This article was originally published on Forbes
For the last 50 years, if a customer had a question or issue for a brand, they most often call the contact center. A popular example comes from Continental Airlines who launched their automatic call distribution (ACD) technology in 1973. This ACD technology managed large numbers of calls and the distribution of these calls among agents. Today IVR technology has exploded, for better or worse – often for worse. A customer navigates through a phone tree, talks with an agent and are often put on hold until they can get their problem resolved. It’s the way contact centers have worked for decades, even if it isn’t always the most efficient method. Although many brands are augmenting their traditional call center experience with bots, chat and social media and email responses, calls are still king. However since 2015 customer service phone volumes have dropped 17%.
In the future, will we still have call centers that take phone calls?
How about in 10-20 years?
Customers often don’t have a great perception of call centers, especially having to wait on hold and talk to multiple people. That, paired with new technology, could mean that call centers don’t take calls or cease to exist completely over the next few decades. Here are a few potential scenarios that could play out.
Contact Centers Will Still Take Calls
One possibility is that call centers will still exist and do the same things they do today. As long as people use phones to communicate, brands will need to connect with their customers through phones. Much of it boils down to human interaction. Customers tend to trust people more than they trust machines. Many people still feel there’s something to be said for talking to a person who can understand a situation, especially the emotion involved. 74% of people contact customer service via phone, more than they use any other channel. To many people, it’s even worth waiting on hold or navigating through a phone tree to speak to a human.
Although the technology exists to chat or email a contact center quite easily, there is still a learning curve involved. The personal touch of talking to someone on the phone just can’t be replaced by texting, bots or email. Humans are needed for advice and decision-making.
The contact center is often the emotional component of a brand. The customer journey doesn’t end after customers have made a purchase. The contact center is there to provide real-time voice communication to solve problems. Finding a solution or venting to a real person is much more emotional and cathartic than doing it online or to a bot. Companies that create memorable interactions with technology instead of replacing them could be the most successful.
That’s not to say that contact center calls will still dominate in 10-20 years, but according to many people, they will still be an option that some customers will take advantage of.
Call Contact Centers Won’t Exist
On the other side of the spectrum is the possibility that contact centers will stop answering calls altogether. As digital technology grows, many customers care more about getting their problems solved quickly more than about how it gets done. If this is the case, efficiency will be the deciding factor. AI and automated responses can be efficient in solving many customer issues, especially for questions like tracking products, getting refunds and answering basic information. As technology grows and is able to understand the solve more involved questions, it could be more efficient that humans in new areas.
A lot can change in 20 years. People’s preference to call brands could change, especially if they realize there is a more convenient and efficient option.
Contact Centers Will Evolve
There’s also an in-between solution. This is the idea that call centers will still exist, but how they interact with and serve customers will change dramatically.
AI-powered systems could analyze customer interactions before routing the call to the correct associate. Instead of having to explain the situation or talk through a phone tree, AI could know the customer’s history with the brand and their situation and then forward the call to an agent who can solve the problem right away.
Many experts predict that contact center agents will still connect with customers through voice channels, but not traditional calls. These voice channels don’t exist yet, much like bots and texting didn’t exist 20 years ago. A more convenient and efficient voice channel could make it possible to get instant voice connection to a contact center agent, but in a much different way than it is done now.
There’s also in idea that contact centers will evolve to cloud-based centers. Instead of the costs involved to maintain a physical call center, more companies will use virtual systems. Agents can work remotely and answer calls and queries from home. It allows for more flexibility to respond to customers through the channel they prefer and creates a better experience for employees. A cloud-based contact center also opens doors for new ways of connecting with customers and managing it through one central system.
The next 10 to 20 years could see a major change in how contact centers operate and connect with customers. These decades will decide the role technology and human interaction plays in the customer experience.
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