Contact Center Gets a COVID-19 Redefinition

Image credit: iStockphoto/UnitoneVector

A strange thing happened to contact centers when the pandemic hit. It became the front and center of a company and transformed from a cost burden into a revenue generation accelerator.

Why? “Because our core business is now remote, it is based on delivery [efficiency], and we can’t interact face to face with our customers. So, we have to focus on omnichannel delivering the right experience using AI not just to offload workload but to improve customer experience,” said Sami Ammous, vice president for East Asia and the Pacific at Avaya.

One area that saw tremendous interest, as a result, was the idea of public cloud contact centers. With social distancing, lockdowns, and other measures restricting employees’ movement, the contact center was now operating remotely. A public cloud contact center makes business sense.

“The onboarding process is simpler; it’s quicker. So, the public cloud tends to be less customizable, has lower costs, and, in general, scales well, both low and high. So, it really depends on the organization, what their challenges are, and how they would like to address them,” Ammous added.

Ammous also noted that hybrid cloud-based contact centers are also gaining traction. “And that predominantly happens where you want to maintain customer information on-premises for security and data sovereignty purposes.”

The trouble with cloud complexity

Moving your contact center to a public or hybrid cloud may make economic sense, but it has challenges.

For one thing, business process outsourcing (BPO) (or specifically outsourced call center companies) see it as additional complexity. “Because if you think of an outsourcer, they need to make sure that their infrastructure is integrated and connected to their customers’ infrastructures,” said Ammous.

The complexity arises from the business setup, and not necessarily because of the cloud infrastructure. Usually, you have a customer on one end, and the BPO on the other. In the middle lies the telco.

Now, the cloud provider is a fourth element that goes into play. BPOs say it’s just too complicated to go public cloud. So, what is very attractive to those BPOs is the private cloud concept,” said Ammous.

However, Ammous argued that BPOs will eventually see public cloud setups as an advantage as their business becomes more seasonal or time-driven. “So, if they sign a contract, they need to ramp up quickly. If they lose a contract, they need to ramp down quickly,” he said.  

This makes flexible monthly payments — a public cloud benefit and a fundamental value proposition of cloud contact centers — “more appealing” for BPOs.

Companies looking to jump on the public cloud contact center bandwagon need to also understand that they cannot merely rip and replace their existing on-premises one.

“Security needs to be looked at a little differently. Access control needs to be looked at a little differently. The ability to spin up and down needs to be looked at differently,” said Ammous.  

For example, companies will need to look at session border controllers (SBCs). Virtual private networks (VPNs) are not suitable for remote contact centers as they do not differentiate between “voice and non-voice traffic.” “Everything gets bundled into the same tunnel.”

This is an issue because, in a cloud environment, “everyone is technically remote.” It makes VPN unreliable and increases the need for companies to consider SBCs. It promises to transport voice without loss of quality, “both from a service provider to the data center and from the data center to the agents who receive customer calls,” Ammous explained.

The data advantage

Cloud contact centers will evolve quickly as they move to the front and center of an organization. The main reason is the data. They will now collate enough data on customers to shape responses and create new revenue streams.

Ammous already sees this happening before the pandemic. He noted that many were using chatbots, “AI-infused applications” and conversational IVR to drive contact center efficiency. “Conversational chatbots can only exist if you have large amounts of data to train the model.”

Public cloud contact centers allow companies of different sizes to quickly ramp up their customer servicing capabilities. Besides, building the same capabilities in-house will be prohibitively expensive, especially in the current lean climate.

Avaya is partnering with cloud platform providers like Google to drive AI-driven cloud contact centers. “They call it CCAI (Contact Center AI), and it’s something that we also partner with them on. So, we infuse our solutions with Google’s logic,” said Ammous. He added today’s APIs and cloud services enable companies to build cloud-based infrastructure for their contact centers and drive business outcomes, and not the other way around. 

Economic necessity

The concept of public cloud contact centers is now gaining ground fast as companies shift the business model.

For example, we see the fast emergence of telemedicine. It is not new, but its biggest obstacle before the pandemic was data regulations and established money-spinning practices like writing prescriptions. COVID-19 changed this by making regulators more open to data sharing, and hospitals becoming more focused on treating COVID-19 sufferers.

“Now, they’ve linked those solutions to an online pharmacy. So not only do you get your prescription, but you can also order it on your phone to get delivered. It also means for doctors, they do not have a clinic full of patients waiting, and they can just see people when they need to. Face to face interaction is now dedicated to stuff that is quite serious,” said Ammous.

Even cultural habits are changing. Ammous noted Japanese companies, famed for paper-intensive work processes and in-office attendance, are now looking at remote working. For example, businesses like Ikea are offering flexible delivery options, whereas, in the past, they had a single delivery charge for using their van.

“Companies will realize that they need to maintain customer service. They need to respond to phone calls, emails, chat, webchat, and whatever new channel comes up in the contact center space. People will also ask, ‘why should I come to your branch? I’m calling you on the phone, please help me on the phone.’ It will become a competitive differentiator.”

Making your public cloud contact center become your key differentiator will matter as customer demands shift, and companies fight for survival.

Image credit: iStockphoto/UnitoneVector