The death of the Contact Center has been greatly exaggerated.

The industry continues to thrive with a growing workforce that increasingly plays a central role in supporting organisations to meet evolving customer needs. If you work in the contact center segment, you’ve doubtless read more than a few 2020 predictions for the industry.  We’re taking a slightly different tack here.  Rather than evaluate the factors impacting the contact center space for 2020, we’re taking a long view on how the top five trends will play out over the next five years.

1. Benefits of Cloud – 2020

This is the year cloud goes mainstream.  We’ve already seen growth in adoption of cloud services for contact centers and 2020 will be the year we start to see the benefits of this move.  Organisations will be able to scale up and down rapidly to manage demand.  They’ll be able to add new features, channels, or processes within days rather than months.  Significantly, we’ll also see organisations move to the same platform for UC and CC – why?  With the rise in complexity of calls, employees need to collaborate more internally to get customer issues resolved so there are efficiency gains to being on the same platform.

What does it mean for employees?

For employees, they’ll notice more changes – new features added, new channels to work on, and increased complexity.  Are your supervisors ready for their new role as coaches, rather than managers?  Employees are also going to notice a very different desktop – moving from the physical phone to an application or browser on their PC.

Our recommendation

Don’t dilute the power of your voice channel.  This is the channel that your customers turn to when all the others don’t work, or when they are angry and upset. The voice channel consistently rates high on customer satisfaction so ensure your investment in people and technology matches this.


2. Remote working – 2021

The cloud going mainstream will enable a big change in the way organisations approach their workforce in 2021.  We already see 60% of companies planning or using remote workers – this will continue in 2021 but move from the current small scale trials to much larger proportions of the workforce.  Employees will have the choice of home or office, so there will be a renewed importance on workforce planning to meet planned customer interactions at the right service level.

What does it mean for employees?

Working at home is a significant change and benefit for most employees.  They’ll need to be ready to work efficiently and ergonomically at home – not just sitting in the kitchen with a laptop and headset.  Help them set up a dedicated space with the right equipment.

Our recommendation

Working from home is like adding another workplace.  You can’t simply send people home with a laptop – a full plan is needed.  Determine what business problem you are solving and build a plan around this.  Examples are efficiently meeting out of hours demand, expanding workforce once building has hit capacity, or reaching employees in different geographical areas.  You’ll also need to determine which of your employees has the right personality traits for home working – it’s not the ideal environment for every workstyle and personality type.


3. Video – 2022

Yeah, I know – video has been going big “next year” for about the last 5 years now.  What’s changed this time?  Building on the move to remote working in 2021, video will become an essential internal communication channel to bring teams together,collaborate on complex support issues, and enable supervisors to keep an eye on their team’s health and wellbeing.  We’re also going to see the generation of customers (and employees) coming through who have the expectation that every interaction is visual – for them a phone call is a video call.  There is also some emerging evidence that video is the only channel to exceed voice on NPS/CSAT scores – customers really like seeing a person on the other end as it enhances their trust of an organisation.

What does it mean for employees?

(Hypnotism sound effect) “Look into my eyes…” It’s a whole new skill looking the part on a video call, employees will need to be setup with the right background (even if it is imposed on a green screen), they will need a uniform, and training on how to get the most from this new channel.  They’ll also need a real-time support network to ensure they never have to put the customer on hold.

Our recommendation

Start the learning process now.  Enable all your home workers with video so you can start to understand who is comfortable with it, and what the internal needs are.  Determine which are the right spaces within your buildings for the video interactions – employees need to be able to do these at their desk rather than move into a dedicated room.


4. AI – 2023

This is another technology that is always going big “next year”.  After a few false starts when AI (and other technologies like Robotic Process Automation and Machine Learning) was predicted to replace all contact center jobs, it has finally found the role that organisations and consumers are comfortable with.  Helping or augmenting the employee to deliver better service, especially with the increase in remote employees that a supervisor may not be able to coach easily, and the increase in complex channels such as video.  AI will continue to take more of the easy routine interactions on digital channels, but it will also be the constant coach for an employee – with consumers expecting seamless service, employees will not be able to review in real-time all the interactions that a customer has had across all the channels.

What is the impact on the employee?

As AI takes more of the easy digital interactions, the employees’ role is going to become more difficult, but the coach in their ear (or on screen) is going to become more intelligent with better and better guidance for them.

Our recommendation

AI has the potential to offer incredible enhancements to your service, but also to create incredible dissatisfaction.  The industry already has a reputation for asking customer to repeat their information multiple times, so with AI the focus should be ensuring a seamless transition from AI to employee when the AI system recognises it can’t resolve the issue or detects increasing negative emotion in the customer.


5. Organisational Integration and Unified Naming – 2024

Where do you work?  Is it in a contact center, or in customer service?  Maybe you are part of a customer experience team, or in the customer success group.  Regardless of the name, its great to see more groups and employees with customer in their title.  With the advance of AI, more and more interactions will be handled automatically through digital channels, so the trend we’ve seen of the interactions that reach employees being more complex will continue.  This means employees will increasing need to collaborate across the organisation to get issues resolved.  Organisationally, this will mean that the contact center becomes more integrated across the organisation to facilitate this.  Under the CXO or CCO, the organisation will become truly customer facing with other teams supporting their activity – bringing together all the customer facing roles we have now, and many more that are yet to be defined.

What is the impact on the employee?

Rather than being hired for good phone skills, employers will now look for empathy, team collaboration, problem solving, and the ability to create memorable experiences in recruits.  We’re also (finally!) going to find a job title that recognises their hard work and stop calling them agents.

Our recommendation

Traditionally, organisations have hired into the contact center, and then these employees have moved to other roles within the business.  Plan to reverse this approach – hire into the back office, and then when employees have proved their ability, they get promoted into customer facing roles.


Long Live the Contact Center

Poly has been at the forefront of driving innovation in the contact center segment since the very beginning of the industry… over fifty years!  As we look ahead, we’re excited about the confluence of these trends and the potential to empower organisations with the right technology and support services to nail their shift to the cloud, enabling a remote workforce, establishing a video-first culture and implementing next-gen technologies that will become true differentiators in the decade to come.