Contact Center Experts share their thoughts on the year ahead
Illustration by Gina Park

The last few years have brought constant change and evolution in customer expectations, technology, digital channels and how contact center leaders and solutions providers see the future of service delivery. Each year, we see new trends emerge across all areas of the business—some that become game-changers for the contact center industry, while others just seem to fade into the background.

For our January 2017 feature, we asked 17 industry experts to share their thoughts on what to keep an eye on in the upcoming year. We’ll share their insights in this four-part blog series. Part 1 of this series looks at the year ahead for artificial intelligence, training, speech analytics and contact center employment. (For a look at the other trends, check out Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.)

On Artificial Intelligence…

Vice President, Product Marketing
This year we saw customer interactions evolve from traditional question-and-answer dialogues, to intelligent machines now enhancing the process and experience. Machines are learning patterns and providing answers to customers to help eliminate some of the mundane tasks that customer service agents used to handle; and intelligent machine personas like the Alexa in the Amazon Echo and Siri in various Apple devices, are paving the way.

In 2017, we’ll see more capabilities when it comes to artificial intelligence and customer service, like Alexa triggering a call from contact center based on a question about online order status, thermostats submitting a trouble ticket after noticing a problem with the heater, or Siri searching through a cable company’s FAQs to answer to a commonly asked question about Internet service troubleshooting. However, one thing will always remain true—human interactions will still be critical when dealing with complex situations or to provide the empathy that is needed in customer service.

On Training…

Reflective Keynotes Inc.
Mike Aoki1. Agents require additional training on emotional intelligence and conflict resolution skills. Customer self-service removes easy contact center interactions. What remains are the challenging scenarios. To handle those calls, agents require more than just product knowledge and technical skills. They need to be trained to handle complex interactions and emotionally charged situations.

2. Agents need to be trained on proper business writing skills. Live chat, email and social media will soon account for more interactions than voice. As a result, written communication skills will begin to take precedence over having a good “phone voice.” In the past, agents with good verbal skills could thrive in a pure “call” center, even if they had poor writing skills. Now, agents may interact with one customer via live chat and then take an inbound phone call immediately afterward. Agents need training on both verbal and written skills.

3. More robust eLearning solutions are needed. Millennials love multimedia. So, the old “eLearning” methodology of text-based lessons, followed by a multiple-choice test, fails to engage them. Instead, implement new eLearning solutions using audio and video to engage your agents.

On Speech Analytics…

Founder and President
Contact centers will drive greater revenue from their speech analytics platforms in 2017 than ever. How? By using the technology to help increase sales conversions, which tops my list of speech analytics trends for the coming year:

  1. Sales techniques and best practices are put on steroids.
  2. High accuracy becomes commonplace.
  3. Expanded metadata offers more granular analysis.
  4. Security remains a high priority for many organizations.
  5. Complex rule-building replaces keyword-spotting.
  6. Predictive analytics become a reality.
  7. Real-time insights remain viable but limited in practice.
  8. Multichannel gains momentum.
  9. Utilization strategy is on the rise.
  10. Speech analytics become affordable for smaller companies.

No longer do contact centers need to settle on analyzing a small sample size of randomly selected calls. The power of speech analytics allows you to automatically and consistently compare—and thus dramatically improve—the performance and effectiveness of your sales agents through a proven set of specialized metrics.

Analyzing all agent-customer interaction allows you to drill down further than ever before to assess the impact of missed opportunities for cross-selling and upselling, agent rapport, customer needs, objection handling, call emotion, excessive silence and other skills that impact sales.

I’m confident that improving sales effectiveness will have a greater impact on contact center profitability than any other speech-related factor in the coming year.

On Contact Center Employment…

Vice President
AllStaff Call Center Recruiting
Eric Berg2016 saw a decrease in unemployment to 4.6% and, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017 is expected to be even tighter. In order to attract the best talent, contact centers will be making two main changes in 2017:

  1. Increase Pay. Contact centers will continue to see a lower number of available candidates for each open position. Pay scales to attract the best agents will need to increase, as the supply of talent is the lowest in 10 years. Those centers increasing pay will attract agents from other centers; those not increasing wages will see the quality of their agents suffer, resulting in a decrease in customer experience.
  2. Move Home. Technology has allowed contact centers to move agents home to work. This move saves contact centers significant costs, including space, electricity, facility charges and a host of other costs. Centers with an at-home workforce also have less impact to service levels as a result of weather, illness and outages. But more importantly, at-home workers have a lower attrition rate and are willing to work for a lower wage.

According to a Harvard/Princeton study, workers are willing to take an 8% pay cut to work from home—when their employers offer at-home work. Surprisingly, workers are willing to accept a 21% reduction if they work for a company that does not offer a work-from-home option. Additionally, the agents have the ability to cut out the commute and related costs, and they can get a tax deduction for the portion of their home designated a workspace.

Finding talent in 2017 will be a significant challenge for most contact centers, but understanding the workforce can make the process much easier and result in a higher-level agent supporting your customers.

Download a PDF of this article.