The Next Act: The AI-Enabled Contact Center

In 2005, 13 years ago, I published the book The Real-Time Contact Center. My goal in sharing the concepts in this book was to provide a technical and operational framework for anyone who uses this “delivery and service” vehicle for customer assistance or sales. The idea behind the book was (and still is) conceptually simple – to utilize the real-time capabilities of contact centers to assist people (customers, prospects, partners, public, etc.) who interact with them.  Only now, more than a decade later, have leading organizations begun to adopt many of the concepts in the book, but the real-time transition is finally underway.

During these 13+ years, the service economy has undergone many transformational changes, all of which benefit from real-time contact centers. Social media is highly dependent on real-time responses; omni-channel service requires companies to respond to a variety of media, such as chat, SMS, and video, in real time; globalization has opened the door to worldwide resources and requires immediate responses for customers across the globe; etc. These and many other technological and social innovations have been enabled by mega trends that include big data, analytics, mobility, increased server processing speeds (and decreased costs), the market influence of Millennials (the “smart-device” generation), the gig economy, and of course, the cloud.

We’re at a major and exciting inflection point, one where the pace of change is startling. The world is moving rapidly to adopt artificial intelligence (AI). Whether in the context of autonomous cars, IBM’s Watson, algorithmic trading, software-defined networks, self-healing applications, healthcare diagnostics and more, AI is playing an increasing influential role. It’s not just about productivity improvements, but game-changing innovation that is opening up doors to new possibilities.

Contact centers are typically conservative and slow to change, and DMG expects this to continue. However, AI is everywhere and is beginning to enter the contact center world. The next act in the service economy will be AI-Enabled Contact Centers. These are operating environments where AI, bots, robotic process automation (RPA), knowledge management and more will be instrumental in an increasing number of contact center activities.

While contact centers have essentially operated the same way, albeit with continuously improving technology, during the past 40 years, the pace of change during the next 20 years is expected to be very rapid. Looking 20 years into the future, DMG anticipates omni-channel, digital servicing environments where all “conversations” will be personalized, 80%+ of service will be proactive, analytics will deliver findings (answers, information, etc.) that can alter the customer experience in real time, contact centers will be run by AI, intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) and bots, and will be staffed with resources who expertly maintain these solutions. DMG expects that there will still be agents, but substantially fewer and with a greatly enhanced skill set. (Any issue that can be resolved by an agent who is paid $10/hour can likely be addressed with RPA and AI automation.) Contact centers will still do everything they do today, plus a great deal more. Their charter and contributions will be broadened, and their reach extended.

Given the anticipated changes in the structure and mission of contact centers, the operations, technology, practices and people will be dramatically upgraded. We’ll have more on these topics in future columns.

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