Consolidation of Contact Center Industry Being Driven by Economics and Market Demand

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Managers of customer service organizations are realizing that integrating discrete supporting applications with core contact center ACD functionality is a time consuming and often very expensive method of completing their solution suite.
  • Contact center providers are reacting to the market change from “best-of-breed” solutions to “all-in-one”, pre-integrated suites by acquiring the assets of interactive voice response (IVR), speech analytics, customer survey, and data analytics best-of-breed providers or developing deep partnerships to complement their contact center suite offerings.

Less than a decade ago contact center executives were beating the bushes looking for best-of-breed solutions in the areas of workforce management, IVR, customer surveys, speech analytics, proactive outbound customer contact, and more to complete the functionality of their customer service suite and optimize their service offering. At the same time, there was a groundswell of start-ups focused on offering the best-of-breed solution in each of these areas to fill the product gaps of the major contact center vendors that had solid ACD offerings but lacked solutions focused on these high-growth peripheral areas of customer care and support. Enterprises were fixated on finding and buying the best of breed solution to meet their needs and give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Continue reading “Consolidation of Contact Center Industry Being Driven by Economics and Market Demand”

Will a $1,000 Price Be the Tipping Point That Thrusts Video Conferencing into the Mainstream?

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Of the more than 60 million conference rooms in the world, it is estimated that fewer than 5% are equipped to provide business-quality video conferencing.
  • High cost, interoperability issues, complex set-up requirements and poor video quality have been major deterrents to the widespread use of video conferencing.

It was just a few years ago that several global telecommunications equipment providers were proclaiming video to be the key element of enterprise telecommunications expenditure growth that would fuel the marketplace through the next decade.  Back then, the emphasis seemed to be on specialized video conferencing rooms with large surround screens that provided an ‘immersive telepresence’ video experience simulating life-size, face-to-face meetings of small groups of individuals.  The problem was that these systems cost in excess of $250,000 when the video technology, room setting and acoustics were included.  My immediate thought when initially introduced to these large room settings was that the market was limited to a very small segment of the enterprise marketplace.  More precisely, while video was still an untapped source of market stimulation, these systems were not simple enough, open enough or inexpensive enough to create that hockey-stick shaped upturn in the market demand that everyone was hoping to see. Continue reading “Will a $1,000 Price Be the Tipping Point That Thrusts Video Conferencing into the Mainstream?”

Customer Authentication and Fraud Detection: The Contact Center’s Looming Challenges

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • The costs of compromised security in the customer care environment are high to both the enterprise and the customer, and the occurrences of security breaches continue to grow briskly.
  • Although not widely used technologies today, the combination of voice biometrics and predictive analytics has great potential to enhance fraud deterrence.

The methods of customer identification and verification used in contact centers today take too much time and are a major source of customer irritation. Agents’ questions inquiring about personal identification numbers (PINs) or asking pre-arranged security questions, such as “What is your father’s middle name?”, have outgrown their usefulness and are often easily circumvented by fraudsters seeking illegal access to customer accounts and private corporate information. High on the list of technologies destined to replace these traditional techniques are voice biometrics coupled with sophisticated predictive analytics. Continue reading “Customer Authentication and Fraud Detection: The Contact Center’s Looming Challenges”

Using Virtual Presence and Robots to Enhance Mobility is Nearing Reality

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Mobility is driving many enterprise strategies and purchase decisions today.
  • Videoconferencing has long been sold on the claim that enterprise travel budgets would be slashed dramatically, however the reality is that travel reduction has been less than anticipated.

Last week I was invited to the “Annual Trends and Innovation Event” sponsored by Polycom, a mainstay of the audio and videoconferencing industry. Held at a local San Francisco restaurant, the annual gathering offers the opportunity for Polycom executives and select business partners to discuss technology trends and strategies with members of the press and a group of industry analysts. While the evening was full of great discussions with an abundant exchange of industry trend information and new ideas, something surprising caught my attention. Among the group of 50 or so attendees was a robot who was mingling with the crowd. In actuality the robot, provided by a relatively new Polycom business partner – Anybots of Santa Clara, California – was there to demonstrate “virtual presence” and its potential to change business environments by allowing remotely-located individuals to participate in events actively, even when circumstances prevent them from being physically present. In essence, the travelling robot was a videoconferencing endpoint that stood just under six-feet tall and had an eye-level video screen and cameras which allowed “him” to converse with other attendees. Continue reading “Using Virtual Presence and Robots to Enhance Mobility is Nearing Reality”

Improving High Contact Center Attrition Rates – Not Easy, but Worth the Effort

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • A recent Dimension Data survey report based on an annual contact center global benchmarking survey concluded that front-line customer service staff (contact center agents) are leaving their positions at a growing rate.
  • The cost of replacing a contact center agent can amount to a year’s salary when the direct and indirect costs of recruiting, interviewing, training, start-up times and the disruption of customer service and satisfaction are considered.

I recently reviewed the summary findings of Dimension Data’s “2013/14 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report,” which is based on an extensive survey of 817 contact center decision makers across 79 countries and 11 vertical markets and has been implemented each year for the last 16 years.  Given the rapidly changing technology in the contact center industry, it was somewhat surprising to me that the study reports customer satisfaction levels are down for the fourth consecutive year and first-contact resolution rates were still showing no improvement.  However, most disturbing to me is that the agent attrition rate is up 26% since last year’s survey.  As anyone who works in customer care knows, the human resource portion of a contact center budget typically represents anywhere from 65% to 75% of total contact center expenses.  Given that the direct and indirect costs of replacing an agent could in many cases amount to an agent’s annual salary, and the average annual agent ‘churn rate’ across contact centers is approximately 35%, this trend can cut into company profitability very quickly, if not reversed. Continue reading “Improving High Contact Center Attrition Rates – Not Easy, but Worth the Effort”

We Suspected Contact Centers Would Move to the Cloud; Now We Know Why

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Improved cloud-based contact center solutions as well as the CapEx-OpEx tradeoff argument appeared to be good enough reasons for some contact center managers to move their operations into the cloud.
  • In retrospect, based on feedback from companies that have made the shift, there are more reasons than we may have thought driving this shift, including some that may not have been seen beforehand.

I have written before on the potential benefits of cloud-based customer care solutions and the company attributes and vertical market requirements that, in many cases, made it a relatively simple decision to move contact center solutions to the cloud.  The most common identified drivers of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions were the increased number of technology solutions worthy of consideration and the budgeting advantages of paying a monthly fee versus making a large upfront capital expenditure on hardware and software.  In retrospect, and after discussing the topic with enterprise decision makers, system developers and several others involved in the customer care industry, I realized there may be several other drivers behind the trend to the cloud.  The list is probably longer than this and growing, but here are the additional reasons I have identified: Continue reading “We Suspected Contact Centers Would Move to the Cloud; Now We Know Why”

Contact Center Trends in 2014: Can the Pace of Big Change Continue?

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • It’s that time of year again – time to talk about what is coming next year.  So many fundamental changes have occurred in the contact center world in the past few years in terms of the cloud, mobility, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and multichannel customer care, it is hard to imagine what else will happen next.
  • I believe that so many big changes have occurred in technology, standards and business processes that for the next year or two contact center managers will focus on ensuring they are taking advantage of everything available to them to optimize agent workloads, customer satisfaction and center effectiveness.

Now that we have just entered into the last calendar quarter of the year, it is a natural time to start thinking about the top industry trends we expect to see developing in the coming year or two.  I have been thinking about the developments in the contact center areas that have recently changed the industry.  As a start, I looked back over the trends that had been predicted by many over the past five years.  These included broad industry-changing standards, technologies and business approaches such as the moves from hardware to software, from time-division multiplexing (TDM) to Internet Protocol (IP) and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), and from single mode (voice) to multimode customer service. Continue reading “Contact Center Trends in 2014: Can the Pace of Big Change Continue?”

Mobility Will Shape the Contact Center of the Future

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Technological developments are making customer service for mobile customers simple, convenient and very effective across many vertical markets and for a select group of special, high-net-value clients.
  • Thanks to a cloud-based infrastructure, delivery systems and sophisticated contact center applications these mobile systems and customer service applications are coming from new and very agile sources and spreading quickly.

In previous blogs I speculated about how mobility was affecting the contact center in terms of the end user customer, the agent and the contact center supervisor. Admittedly, I was simply projecting out a few years and commenting on how current technology was changing basic factors such as where the agent worked, the channel from which the customer entered customer support, and how the supervisor could monitor his/her center. Recent conversations with contact center application developers and people who manage centers have caused me to extend my vision further into the future. Continue reading “Mobility Will Shape the Contact Center of the Future”

Gambling with Customer Transaction Information Can Be Risky Business

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • The use of credit cards to complete sales transactions in a contact center has become commonplace, but assuming all contact centers have taken appropriate actions to mitigate the risks associated with these transactions is a mistake.
  • Since standards are not yet fully developed, customer service managers should implement agent-assisted solutions that enable agents to obtain personally identifiable information, such as credit card numbers and codes, without ever actually seeing or hearing it themselves.

Contact center compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS), often referred to as PCI compliance, brings key security benefits to customer service operations and non-compliance can often have severe, long-lasting consequences.  PCI is the global data security standard that businesses and their customer interaction centers are required to follow in order to accept credit/debit card payments and to store and process related information at their site and/or transmit cardholder data between locations.  The obvious and immediate benefits of PCI compliance are likely to be increased customer security and trust, decreased customer churn and an improved status with credit card payment partners such as American Express, MasterCard and VISA, which will often require PCI compliance of their business partners.  Longer-term indirect benefits can include the fact that your center will likely be better prepared to include other security regulations as they are rolled out, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) and Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), if applicable to your business situation.  The bottom line is that if you operate a contact center that handles customer personal and financial information, PCI compliance is becoming more important, if not mandatory. Continue reading “Gambling with Customer Transaction Information Can Be Risky Business”

The Hosted Contact Center – An Attractive Choice for ‘Customer Engagement Continuity’

Ken Landoline
Ken Landoline

Summary Bullets:

  • Hosted contact center solutions are gaining popularity as the level of functionality, reliability and security they provide catches up to that of premises-based systems.  Hosted contact centers’ ability to expand and contract as business needs change makes them an economically attractive choice for many enterprises.
  • Although hosted contact center solutions can be an ideal method of providing backup for premises-based systems, the market has been slow to implement hosted solutions as ‘insurance’ during severe weather conditions, terrorists attacks, flu epidemics and other call center emergencies.  The major cause of this phenomenon has more to do with vendors than reluctance from enterprises.

Approximately 15 months ago, I wrote a blog expressing my surprise that the issue of disaster recovery seldom came up as a driver of cloud-based services, and more specifically as a driver of hosted contact center sales (please see “Cloud-based Contact Centers – The Appeal Beyond OpEx vs. CapEx,” April 24, 2012).  This was despite the fact that prospects for cloud-based contact center services with whom I spoke seemed to agree that the disaster recovery sales pitch was worthy of consideration.  The logic behind their opinion was often based on the fact that recent world events such as severe weather conditions across the U.S., forest fires in the west and terrorist threats around the world made backup services a ‘top-of-mind’ issue for them.  So, why weren’t providers of hosted solutions incorporating disaster recovery into their sales and marketing portfolio pitches? Continue reading “The Hosted Contact Center – An Attractive Choice for ‘Customer Engagement Continuity’”