When you think of contact center infrastructure, the image that pops into your mind might be of a room crammed with people in headsets tethered to phone banks. Today, that image is about as outmoded as dial-up internet.
Modern contact centers are decentralized, data-driven operations optimized to deliver the best possible inbound and outbound experience to customers. Contact centers are also about more than just customer service. For many businesses, they support telesales operations that are the lifeblood of the company. And they're one of the largest employers in the United States, with 40,000 domestic operations employing 3.5 million people, or 4% of the working population, according to CFI Group.
The ability to quickly resolve customers' issues is critical to maintaining their loyalty. CFI Group research found that customer satisfaction fell from 81 on a 100-point scale for calls that were handled within five minutes to 47 for sessions that lasted more than a half-hour. Similarly, satisfaction fell from 80 when issues were resolved by a single agent to 36 when three or more agents were involved. Given that it is typically more costly to find a new customer than to keep an existing one, the importance of delighting customers has never been greater.
Relatively few companies run their own contact centers anymore. While on-premises operations may still be found offshore and in some highly regulated industries, the cost and inflexibility of that model are driving a broad shift to the cloud, where organizations can set up their own contact centers quickly and affordably. Mordor Intelligence expects the cloud contact center market to more than triple to nearly $45 billion in 2025 from $13.7 billion in 2019.
There are compelling reasons for this shift. Cloud contact centers require virtually no infrastructure investment, which reduces setup times from months to as little as a couple of weeks. Many services use WebRTC, a new protocol that makes it possible for mobile apps and even web browser pages to be enabled with real-time communications capabilities. That means a company can add agents to its contact operations at next to no cost by simply giving them a web address.
Cloud services scale limitlessly and provide new functionality instantaneously without costly software upgrades. A particularly valuable feature during the COVID-19 pandemic is that cloud contact center infrastructure supports a fully distributed workforce. Agents may be located anywhere in the world, making "follow the sun" scheduling possible.
Cloud services can also be integrated with other line-of-business applications like enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management (CRM) and service management. This makes it possible for incoming callers to be routed to the most knowledgeable agents based on factors like the agent availability, the customer's purchase history and previous interactions. When a call comes in, the cloud service can match the caller ID to the customer record and deliver a consolidated screen of everything the company knows about that person to agents before they even answer the call. This empowers agents to customize interactions and even make personalized offers based on a customer's known preferences.
Similarly, one particular advantage of cloud contact centers is that they conform to the way customers want to interact. While phone calls are still the dominant channel of choice, others are growing in popularity. CFI Group reported that 20% of customers now use email to engage with businesses, and 14% use online chat. Among younger customers, those channels are even more popular. A modern contact center integrates all forms of communications, including voice, email, text, social media and mobile apps.
Leading cloud contact center providers are now increasingly incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) in both customer-facing and back-office roles. Intelligent chat and voice bots are able to address common customer inquiries without human intervention, saving both time and money. Some can track activity across the distributed contact center with such precision that customers who don't want to wait on hold can be given callback times that are accurate to within five minutes.
Finally, cloud services provide sophisticated tracking and analytics of such things as resolution times, call volume, callback performance, agent success rates and channels used. Some high-end systems can now transcribe voice calls for management review and agent training and even apply sentiment analysis to better understand the emotions customers are feeling.