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Cloud solutions will address contact centre industry's new reality

By Karl Reed, Chief Solutions Officer at Pivotal Data

The global Covid-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation across industries as the world adapted to a new way of working.

As a frontline consumer engagement channel, contact centres had to adapt literally overnight to maintain business continuity amid social distancing and lockdown regulations, while also responding to changes in customer engagement preferences.

Consequently, the future of contact centre technology looks vastly different now than it did 12 to 18 months ago.

Accelerating technological advances
The pandemic served as a catalyst for digital transformation within the contact centre and customer experience (CX) industry, advancing technology transformation and digital migration by months and even years in many cases.

The 2021 Contact Centre Technology Trends Report lays bare the full extent of these tectonic shifts and the subsequent emerging trends. The research was conducted between June and August 2020 via a targeted online survey of executives and decision-makers, including CEOs, CTOs and contact centre directors and managers.

The findings reveal in great detail how the sector responded to the work-from-home (WFH) transition and contextualises the industry's recalibrated digital transformation trajectory.

The need for adaptability
According to survey findings, technology adoption was already top of mind among SA contact centre executives, even before the pandemic. Most respondents described their organisation as ‘Innovators’ or ‘Early Adopters’ in relation to the traditional ‘technology adoption curve’.

As such, many local operators had already made significant strides with their digital transformation roadmap, with omnichannel capabilities and cloud enablement key themes – almost two-thirds of respondents were 'already cloud-based’ or are ‘very likely’ to move to a cloud-based solution in the next 12 months.

The research affirms that executives remain acutely aware of the need to re-engineer interaction platforms and embrace new-generation technologies. Operators understand the need for greater adaptability, flexibility and agility to respond to additional infection waves and accompanying lockdown restrictions should these risks remerge in the future.

The overnight shift to WFH
Undoubtedly, Covid-19’s most prolific impact pertains to the rapid deployment of solutions that enabled WFH capabilities in response to lockdown regulations and restrictions.

Many of the survey respondents stated that they were able to rapidly deploy WFH agents early in the lockdown due to the maturity of their cloud transformation cycle. However, WFH methodologies, technologies and solutions varied based on specific circumstances.

Survey findings also suggest that this transformative trend will continue to exert its influence on the sector well beyond the pandemic – only 4% of respondents indicated that WFH levels would return to ‘pre-Covid’ levels in the ‘post-Covid’ era.

The 'next normal' will likely entail a blended model where staff return to the office, ‘post-Covid’, but not to the same levels as ‘pre-Covid’. In fact, a significant proportion of respondents (almost 40%) indicated that their WFH levels would accelerate, ‘post-Covid’.

New technology deployments
Interestingly, rather than re-order technology investment priorities, the pandemic simply affirmed the need to embrace emerging trends that existed before the pandemic.

Doing so requires accelerated adoption of enabling solutions that serve to enhance CX and customer service, improve reporting and analytics, and meet shifting customer demands around engagement via digital channels.

The survey findings support these trends by illustrating a shift in investment priorities among South African contact centre operators. Most respondents are already investing in new or emerging technologies such as AI, bots, virtual assistants, speech analytics and instant messaging capabilities such as WhatsApp.

Cost containment
Yet, amid the rise in spending on digital technologies, cost containment remains a strategic imperative for operators due to the economic fallout and financial pressures experienced due to the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.

As such, ‘pressure to choose a low-cost solution’ will continue to feature prominently in contact centre technology investment decisions. But contact centre executives remain cognisant of the need to strike the right balance between frugality and procuring a solution with the features and functionality required to address their business requirements.

As such, the research report states that cost-effective, “all-in-one, single-platform, omnichannel solutions with pre-existing integrations” will likely emerge as the ‘category killer’ in contact centre technology solutions.

Contact centre executives will increasingly demand to see tangible returns on all current and future technology investments and vendors that are best able to prove that their solution delivers value will succeed in this environment, while the intense focus on costs suggests greater focus on locally developed and supported contact centre solutions.

The new reality
The economic and operational realities of navigating the Covid-19 crisis have brought about an unprecedented uptick in the pace and scale of digital transformation.

The unequivocal message from the research is that the ‘office environment’ as we knew it before Covid has been resigned to the history books. Faced with this new reality, contact centre executives will need to decide how best to pivot their operations to embrace a cloud-enabled future.

The research reveals that prevailing circumstances have even compelled organisations with an ‘anticloud’ prejudice to re-assess their stance.

As such, the digital transformation wave sweeping the global landscape stands poised to wash over the remainder of the local contact centre industry.

Success and sustainability in this new reality will depend on partnering with the right managed services provider with the appropriate solutions available that strike the right balance between cost, functionality and flexibility.

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