Contact Centers – the Next Cloud Frontier
Businesses can’t seem to move fast enough these days into the cloud, and while this may not be the right path for everyone, it is certainly addressing a lot of needs. Questions still abound about security, scalability and reliability, but cloud is maturing on all fronts, and along with that the value proposition is getting stronger.
This is particularly true in the communications space, where Unified Communications vendors have pretty much fallen into lockstep with their cloud offerings. To varying degrees, IT decision makers are taking this path both because they want to and because they have to. The latter is being driven by reduced budgets and rising expectations from management that together are making it increasingly difficult for IT to meet their mandates with in-house solutions. Cloud economics – at least in the short term – are attractive, and with IT barely able to plan two quarters ahead, they can’t let the long-term costs get in the way of solving today’s problems. Regarding the former – they want to – this is where the cloud story becomes more interesting, as it means that IT has come to trust and accept the cloud for communications applications.
With that foundation in place, IT can start moving from general to specific for the types of communications applications they see using the cloud for, and that brings us to the contact center. Just as UC has come around to focus more on this particular space, so has the cloud. When you consider that contact centers are under similar pressure faced by IT departments, the rationale makes more sense. Both require close to 100 percent uptime and have limited capital availability. Contact centers are also being expected to be a revenue generator rather than a straight up cost center. This means that agents must be more responsive and engaged with customers, and to do that they need state-of-the-art tools.
To be effective, contact center managers must be free to focus more on delivering a great customer experience than all the technical challenges for managing the network and communications applications. With these changing priorities, cloud-based contact center solutions are gaining more attention and adoption. Aside from supporting the operational needs of the contact center, the cloud brings business-level agility that carries weight with senior management. Key considerations here would be the speed of deployment and flexibility to tailor service capabilities for what customers need.
Senior management is keenly aware that customers expect just-in-time service and on their terms. They also know that differentiation on customer service is a more sustainable strategy than trying to beat the competition on price or feature parity. With technology changing so quickly and IT resources diminishing, it’s easy to see why turning to the cloud makes sense, where scale, innovation and time to market are not in short supply. How can you expect a legacy-based contact center to adopt multichannel UC tools without a major infusion of capital and expertise? A cloud solution can provide this overnight, and if that mitigates customer attrition due to poor service, the path for management is pretty clear.
This isn’t to say the cloud is perfect and that all contact centers will benefit equally. In fact, some vertical sectors are moving forward faster than others, and these early adopters provide some valuable insight around what’s coming. One of the companies that have been on the front lines is Interactive Intelligence, an early mover with their CaaS – communications as a service – contact center platform. Not only do they understand the needs of contact centers, but also how to support them from the cloud, by providing both the features that agents need to engage effectively with customers as well as the technology that IT can be confident in.
Interactive Intelligence has found early success particularly in healthcare, insurance, financial services, manufacturing and technology, and retail/wholesale. While each vertical has specific needs and drivers, here are some common threads that broadly characterize these early adopters for cloud-based contact center solutions:
Ongoing pressure to reduce operating costs, plus less access to Capex
Limited or reduced IT resources and/or higher IT priorities to serve
Rising expectations to be more customer-centric and potentially serve large populations
The need for a partner able to support security compliance requirements such as HIPAA, SOX, PCI, ISO, etc.
Flexible deployment options to migrate to cloud at their own pace
The need for a richer feature set to support more demanding customers, especially for multichannel communication
Recognition of the strategic value of integrating contact center data and CRM with business software that drive processes
Recognition of the business value of having advanced capabilities to leverage contact center data, such as speech recognition, speech analytics, survey recording, WFM, etc.
Taken together, this paints a good picture of what businesses will be looking for when cloud enters the conversation for how best to manage the contact center. Conversely, some of the late adopter segments that my research shows are similar to those Interactive Intelligence is seeing, notably the public sector and utilities. Not surprisingly, both segments have not needed to be customer-centric until recently, but that’s changing, and I would expect their adoption patterns will be comparable to early adopters when it comes to seeing the virtues of cloud-based contact centers.
Given how recent this trend really is, Interactive Intelligence provides a glimpse of what it will take to succeed. Beyond having confidence in the basic technology, businesses need to place a lot of trust in their cloud partner. For cloud-based contact centers, trust means having access to service reliability and resilience to ensure business continuity, in many cases on a global basis. Trust also requires working with a company that has enough of a track record to keep your data secure and properly backed up. Finally, trust means knowing that your cloud-based contact center is sufficiently core to the partner’s business, and that they can support you in the long term.
As a public company, Interactive Intelligence’s current financials show that it is in on the right side of the growth curve, with strong momentum building for their cloud solution. There is little doubt about how core cloud is to their business, and as other verticals move from laggards to late adopters, we’ll stop wondering whether this is a good idea or not. To be fair, there will be bumps along the way and vendors who aren’t there yet with best practices will likely experience setbacks such as security breaches, financial difficulty due to lack of profitability, and a lack of innovation for value-added features. Any of these can set back the cloud opportunity for contact centers, but to this point, Interactive Intelligence is on the mark, and setting a good example for their peers to follow.
This paper is sponsored by Interactive Intelligence.