Every year we get inundated with requests from people making all sorts of wild predictions and observations about the industry for the year ahead. Many of these come from analysts; we give those a lot of attention because the analysts, at least on paper, are generally unbiased and their predictions aren’t guided by an underlying desire to sell more of one product or another.
For that reason, we generally don’t do much with the forecasts from executives at vendor companies. However, when I pulled the following out from my email inbox, I was struck by how much the opinions expressed by the three executives from TELUS International (which in all fairness is a provider of global customer service and contact center outsourcing solutions) meshed with what other industry insiders have been saying, and even with my own observations. And, whether the predictions come true or not, I doubt TELUS’ bottom line will be impacted one way or the other. I therefore, present them to you for consideration.
Kevin Bottoms, vice president of business development:
- Culture gets big: The emphasis on cultural compatibility in contact center outsourcing will be big. RFP questions focused on efficiency and productivity metrics will soon share airtime with questions around culture and values. It will become increasingly important for companies to build true partnerships with providers that can represent their culture and brand regardless of location.
- Finding the right fit: In the past, companies have suffered from having too many outsourcing providers, creating fragmented portfolios with subscale relationships. Identifying the right-sized partners (not necessarily the big name, tier one providers) will become more important to ensure that companies get the necessary attention and investment from their outsourcing partners.
- Agents in demand: Expect another level of maturity in the call center world. Call center agents will be even more skilled, educated, and in demand to deal with increasingly savvy, knowledgeable customers. This will occur in all locations across the world, and especially in areas where agents can speak multiple languages. With call centers considered a career path in many countries, the talent pool will continue to grow, and so will the demand.
- Outsourcing to gain a cultural edge: There’s that word again – culture! Companies will use outsourcing to gain a cultural, and therefore, competitive edge. Relationships with a new outsourcing partner can be moulded. The new partnership doesn’t come with the internal baggage of existing departments and processes. For many companies, it can be viewed as an opportunity to re-invent a brand or product that requires a fresh start.
- A new customer experience: Given the availability of information, consumers will increasingly ask more varied and detailed questions when speaking to customer service agents. This even includes bargaining over price or asking agents for their own personal opinions. There is a real opportunity for companies to approach customer experience in a new way, with agent training evolving to handle these conversational, trusted, advisor-type interactions.
- Attrition remains problematic: Attrition will continue to be an issue that affects the industry, including the challenges on how to solve it. Both the definition and measurement of attrition need to be standardized, but this is unlikely to happen for a few years.
Michael Ringman, vice president of information technology
- Cloud services: The adoption of cloud services will continue as the technology becomes more mainstream, mature, advantageous and cost effective. This also includes call centers and BPOs moving their services to the cloud from CRM systems to entire telephony platforms.
- Big data: Expect to see the sophistication of metrics and the use of unstructured data to provide better business intelligence. Data will increasingly be collected in real-time, and a whole new set of tools to capitalize on this data will emerge. Customer service departments will rely more heavily on the promises of big data in an attempt to gain real customer insights.
- IT gets more ‘customer-centric’: Companies will focus more on experience metrics (such as customer satisfaction) over efficiency metrics (like average handle time). This also includes looking for ways to provide more proactive outbound support as a true means to differentiate customer service.
- The use of video: Using video as a customer service tool will increase as having face-to-face conversations adds a new level of personalization, and is a popular option for Millennials.
- IT empowers the workforce – anywhere: As flexible and remote working becomes the norm, there is added pressure on IT to support new work environments, including bring your own device to work schemes. IT will face increasing pressure to deliver change quicker. IT will become more of an enabler rather than a roadblock, and move at the speed of business, rather than the speed of IT.
Al Rose, vice president of retail and Internet properties:
- Rise of the ‘super’ agent: Retailers will focus on creating ‘super’ agents that are trained to manage customer care, sales and tailored advice. There is also a need for companies to match customers with like-minded agents.
- Online versus brick and mortar: Retailers need to better align their online and in-store offerings because, for many, these functions work in silos, and the inconsistencies frustrate customers.
- Preferred channels: Expect a rise in the number of customer questions via online chat, social media, and mobile applications. The use of email will decline as responses are often slower and it’s a less desired communications channel for the techno-savvy Millennial shopper.
If you have any thoughts between now and the start of the new year, I’d love to see them. Perhaps we can come back in a few months and see whose predictions most closely mirrored what actually happened.