out of all the comments and views not one person followed  up or through on discussing their ideas of the contact center of the  future. 

Maybe I didn’t do a good enough job of making sure that people  understood what I was trying to accomplish and that I was willing to  give my time to them and their company for free? Maybe they didn’t see  the value in having a discussion with me…so maybe it is me.  Either way,  one thing is obvious to me is that we are always eager to discuss  innovation, but we rarely follow through even when we know we need to. 

We, as an industry, have a tremendous impact on commerce because we  are often the front facing arm of the customer experience. Even though  we finally have the attention of boards, C-level executives and all the  business journals; we still seem to be stuck in the day to day muck of  being inside our businesses. 

I know how hard it is to run a contact center because I have done  it. I know the pains of having multiple layers of management, agents,  trainers, clients…etc. always demanding your time and focus. I don’t by  any stretch discount the demands of our industry leaders! I respect the  hell out of those that day to day must deal with the barrage of demands  for running a successful contact center. I know you have one of the most  complex and demanding careers. I don’t think though, in general, we are  moving at the speed of modern business. We cannot continue to ignore  the fact that the world around us is moving at a blistering pace and  those that are not innovating in their business are quickly getting left  behind.

I know I have said this before in past articles, but the contact  center is in a unique spot of being able to finally get the attention we  have long deserved. I don’t care if you are a BPO, in house contact  center, tech support group or a collections agency. If you touch the  customer directly through any channel of communication you can demand  the ear of your leaders because you own a portion of the customer  experience. CEO’s know that CX is on display in every forum and based on  all the reports you read on what the C-Suite is focused on, the  customer experience is where it is at.

I want to finish this off with an idea I recently shared with an  owner of a contact center company. He runs an international BPO and he  was struggling with keeping up with his clients demands. Although he has  always done exceptional work for his clients, he is at risk of losing  some of his largest clients because in his words he hasn't innovated. He  also shared with me that he feels it is his greatest fear that he  continues to not put in any focus on innovation in his business. I  shared with him the following idea to help get him started and now it is  yours to do with what you wish.

Here is what I recommend: 

(This is your take home!) Start innovating today. Find one of  your leaders or even two that have a real passion for change. Sit them  down and put together an Innovation Team concept for your business. Have  someone from every division and every level as part of your team. (Yes,  especially an agent...Churchill and Patton leveraged their troops so  why wouldn't you?) Have them meet and set targeted goals for creating  realistic, implementable innovations. People, processes, technology; no  subject is off limits. Ask them to meet once a week for a set period to  discuss, build and create innovation programs with targeted KPI’s to  measure from. Let them know that failures will happen, and their goal  will always be to fail fast and learn and adapt their approach. Make  this a part of your culture and give the Innovation Team ownership of  the results. Mentor them and build your future leaders. Try to not  stymie them by saying what they should do and just listen to and  evaluate what they create. If you know you have problems that need  solutions, don't give them the answers. You will be amazed at what they  will create, I promise!

If we do not leverage our position, innovate in our businesses and  continue to push the boundaries of what we are capable of then we will  crumble. Go forth and fail fast and work on your business. 

I love to hear your feedback and if anyone has a similar model please  share it. If you are interested in assistance to help build out an  Innovation Model for your company, then please message me. Thank you as I  know your time is valuable and as always, I am listening.

Earlier Thoughts

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Hey Contact Center & BPO providers - Did you hear the "shot across the bow"?

 This is the humble opinion from an industry insider and veteran survivor of the green screen to pc migration, dialer wars, the contact center conversion from call centers, the Omni-channel evolution(still going) and the birth of the AI experience.

I use to believe that true disruptions in business were few and far between but in my life I have already seen quite a few. However, none will have as much of an impact on my industry, the contact center and customer experience market, as AI will.

The reality of this technology is that it can, and already is, changing the landscape of business communications and the customer experience. Bots, AI, Cognitive computing and the such are being implemented in the largest of stages and no one was talking about it until just recently.

I think back to many years ago when I was working with a "big data" company to productize a cool chat and knowledge-base integrated technology that could automate chat communications with Supervised Intelligence tools built in it. The product was ready to go and I spent all my time trying to educate companies on how to deploy this and explain the cost savings and brand controls it brought. I realized this was going to take a lot more time and money to convince our industry the technology was available and would have a huge impact on their business. Unfortunately, no one was willing to pay for it at that time so I had to move onto paying projects as we sometimes do in entrepreneurship. (Still kicking myself on that one)

Times have changed and the Artificial Intelligence revolution is here. Our industry is about to see the biggest disruption we have had since the original drop call % rules for the telemarketing industry were passed into law.

AI will have a greater impact because this is driven by the consumers and it plays across the entire omni-channel spectrum. This is including the voice channel which is still the largest segment of our industry and seemed to be the one missing link in forcing AI to the front line. The consumers are driving this change also with internet searches through AI/voice based searches moving from a minuscule 2% of just a few years ago to over 15% and rising!

Now for the "Shot" and no this isn't tequila

A few weeks ago AWS announced its launch of the Connect platform at the Enterprise Connect Show. The launch was a bit early from what I understood based on industry insiders and rumors but it has already impacted deals in the market. In the same week of the announcement, I know of at least a few contracts put on hold because the prospect decided to review AWS Connect before moving forward.

A major part of AWS Connect that is intriguing to me and speaks to my point is the "Lex" functions which is derived from their Alexa AI tool on their consumer products. This is the one thing that no other provider has focused on as a part of the overall service offering.

Please do not get me wrong, I have no illusions that their platform is 100% ready for the enterprise contact center out of the box but this is Amazon. To much of the contact center technology providers' chagrin including my own, we have all been telling the market that AWS is the most reliable cloud platform building the trust of the buyers in AWS. They have the right structure and innovation teams that it will not take long to get Connect up to speed and did I say they are AMAZON, right? Now I am not saying AWS Connect will take over the market. I know first hand how complex the delivery of the contact center solutions are and it will take them time to build it out but none the less they are already impacting buyers today. The true shot was the accessibility of voice based AI technology for the contact center.

So how does this affect the BPO's directly? Well, AI has already been implemented and impacted companies in substantial ways. Think about the impact to your business or your customers' outsourced projects in the following example. If AI was implemented and it diverted just 20% of their call traffic to AI instead of agents by simply taking the RPAs (repeatable process automation) off the top. These are the frequently asked questions customers call and asks about. 20% of your contract just went to a technology that is handling the easiest calls and at .10-.20 cents per AI minute as opposed to $1-$2 per agent minute. (Numbers are not at scale but this is the sampling I am aware of) The cost savings are huge but think beyond the pure cost savings and to the consistent branded response being delivered 24/7/365 to the customers. This is just the simplest form of the implementation of AI and doesn't take into account the technology learning how to respond to more complex questions and problems. Or better yet, how about when it learns to proactively respond to issues by reaching out to a customer right away via the channel they prefer to communicate before the customer even calls the company? Let's let that sink in for a second.

Take a deep breath because the robots are not taking all of the agent's jobs. We will always need human interaction in the customer experience. What AI does create is and opportunity for the really good agents to focus on the more complex and more critical customer experience communications. Those companies that get this and embrace the merging of the technology and the human interactions with a focus on the effortless customer experience will win. (And don't forget to be 3 Laws compliant...and if you don't get that joke, we cant be friends.)

How about now? Did you hear the shot?

Next time I will bring up the meta data AI captures and the larger part of the customer experience discussion which is the true prize...Helping solve our customer's problems before they even happen. But that is another discussion for another time.As always, please send me any feedback and we will see you out in the trenches. 

Another long winded article

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My Customer Experience Dream

 

Many of you know me from the contact center space as the once agent and call center manager that grew up into the technology side of the business. I have always felt this gave me a unique perspective of both being the guy digging the ditch and also the guy helping to sell, deploy and support the shovel.  

As of the last few years I have found myself struggling with our industry mainly with some fundamental flaws as I see them. These are general statements so please do not take offense if you do not fall into these categories but I think we can all agree that as a whole most of the frustration has probably been felt by you or your organization. 

1. We are not leveraging our position properly in the modern business.

2. We are so slow to adopt to the modern world that is changing at light speed 

The first one to me is obvious. The customer experience is valued greater in the modern business than any other aspect so why do we still behave as if we are in the stone ages? Companies now have access to countless reams of data (okay not reams but GIGS of data) that show us exactly how we should be interacting with our clients but they either are not tracking it or have no way of quantifying what they see. Even worse, in my opinion, is that most companies are not even trying to understand the customer experience.  At the forefront of the experience in most businesses is the contact center. Contact centers in my mind come in all shapes and sizes but they really are the tip of the sword in the customer experience by being the direct line of communication to the company. With Omni-Channel communication strategies we really do have the lead in every communication channel and we are not leveraging our position to lead the charge of change for our customer’s experience.  I can get into the many reasons why I believe we have not taking the ownership of this and they run from the old thinking of the contact center being a cost center to the plane old fashioned if it ain’t broke mentality. None the less, we are not doing enough as an industry to take charge as the true CX lead. 

My second point plays off of my first because as a technologist and self-defined contact center tech geek, I see bits and bites of things that if brought together can change the game for all of us. I have been in this industry since I was 19 and I have seen us go from manual dialing phones on folding tables to green screen dialers and to what we know of today's as the modern contact center solution. To this day, I have consistently seen us as an industry fight technology change and drive ourselves into regulation change through lack of understanding or clear thinking towards what we own which is the customer interaction or customer experience with our brands.  

Yes there are those that have been early adopters and forward thinkers driving change inside their own organization but as a whole we are not having the hard discussions as an industry in how we evolve.  So here is my dream for the world to see. Please pilfer and share…take the idea and pass it off as your own. I really just want this dream to become a reality for all of us. We are at center stage for business from the Journals to the C-Suite and it is our time to show business why we own the Customer Experience. 

I think we have all heard, "Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!" so here you go.

The dream is simple at its core which is to provide the customer with what they need when they need it…whether they know they need it or not. Pretty straight forward right!  What do we need from the technology players to accomplish this? Lets start with the basics…data. So for the sake of length I am going to give everyone the roadmap of parts but by no means is it going to have the meat we need to accomplish this dream.  Please feel free to reach out if you want to help me fill in the gaps. 

Data – We need a centralized data source that can handle every customer interaction. This is available today through tons of players but they CRMs/ERP order management systems...etc. They are the system of record tool for all of our businesses.  They can track every customer transaction and interaction down to a single user. 

Omni channel communications tools – First I think I should define how I see omni because I have had healthy discussions about this for the last 5 years. Omni-Channel does not just mean providing a business with a way to communicate across all channels but instead means that you can speak across any channel to a our consumer providing them consistent service that has no repplication of the customers' efforts. I have yet to see ANYONE truly provide this from the customer and agent perspective.  In my mind this includes mobile/app, web, email, voice, Social and any other form of communication or interaction our customers have with our business. Mobile first, in my humble opinion, is where we are heading but that is a different subject for another time/article. 

A.I. – The tools are now available to layer A.I. over the Omni-Channel platform and provide consistent, brand approved communications and answers using natural language and cognitive computing. Let me know if you want to understand more about this but believe me when I say that we can now truly have our computers communicating with our customers in a way to improve their overall customer experience. With our current culture of getting what we need when we need it, we can not possibly staff a company to handle this.  AI has to be our solution. 

Big Data – This is the binding/rope/chains that holds it all together. All of these above mentioned items create data points in both structured and most importantly, unstructured formats.  Now with the revolution of IOT becoming a reality our products also store how the consumer interacts with it and how they use it. All of this data can now be mined, organized and delivered to the strategists to define and improve the true customer experience. 

Imagine a day when we as business owners know how our customers interact with our products and our company and can predict how we can improve their experience. If we can do it, we can essentially eradicate the pointing fingers of why we failed a customer and resolve it essentially before it even happens. This is my dream and it is possible but I cant do it alone.