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Apocalyptic Predictions and the Contact Center

Apocalyptic Predictions and the Contact Center 

Every few years the soothsayers among us predict global trends that are either totally alarmist or too good to be true. Here are some of my favorites from the past few decades:

  • The world is running out of oil – started in the 1970’s
  • New age sensibility and meditation will bring world peace – circa 1970’s
  • The office is going paperless – circa 1980’s
  • Programming will be so easy anyone can do it – circa 1980’s
  • All interfaces will be speechified – circa 1990’s
  • The Y2K bug will bring the modern world to a catastrophic end – circa 1990’s
  • 2018 will be the year of driverless cars – circa 2016
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and robots will replace all human workers – today’s “big news,” 2017

The call center world hasn’t escaped its share of sensational claims, which include:

  • Voice response units (VRUs, predecessors of the IVR) are going to replace the need for live agents – circa 1980s
  • Email is going to replace the phone as the primary form of customer service – circa 1990’s
  • Social media will eliminate the need for contact centers – circa 2000’s
  • The web and mobile apps are going to eliminate the need for live agents – circa 2010’s

Well, the passage of time has put to rest most of these claims, although it remains to be seen what will happen with regard to driverless cars (by 2018) and AI/robots…..but, as they’re here on the list with all of the other failed predictions, my opinion is pretty clear.

While apocalyptic forecasts and sweeping claims make for great headlines and generate a lot of discussion, they rarely come true. And if they do become a reality, it is often over a longer period of time and with much less impact than originally predicted. Despite the silliness of some of these predictions, they do reflect what society and/or the business world is thinking about. It’s clear from all of the bombastic rhetoric about contact centers that there has been and continues to be a push to reduce dependence on live agents. As contact centers are people-intensive organizations where agents account for approximately 65% – 75% of departmental costs, it makes sense that businesses are looking for ways to reduce their dependence on live agents and make them more productive.

DMG does not believe that contact centers are going away for the foreseeable future; however, we do expect that they are going to change. Here are a few of DMG’s predictions about contact centers and the likelihood that each scenario will occur:

  1. Robotics (robotic process automation (RPA)/bots) will automate an increasing amount of work currently done by agents in contact centers within the next 5 years – 0.9 probability
  2. Machine learning will be incorporated into many contact center applications to improve their performance and reduce dependence on IT resources within the next 5 years – 0.9 probability
  3. Speech analytics will replace the traditional quality assurance (QA) process in the next 8 years – 0.7 probability
  4. Customer journey analytics (CJA) solutions that capture, analyze and identify opportunities for improvements will emerge in the next 8 years – 0.65 probability
  5. In the next 8 years, AI will drive omni-channel routing to ensure all interactions get to the right people in the organization to resolve the issues, while taking into account the cost of handling each transaction – 0.35 probability
  6. Contact centers and back offices will merge in the next 10 years – 0.3 probability
  7. Self-service solutions will eliminate the need for live agents in the next 10 years – 0.1 probability

The overarching theme that these 7 contact center trends have in common is productivity improvement. What makes the current “push” different from what we’ve seen for decades is the use of technology to automate activities previously done by human beings, instead of just motivating agents and supervisors to perform their jobs faster and “do more with less.”

It is our job as executives, leaders and managers to discount silly claims while taking into account the relevant ones. The objective is to increase contact center effectiveness every year by taking advantage of technical and operational innovation while improving the service experience. The pressure is rightly being turned up on contact centers; those that identify and embrace the right trends and innovation will experience measurable improvements, but organizations that stick to business as usual will be left behind in the digital transformation.

DMG Consulting LLC is a leading independent research, advisory and consulting firm specializing in unified communications, contact centers, back-office and real-time analytics. Learn more at www.dmgconsult.com.

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