In a short space of time, call centers have seen a lot of change. From agents simply answering customer phone calls, to a multitude of different customer contact channels, such as web calls, live chat and video chat, omnichannel customer support has become the new norm.
As technology becomes an increasingly dominant feature in customer support, call centers are set to undergo even more changes in the next few years.
From the Internet of Things to the new role of agents, we take a look at the future of call centers. Scroll to the end for our handy infographic highlighting our predictions of the main changes to come.
Call centers have become a hybrid of customer contact channels, and the future of call centers will see an increased hybrid setting - a mix of human agents and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
As Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly sophisticated, it will become cheaper to install, more efficient and more accurate, bringing many advantages to call centers in terms of productivity and cost. AI can help provide a perfectly seamless customer experience, and more and more businesses are starting to adopt AI powered customer support.
However, human interaction is still demanded and valued by customers. A study by PWC found that 78% of UK customers want more, not less, human interaction with companies in the future, showing that automated services cannot replace the human side of customer service.
This means that the future of call centers requires a mix of AI and human interaction. The hybrid model will see automation and self-service rise to improve efficiency, with technology like AI chatbots dealing with FAQs and simple customer questions. Meanwhile, human agents are freed up to deal with more complicated queries and problem-solving, still providing the personalised and human centered customer service when needed.
In the last ten years, live chat has become the most popular customer contact channel. Over 40% of customers choose to use live chat over email and social media to contact a company, with 41% of customers expecting a website to offer live chat as a contact option.
With a satisfaction rate of 73%, live chat also has the highest customer contact channel satisfaction rate, with phone calls achieving just 44%! Additionally, it is a great tool to significantly increase leads.
Live chat achieves all of this as customers like getting their questions answered immediately (90% of customers rate immediate answers as important). We don’t see this customer service demand changing anytime soon, which is why live chat will continue to be a dominant feature in the future of call centers.
We will likely see a change in live chat with the increased use of AI chatbots as opposed to human powered live chat, as these can deal with a lot more requests at the same time.
However, due to certain limitations in chatbots, they won’t replace live chat. As discussed earlier, future call centers will use a hybrid model of live chat: chatbots to answer FAQs and simple requests, with the ability to hand off to an agent when confronted with complex problems.
For more detail on the debate between chatbots and livechat, and the pros and cons of each, check out our Chat bots vs Live Chat guide.
Support through video chat takes live chat one step further. While including all the benefits of live chat, such as high customer satisfaction, and increased leads and sales, it adds in an even more personalised experience.
Not only can agents chat with customers face-to-face, but they can also show customers products and services. This helps to bring the in-store experience online, an aspect we have seen become increasingly popular since Covid-19 forced the closure of many brick-and-mortar stores.
Video chat software is seeing lots of development right now. For example, Talkative’s video chat feature has just undergone a thorough refurbishment, introducing support for iPhones, and the ability to screen share and go full screen.
As video chat develops, we expect future call centers to make much greater use of the service.
Mobiles are a principal way that customers interact with businesses. In 2018, 58% of web traffic in the USA came from mobile and tablet devices, compared to 42% from desktops.
This doesn’t mean that mobile is becoming more important than desktop (total time spent on websites is still longer on desktops), but it does mean that businesses need to pay just as much attention to their mobile profile.
For future call centers, this means making sure that contact from mobiles is just as easy as contact from desktops. In other words, web calling, email contact, live chat and video systems need to be compatible with mobile.
A key aspect of call center mobile functionality will be allowing customers to multitask on their mobile while using a contact channel, just like they can with a desktop. For example, being able to access different web pages while using live chat.
As well as mobile compatibility, the use of mobile apps for customer service is also on the rise. Due to high levels of customer engagement, mobile apps are predicted to become a very important customer contact channel in the future of call centers.
The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to devices that are connected to the internet and can ‘talk’ to each other. As the head of techUK puts it, “the Internet of Things is made up of devices - from simple sensor to smartphones and wearables - connected together’.
For the future of call centers, this interconnectivity of devices brings the possibility of preemptive customer service. For example, if your TV senses a fault, it can contact customer service without your input. Customer support can then contact you to let you know your TV needs a replacement part, and arrange a time for this to be fitted. Your TV gets fixed before you even realise it was broken!
As the IoT grows and more and more devices get connected, customer service will be taken to the next level. The more data gathered from connected devices means future call centers will become increasingly proactive, dealing with problems before the customer even knows they have arised.
Cloud-based call centers aren’t anything new, but over the next few years we can expect to see almost all call centers migrating to the cloud.
Cloud-based software has many installation and maintenance benefits, including instant updates, and also brings advantages from a management point of view as managers don’t need to be in the same place as agents to monitor their work.
The increased adoption of this software could really change the face of future call centers as it means agents do not always need to be in the call center to access the system, giving them the opportunity for more flexible and even remote working.
This could mean goodbye to the traditional call center with rows of agents in crowded and noisy environments, and hello to smaller, remote-based call centers with remote agents.
More remote agents can bring a reduction in the cost of future call centers, and also increase agent productivity and satisfaction, which will decrease staff turnover. A report by Contact Babel found that 52% of US call centers have opted for remote agents, showing that this trend is already on the rise.
All these changes to the future of call centers will naturally mean a change in the role of agents too.
As AI takes over the customer service for the more mundane and simple queries, agents will focus on dealing with complex issues. As a result, they will need to have more advanced problem solving skills and greater knowledge of the product/service, which means they will require more advanced and detailed training.
With data becoming an increasing part of customer service, agents will also need to have good analytical skills in order to make the most of all of the data they can access in the CRM.
These highly trained and skilled agents, sometimes referred to as ‘super agents’, will be able to use a wide range of contact channels - including phone, live chat, video chat and social media - and will have to stay up to date with any changes to these channels.
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