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The future of the contact centre: Understanding customer intent in real-time

By Karl Reed, Connect SA (previously known as Pivotal Data)

Johannesburg, 22 Jun 2023
Karl Reed, Connect SA (Previously Pivotal Data).
Karl Reed, Connect SA (Previously Pivotal Data).

While contact centre evolution has been constant over the last four decades, we currently find ourselves in a phase of accelerated change as consumers adapt to a rapidly changing world, and every organisation needs to respond, whether they are a pioneer or late adopter.

With technology as the enabler, forward-thinking organisations are transforming contact centres to re-imagine how they interact with customers and deliver memorable outcomes.

Early adopters of contact centre solutions like cloud platforms and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are setting new standards in customer experience and engagement, which delivers a competitive advantage over laggards that still operate legacy infrastructure.

As organisations continue to re-invent how they function and operate amid increased competition, a more complex marketplace and evolving consumer demands and expectations, contact centre modernisation has become the enabler for enhanced employee experiences, cross-functional teamwork, greater organisational agility and responsiveness, and a driving force for innovation within the company.

Companies that invest in 'next-generation' contact centre capabilities create commercial and operating models that are more resilient and profitable than legacy equivalents as technology unlocks new capabilities.

For instance, modernised contact centres can use automation to strategically refocus human resources where they can add unique human value.

These ‘next-generation’ contact centres also empower companies to meet evolving customer needs and expectations through advanced interaction capabilities that meet enduring pandemic-influenced digital habits.

For instance, while demand for voice interaction persists, consumers have shown a willingness to adapt and try new channels in previously unseen ways. Generational preferences also influence an intuitive decision to find the best route to their desired outcome.

As such, more consumers are embracing omnichannel engagement across all the modalities of voice, text and video, whether live or self-service. This trend makes channel choice sufficiently complex that customer experience (CX) leaders need to rethink their approach.

Consumers have also deepened their mobile lifestyles, which creates opportunities for organisations to reinvent customer interactions via smartphones and other connected devices. However, this digital-first agenda is far from homogenous.

Perhaps most importantly, consumers want the ability to fuse their virtual and real worlds, rather than see one replaced by the other. Any inability to complete their journey via their preferred channel creates significant frustration and too much effort kills customer sentiment.

Equally, low effort interaction is something customers positively embrace and reward brands that deliver in terms of greater propensity to trust, forgive and remain long-term customers.

As such, businesses must provide the appropriate channels and the ability to switch seamlessly across a customer’s preferred communication medium as and when they desire, but in a manner that does not add complexity.

Consumers also expect authentic brand experiences that mature over time based on shared experiences, which requires tighter alignment and orchestration between service, sales and marketing teams.

The challenge of trying to achieve this outcome using on-premises infrastructure will drive more contact centres to experiment with cloud solutions infused with AI and other blending technologies (cloud based).

Implementing technology that enables a contact centre to unify customer journey management across these functional areas using common infrastructure creates opportunities to deliver shared access to customer data and insights, and help cross-functional teams design relevant customer conversations that work together by pooling a set of no- or low-code resources.

These capabilities could include a consistent set of channels that meet different consumer needs or life cycle stages and access to a digital concierge that boasts knowledge and capabilities that consolidates what used to be housed in departmental bots.

The net effect of implementing these solutions is that customers start to experience a brand relationship that develops over time, as guided by retained context and next best action predictions.

And by bringing channels, workflow and data into a single digital ecosystem in the cloud, contact centre operators can start orchestrating personalised journeys at scale. This ability begins with understanding what the customer needs.

Enabling these capabilities eliminates the typically frustrating experience, where customers need to continuously re-introduce themselves and re-explain the background of their query or current situation.

Until recently, this triage process when using interactive voice response (IVR) was onerous and typically high effort and cognitively hard work for the customer, and often unsuccessful in terms of facilitating the customer’s actual intent.

But when contact centres fuse cloud platforms, AI with digital voice and other fused technologies (cloud based), they can start to create next-generation IVR. In this paradigm, the effort to understand reverts to the brand rather than the customer.

Customers can start to communicate the way they would to any other person while the contact centre understands their unique needs and responds automatically with relevant next actions. Understanding intent and the multiple ways in which people can express them is part of the tuning and ongoing optimisation process that makes digital voice and chatbots successful.

However, this understanding still requires context so that the solution can offer the most relevant next action. Some of the input for this decision comes from assessing the situation in which the customer is currently actively engaged.

By learning from their most recent digital footprint, and combining this data with other input from evaluating the relevance of transactional and interaction histories, contact centres can anticipate the customer’s reason for contact and offer the best route to their desired outcome.

This automated decisioning could offer customers the most relevant option in the moment, be it self-service, live assistance or matching the customer with the most experienced colleague for that need. The agent is then automatically provided with the same contextual summary to enable conversational flow.

This ability to decipher customer conversations in real-time is increasingly common and provides a transformational milestone to work towards.

These capabilities offer multiple benefits, from fewer transfers and escalations that save costs to faster and more effective resolutions that improve CX, customer satisfaction and safeguard operational capacity.

Once contact centre operators embed these capabilities, they can apply and extend it to every customer interaction and ultimately anticipate customer needs to fulfil them even before they become a conscious concern.

Understanding customer intent in real-time, either through voice or text, generates the next set of use cases that contact centre operators can leverage. The first assists colleagues by anticipating needs during the conversation and proactively pushing knowledge and workflow to the agent desktop.

Automation can refine this even further by offering pre-populated forms or by completing associated administration after the conversation finishes. This reduces colleague distraction and helps agents focus on customer experience.

Another application could offer on-screen coaching tips and direction based on real-time analysis of both the functional and emotive elements of the conversation. This can help onboard new colleagues faster and provide operational managers with a powerful coaching tool to pinpoint issues and improve performance.

The second use case is generated from archived conversations that have already been analysed at scale for topic and sentiment. These become a powerful source of insight for trend analysis, journey optimisation and quality or performance reviews.

Contact centres can also use this analysed sentiment data to augment any existing interaction analytics capability. And resource planners can tap into this insight to enrich their outcomes. This can be presented as real-time alerts on new trending topics to generate decisions on what this might imply for near-term headcount requirements.

Furthermore, resource planning can also benefit from an injection of AI-driven algorithms, data inputs from all connected sources and fused technologies (cloud based). This is especially valuable in terms of intraday juggling and dynamic shift optimisation, which has become more complex as shift self-management has become more popular to facilitate heightened work-life balance expectations.

Fortunately, the current generation of cloud-based contact centre technology is well matched to these evolving requirements. Whether pre-integrated or programmable, the options have never been richer. As such, organisations of every type and size continue along the migration path from on-premises or data centre hosted infrastructure into public and private cloud options.

Ultimately, next-generation contact centres become integration hubs that reach across and outside the organisation, offering the ability to add knowledge, customer data, workflow and points of access far faster than ever before. They are also becoming part of common cross-functional capabilities.

While there are general lessons that apply in terms of where to start and how to deliver better experiences and outcomes with a cloud-based next-generation contact centre solution, it is important that every operator architect a roadmap that fits its own circumstances. Choosing the right partner is, therefore, a crucial first step.



Connect are the independent communications experts who can transform how your organisation communicates – both internally and externally. We deliver solutions and services that join up employee and customer communications across platforms, across sites and across countries, in two core areas, Contact Centre Solutions and Network Services. We provide simple, elegant solutions to the most complex problems. Visit our website:

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