Undoubtedly, all of us who are dedicated to topics related to customer service are aware of the enormous evolution that contact centers have experienced in recent years. Even so, this transformation never ceases to amaze us day by day.

An interesting analysis on the evolution of contact centers has recently been published on the highly recommended i-scoop website under the title “The contact center: from call and contact to customer experience and engagement center”.  I would like to highlight a paragraph that, in my opinion, is key to understand this transformation:

Contact centers are undergoing a series of changes that, most of them, are definitely altering the status quo. Especially the role of the inbound contact center is changing and, in particular, the role of the contact center within a customer service context.


This issue is linked to costs, benefits, changing customer expectations, the role of the customer experience as a whole, and the impact of technological evolution. We know that consumers have changed. We also know that seeking customer service is no longer exclusively a job for the contact center or customer service team. What was previously known as a call center (even taking into account that calls are still very important) and that has become an omnichannel contact center, allowing an omnichannel interaction center (although many are not at this point yet), is evolving gradually towards a customer experience center (CX) or customer engagement center, as some call it. This would therefore be an overview of the challenges, solutions and transformations in the contact center today and in the future.

Omnichannel and customer experience in the contact center

In the same way that practically all the elements that we find in a customer context are becoming omnichannel, the same is happening with the interactions that take place in the contact center. This is an evolution that began more than a decade ago and that has been strengthened with the appearance of more channels and, especially, with the change in customer behavior.

Where do we go for support or answers to questions related to support for the products and services we use? Where do we go to find answers to urgent problems regarding those same products and services? Where do we find a solution for a broken product, an unexpected increase in the price of a service, or help with a solution for which the manual (if used) does not provide an immediate explanation?

The answer to all these questions is: everywhere. The days when we had a limited number of service channels and even operations or organizations like the call center are long gone.

It’s about the evolution of multichannel, cross-channel, omnichannel, and increasingly channel-agnostic and device-agnostic we’ve seen in so many areas. What really matters to us, as consumers, is the response we get and not where we get it.


The chaos of customer experience channels

When we talk about multichannel and omnichannel, actually, from an organizational and customer behavior perspective, what has happened is that customer service has become increasingly chaotic.

Observe your own behavior and try to imagine some scenarios in which you look for quick answers or some kind of service in relation to some of the products, services and solutions that you use as a “private person” and as a “business person”.

Depending on the type of product / service / solution and the company that provides it, you will find that you are looking for the answers in different ways. The urgency of the issue and various other parameters will also influence. Also, you are likely to consult different sources for the same question, sometimes even at the same time.

This behavior is a challenge for organizations and their customer service departments and / or contact centers. In fact, it’s not just about channel-agnostic behavior or, if you prefer, multichannel and omnichannel. It is also a behavior that is very often totally chaotic from an organization perspective (“I am going to call an agent, send a support notification but I will also keep looking at the self-help option on the web; oh no, wait, they just activated the online chat, they are awake, I’m going to try it out there too to make sure they respond quickly ”).


From integration to transformation

Rising customer expectations, coupled with the proliferation of support channels, is one more challenge among many others. The search for support and service has become ubiquitous.

At first glance, the answer to this utterly chaotic situation where people literally seek assistance everywhere seems pretty obvious. We typically approach it from perspectives such as the following:

  • Use the appropriate technologies to offer the service where it is important and connect with all the necessary systems to optimize processes, information flows and responses.
  • Integrate all the elements, so that we can have a unified view of all interactions related to customer service.
  • Converting the contact center into a hub that fits into the broader hub that the organization has become, both from the point of view of customer service and from the point of view of customer experience.
  • Drive unique customer engagement views, smarter request schedules, and unification of communications.

However, as is often the case, the remedy for tackling the growing difficulty of the customer service issue is by no means easy. In fact, it is not exclusively related to the technological or process aspect. It is also human, organizational and far-reaching in terms of the role of customer service and contact centers as such.

In fact, we realize that, in the absence of a holistic view of the contact center, organizations continue to work in isolated ways (which have a negative impact on customer service levels and their overall experience, as well as incurring additional costs for the organization).

The transformation of the contact center and the customer service department, including the famous people / processes / tools trio, is high on the agenda of many organizations. And it’s not just about digital transformation. It’s about transforming everything from information flows to (again) the role of the contact center, but also the contact center agent itself. Another essential transformation taking place affects the changing (and essential) role of the approach to contact center analytics.

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The contact center as a strategic resource

The dominant theme in discussions regarding contact center transformation and the future of contact centers itself revolves around the fact that contact centers should be viewed as a crucial strategic resource for organizations.

Remember that contact centers originally began as “a mean of reducing costs and consolidating aspects of the operation”, as Nicola Millard, Customer Experience Futurologist at BT Glogal Services (as well as partner) reminds us. Nicola is one of the people who highlights the role of the contact center as a strategic resource.

Within this dominant theme, and given the origin and traditional view of the contact center as a cost, the rethinking of the role of the contact center addresses it from a perspective of managing the relationship with the client or their experience, depending on who you speak with. However, the central idea is clear: we went from a narrative about the efficiency of the contact center operations itself, to a narrative about the efficiency of the contact center from the point of view of service or customer experience.

The truth is that neither the challenges nor the discussions present at all possible levels are new (multichannel and omnichannel, integration, rethinking the role of the contact center, abandoning the perspective of the contact center as cost, etc.). However, over the past decade, there has actually been relatively little change, with exceptions. Just ask an agent or contact center manager you know.


The union of forces that affect the contact center

However, things are changing faster than before. And the reason is what some would call a “union of forces” that creates the conditions for rapid change, in addition to digital transformation.

The key forces of digital transformation are:

  • The growing role of customer experience as a creator of value for a business and even as a differentiator (and, along with it, the continuing gaps in the customer experience).
  • The changing expectations and behavior of customers (including also digital technologies and guided by customer experiences with the best examples from different industries).
  • The advent of technologies that allow and even force change, increasing competition, commodification and saturation in many markets.
  • The competitive challenges of customer experience champions (who have implemented some of these technologies, improved their processes, and created a totally different approach).

The position of the contact center within a holistic approach to customer experience

According to a study by the Customer Contact Association (CCA), customer service divisions and contact centers are underrepresented on boards, so their strategic role is clearly undervalued. 74% of those surveyed viewed contact centers as cost centers.

According to this organization, the most important challenges we face would be to increase customer engagement and improve multichannel service. In this sense, the five main challenges in relation to the processes would be:

  • Manage reduced budgets.
  • Act with vision.
  • Risk and management.
  • Data analysis / contact center analytics.
  • Trend vision.

It is clear that to put the contact center at the center of the business, there is still a lot to do. The good news is that by streamlining processes and promoting efficiency, the goals of providing better customer service, innovating, acting with vision, and simply doing things better, you also achieve greater cost efficiency. However, this requires managers who really want to put the customer first, start paying more attention to the contact center and integrate and align with what the customer-facing divisions do.


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