As customers, we’ve all been there – We’ve got a problem, Googled it and read the FAQs on the website, so we sigh and grit our teeth because we’ve got to attempt to make contact with the organization. Inevitably that means that we have to negotiate the dreaded contact center. In fact, the contact center is often the only experience we customers ever have with some organizations – so you would expect it to be extraordinary! Too often it falls short, though.


The answer lies in the fact that contact centers are increasingly being asked to do something they were never designed to do – they are dealing with complex and often emotive questions over multiple channels, rather than processing lots and lots of simple phone calls really fast.

54% of industry experts in BT’s new research believed that contact centers would be tackling increasingly complex issues by the year 2020 and 49% of customers in our previous “autonomous customer” research said that they only made contact for the more complex things they weren’t able to do themselves.

The issue now is whether organizations actually recognize this shift and more importantly, how they will respond to it.

It’s not just about “calls” anymore.

Contact centers are becoming ‘relationship hubs’ for omni-channel contact. So it isn’t all about “calls” anymore. 40% of the industry experts questioned in our research expected webchat to become the primary channel for contact by 2020. With customers increasingly starting their journey online or on a smartphone, webchat is an easy way of having a conversation without leaving their browser or app.

Phone is likely to still play a significant part (with 36% believing that it will be the primary channel for contact) because it is particularly suited to more complex conversations.

Social media will play a role too – with 11% believing that it will become a primary channel for the contact center. It certainly has a significant contribution to make in terms of proactively deflecting contact by pushing messages out, answering questions and also understanding what is on customers’ minds in public and in real time.

7% also believed that video will increasingly become significant in the contact mix.

Contact centers will become ‘relationship hubs’ as intelligent skills based routing, mobility, cloud and analytics become more critical.

Contact centers are potentially becoming the hub for both understanding customer demand (what customers are contacting organisations about) and proactively managing it as “guardians of the customer experience”.

Multiple channels are providing the contact center with a continuous flow of information about customers. Analytics tools are getting better at delivering trends and pattern information. This combination means that they can become better at understanding and managing demand on behalf of the organization, rather than letting demand manage them.

For example, if the website is down, they need to work with the web guys to figure out when things will be back to normal, initiate deflection strategies to manage contact volume and ensure that they can scale up operations quickly to cope with increased contact loads.

Better skills based routing, mobile technologies, cloud and big data analytics are all vital weapons in the contact center’s arsenal to do this. They need to understand real time demand better and then resource more flexibly using tools like cloud based contact to pull in skilled resources from across the organization.

Quality will trump quantity for call center metrics.

With this shift also comes changes in the way agents manage their calls. They are no longer part of a “call factory”. They are poised to take on new challenges as the relationship builder, the customer champion and pulse of opinion for a business.

Customer satisfaction, customer effort and right first time step up to the plate as primary metrics driving the contact center of 2020. Transactional metrics like average call handling time are a useful guide for resourcing but are less about the customer and have been relegated to a lowly 3% in the priority list for the future.

To the heart of the matter.

All of these things start to shift the future contact center from an almost peripheral function into the beating heart of any organization. They need to be able to handle the complexity that automation cannot. They can also act as a central repository for customer intelligence that businesses can harness to improve products and services.

Of course, none of this can happen unless chief execs see the contact center as more of a strategic asset and less about minimizing costs.

A combination of great people, measures, technologies and processes will see the contact center of 2020 shift into a very different strategic space than it is today.