Contact Center Trends

Tools and trends: Call center technology and the future of customer experience

Lidia Tavares Dias

By Lídia Dias

0 min read

Call Center Technology

Take a quick tour of call center technology history and get an insight into the basic tools and the emerging technology shaping the future of customer experience.

Customers interact with companies through a number of channels—virtual agents, video chat, instant messaging, and many more. But it all began with phone calls and what we now call “ancient” call center technology.

In this article, we’ll look through:

  • A brief history of call center technology
  • Call center technology: 6 essential tools.
  • Five emerging customer experience trends.
  • The technology challenges: what does the future look like?

A brief history of call center technology.

Call center technology is the set of tools and applications used by call centers to manage calls, improve operating efficiency, reduce overall costs, and enhance the customer experience.

Call centers date back to the 60s, when companies started using phone directories to sell their products and services. The first call centers were equipped with private automatic branch exchange systems (PABX) that included the first form of automatic call distribution (ACD) technology. This technology allowed companies to have several agents handling customers’ phone calls, whether inbound or outbound.

From the late 70s to 80s, the technological revolution leveraged the importance of call centers to businesses. As a result, companies started to pay more attention to the call center business opportunities. Some companies actually based their business model entirely on phone sales.

The 90s registered a blur of innovation, with more modern ACD systems, speech recognition, and the first interactive voice response (IVR) units. Also, the world wide web was taking its first steps and, with it, so were the voice over internet protocols (VoIP)—and the digitalization of voice.

Fast forward to nowadays., Call centers have been through several changes and evolved to meet the needs of modern customer expectations. So, call centers evolved to contact centers, supporting several other voice and messaging channels. Companies are now investing in advanced capabilities and the latest technology—just to meet customers where they are and look at customer service as a way to differentiate from the competition.

Call center technology: 6 essential tools.

Businesses have changed, customers have changed—and so have call centers. Call center technology has evolved a lot since its first form of existence, but there is a basic stack of tools to set up a call center that has made it to modernity.

These are the six tools that every call center must have:

  1. Predictive dialer. A tremendous productivity tool, predictive dialer automatically dials from a list of numbers, saving time to the agent as it detects busy signals, voicemail messages, disconnected phone numbers, and so on.
  2. Interactive voice response (IVR). An IVR system is a speech-based technology that helps to deflect some calls, letting callers interact directly with the phone system in the first instance. For example, with IVR and ACD, the caller can be directed to the most appropriate agent or a self-service option.
  3. Business tools integration. Regardless of whether the call center runs outbound campaigns or provides after-sale support, tight integration between call center software and other existing tools is the hallmark of a successful business. Seamless integrations with other relevant systems like customer relationship management, billing, and others reduce manual entry efforts, streamline agents’ work, and allow for a better experience, for both the customer and the agent.
  4. Call monitoring, whisper coaching, and call barging. Call monitoring is a feature that allows managers to listen to a live call without the agent or the caller knowing. Whisper coaching allows a supervisor to talk with the agent without the caller knowing. Finally, call barging allows the supervisor to listen to calls without the agent or caller knowing and then speak with the agent and the customer when necessary. These are three critical features when training new agents or helping agents during difficult calls.
  5. Call recording. Also helpful when onboarding new agents, call recording is also used to ensure quality standards are met and monitor agents’ performance.
  6. Real-time analytics. Ensuring that performance baseline is met requires real-time metrics. A dashboard that shows the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) like service level, number of calls in queue, average waiting time, average hold time, among others allows managers and supervisors to track call center performance and make data-driven decisions.

Five emerging customer experience trends.

The six tools listed previously are basic, need-to-have tools. Without them, you simply cannot perform the most simple, day-to-day operations, whether running outbound campaigns or customer support.

The technologies described below are emerging technologies. They’re not entirely new, but companies have not widely explored them. However, they provide clear benefits for the customer and the agent experience, bringing advantages to the overall organization.

1. Cloud-based software.

Modern call centers experience dynamic changes on a daily basis. Legacy systems can’t keep up with the requirements; therefore, cloud-based software is the right bet, as it reduces infrastructure requirements and enables quick scale with only an internet connection.

As the pandemic forced offices to close, those who still relied on on-premises software suffered the most. While some had already moved to the cloud, COVID-19 accelerated the migration process for many others.

The new call center is more flexible. The image of once crowded rooms with agents and headsets is unlikely to return. Cloud-based software allows agents to easily handle customer interactions from their homes, a shared office, a coworking space—anywhere.

While keeping agents working from home was initially a short-term solution, organizations soon realized the several advantages of cloud-based software:

  • Facilitates remote work, which makes employees more engaged and happier.
  • Offers an enhanced layer of compliance and security against fraud and threats.
  • Reduces the cost of managing IT infrastructure.
  • Simplifies routine, but important tasks, such as data backup and recovery.
  • Enables 24/7 customer service, crucial for multisite organizations, by strategically positioning agents all around the globe to provide always-on customer service.
2. AI models.

As organizations adopt digital-first strategies, they can use the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline operations and enhance their customer service.

Virtual agents, agent assistants, and other AI-powered tools can now reliably perform critical tasks with limited human intervention. From automating backend tasks to identifying security issues, the potential for AI is nearly as diverse as it is vast.

However, AI can be more than a back-end operational tool. It can create better experiences for customers (faster self-service, smoother, more accurate interactions) and agents (fewer manual tasks and more effective training and coaching opportunities).

With human-in-the-loop technology, you can cut on IT costs and have your agents using their expertise to train and validate AI models, a cost-effective solution that makes the training of AI models part of everyday operations.

That’s another reason why companies should be migrating to the cloud: on-premises systems (and even some first-generation cloud platforms) lack the agility to incorporate AI capabilities and human-in-the-loop models.

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3. Self-service channels.

Customers want to solve issues on their own terms, using a channel of choice and the most suitable timing. From banking to restaurants, customers are used to doing it on their own, and will only seek human help if they can’t find what they’re looking for. That’s not different in the call center.

Customers want to be able to look for answers independently, without having to talk with an agent for the most simple questions. It’s essential to provide customers with self-service channels where they can find the most frequently asked questions. With customers taking care of the most basic troubleshooting, your agents are free to focus on more complex issues.

Self-service channels can take many forms:

  • A knowledge base with frequently asked questions.
  • A chatbot or virtual agent that enables a password reset.
  • An IVR system with AI-powered conversational capabilities.

These are just some examples of how modern call centers can leverage technology to use self-service channels to streamline their service. Either through voice or self-service messaging channels,  customers can solve queries quickly and efficiently on their own. At the same time, it reduces incoming call volume and lowers operational costs for call centers.

However, if not done right, these deflection tactics can lead to customer frustration. That’s why call center leaders must keep the focus on customer experience while introducing alternative channels.

4. Unified customer experience.

Companies are realizing that great customer experiences (CX) are fundamental to build a competitive advantage. However, with several channels and touchpoints, they find it difficult to unify the experience across all of them.

The main difficulties are:

  • Experiences are designed in silos. The customer experience when calling customer service is different from the experience when connecting through instant messaging.
  • Channels are not unified. If a customer is chatting with customer service on the website but for some reason needs to make a phone call, chances are that the customer needs to repeat the conversation that occurred in the chat.
  • Lack of consistency in the messaging. The communication does not follow a standard: the same question can have different answers, depending on the communication channel and the agent handling the customer.

The available communication channels grow very fast but processes and systems can’t keep up and are often disparate. Call centers must meet customer expectations for unified experiences. They don’t want to authenticate twice or repeat issues when calling customer support. They expect companies to provide the same experience, regardless of the channel used to get in touch.

The goal should be to create a seamless network of communication channels through which customers can navigate while maintaining consistency. Unified, integrated omnichannel platforms enable organizations to connect all the existing dots and allows customers to seamlessly move between channels.

To provide customers with a unified experience, companies need a  360º view of the customer, collaboration between internal teams, and the same unified message across all channels.

5. Advanced analytics.

Call centers are true data gold mines. They are fully loaded with customer data, but often fall short when it comes to drawing more than basic insights. At this point, most organizations have basic data and analytics tools, and the most basic key performance indicators are covered— but they lack advanced analytics to go a step further.

As McKinsey stated, “companies without advanced analytics are leaving significant customer-service improvements on the table.” Companies can max out their analytics and conduct frequent evaluations on IVR flows effectiveness, for example, to immediately assess customer satisfaction and make improvements, if needed.

This is just one example of how advanced analytics can take call centers a step further from just analyzing the most common KPIs and look into:

  • The full customer journey across all channels.
  • Brand ambassador and detractor statistics.
  • Customer satisfaction surveys, net promoter scores, sentiment analysis, and others.
  • Regulatory compliance adherence.
  • Sales opportunities.

The technology challenges: what does the future bring?

Customer expectations are incredibly high. They want what they want—and they want it now. At the same time, speed and efficiency can’t compromise the quality of service. It’s all about being empathetic and walking in the customer’s shoes.

So, when it comes to technology, the challenge is to find the tools that allow companies to streamline daily operations while empowering agents to focus on the relationship with the customer. Technology helps agents to listen to the customers and find better solutions for their queries.

Technology should be elevating operational efficiency, empowering companies to understand customer needs, and deliver exceptional customer service. However, in many cases, it often creates more friction and frustration.

Why does that happen?

The problem is not the technology itself, its sources, and implementation strategies. 34% of companies say the disconnection between IT and the call center is a major problem for the customer contact function. Only selecting technology that can integrate with existing systems is another common mistake.

Tight budgets and short-sighted thinking mindsets drive companies to choose technology stacks that soon became obsolete. While looking for the best price or the coolest features, they drift away from what they should be looking for in the first place: the very best experience for the customer.

Whatever the future brings for technology, delivering customers with better experiences is the answer. Technology is just a means to an end.

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Lidia Tavares Dias

Lídia Dias

Lídia is a marketing content writer that has been writing about banking and technology for the last few years. She believes in better, human-like digital experiences. When not writing, she’s probably cooking for her kids or reading crime books and thrillers.