Contact centers are evolving. It wasn't long ago that they were called "call centers," where agents provided support only through the telephone.
Now, businesses manage communications through a variety of contact center channels, and the phone is just one of them. In fact, soon telephone will no longer be in the picture.
COVID-19 shines a light on customer support issues
Successful brands understand the limitations of the telephone as a communication channel. It's a difficult channel to scale and automate in a meaningful way.
Prerecorded phone menus make for clunky experiences and fail to live up to customer expectations. This automation also rarely resolves problems. Instead, it strings the customer along in an attempt to connect them to the right human attendant.
The customer experience that occurs through the phone is frustrating. So much so, that it increasingly leads people to abandon businesses altogether.
Many companies understood the need for digital transformation before the coronavirus pandemic. If those digital experiences weren't urgent before, they are now.
Contact centers that rely on phone and email were not prepared for the influx of coronavirus-related queries. They are drowning in support tickets, and customer patience is wearing thin.
These events force businesses to accelerate their digital transformation strategies. Businesses need scalable contact center channels, and they need them now.
In this article, we take a look at how customer support has changed over the last few years. We also predict which channels contact centers will rely on moving forward.
These predictions do not overestimate the rate of change. In light of COVID-19, we're seeing how quickly businesses are abandoning traditional channels. A new era of business communication is on the horizon, and it might be here faster than we anticipated.
The paradigm shift in contact center channels
At Hubtype, we see how contact center channels are changing firsthand. Using trusted industry reports and internal client data, we've mapped out how contact center channels were divided in 2017, 2019, and how we expect them to be divided in 2023.
Between 2017 and 2019, messaging was the fastest-growing of the contact center channels
- Customer support via phone fell by 22%
- Email support fell by 2%
- Support via messaging grew by 22%
- Customer support via SMS / text and social media grew by 2% and 1%, respectively
During this time, two main factors drove the contact center evolution: digital innovation and changes in communication preferences.
Digital innovation by companies like Amazon created a new standard for doing business. Expectations surrounding convenience, speed, and personalization shifted dramatically.
A clear communication gap emerged between businesses and customers. Glady's Customer Expectations Report concluded that by the end of 2019:
- 86% of people expected the next agent they communicate with to know their previous interactions. But only 24% experienced this
- 76% expected agents to see their simultaneous interactions across channels (like if they sent a text while on the phone with an agent). But only 19% experienced this
- 66% expected contact center agents to know about their in-store interactions (and vice versa). But only 22% experienced this
Innovative companies recognized that bridging this communication gap was key to success. Communication channels like messaging made it possible for them to provide the immediate, personalized service that customers had come to expect.
Messaging opened up the doors for businesses to provide a more efficient service with automation. At the same time, the adoption of messaging apps skyrocketed.
By 2019, there were 2.52 billion mobile messaging app users worldwide. What's more, messaging apps had 20% more monthly active users than social networks.
Together, these trends represented an enormous opportunity for businesses -- an opportunity that didn't go unnoticed by the world's leading messaging platform.
In 2019, WhatsApp launched its Business API to connect businesses and customers, opening up its services to medium and large companies.
As messaging companies make it easier for businesses to use their services, it will continue to be one of the fastest-growing contact center channels.
By 2023, traditional phone calls will only make up 15% of total volume
- Email will drop to 10% of total customer support volume
- SMS, Text, and Social Media will remain consistent
- Traditional snail mail and fax communications will make up only 5% of total communication volume
The possibility that contact centers will stop answering calls altogether is real. By 2023, we expect the phone to make up only 15% of contact center volume.
The truth is that customers care more about getting their problems solved quickly more than about how it gets done. Messaging with automation is efficient in solving many customer issues, handling about 80% of total customer support tickets.
As digital innovation continues to drive expectations, efficiency will be the number one factor for customers. That is especially true as younger generations represent more of the buying equation.
The shift towards online shipping is also not slowing down. Online retail sales were already estimated to reach $6.5 trillion by 2023 before the outbreak. Since the pandemic, online shopping has been thrown into complete overdrive. These online shopping preferences are not likely to go back to pre-outbreak norms. Brands will still need to serve a growing percentage of customers online. Thus, the need for scalable contact center channels is not going away.
Managing organizational change
As contact centers adopt messaging and automation, it's important to plan for operational changes. Effectively managing the handoff between automation and agents is key in maintaining positive customer experiences.
Now, the focus will be on written communication, rather than oral. Arming agents with the training they need to provide customer service on messaging channels is key. Evaluate high performers on your current support teams and train them to reply to customers using messaging.
Remember that with messaging, customers control the cadence. Unlike other communication channels, the customer controls the pace of the conversation.
Maintaining continuity of the conversation is equally important. For a seamless experience, agents need to assess previous interactions with the customer.
With messaging, up to 80% of the conversation is usually automated. As a result, there may be more behavioral insight available before a human is involved.
Unlike with phone service, an agent's tone can be difficult to understand when messaging. Agents should learn how grammar or punctuation affects the tone of the conversation, and adhere to conversational guidelines.
As always, contact centers should implement satisfaction surveys and collect feedback. This will help managers understand where more training is needed.
Digital innovation will drive CX market growth
The US customer experience (CX) market is predicted to grow from $1.6 billion in 2017 to $3.4 billion by 2023. The dominant segment will be contact centers, as automation adds speed to market growth.
Of the contact center channels, it's clear that messaging is best suited for such automation. As such, it will continue to make up the majority of channel volume.