Call and contact centre solutions are helping businesses, government and health organisations communicate effectively with customers, users, patients and citizens. People expect to be able to have their questions answered accurately, and to be able to discuss any issues quickly. Channel companies are playing a vital role in helping these organisations understand their options and implement and maintain their chosen solution.
Resellers and MSPs looking to develop compelling call and contact centre offerings should reflect on the changes in customer or user actions when getting in touch with an organisation. Andrew Robinson, head of UCaaS practice at Gamma, discussed how the pandemic changed customer expectations and behaviours, as well as the changes that were already underway.
He said, “The world we knew has evolved, and with that evolution comes a host of new opportunities for the contact centre and the traditional customer journey of yesteryear. We can thank the pandemic for a large proportion of this change.
“However, it’s fair to say that the desire for change has been bubbling below the surface for some time; the Covid-19 pandemic simply accelerated our circumstances and allowed that desire to be realised. It is no longer okay to just sell or provide a service, you need to build trust and reliability with your customers, viewing them more as partners.”
Adam Wilson, director of strategic partnerships at Vonage, pointed out the importance of open dialogue with customers to understand their shifting requirements. He said, “The best way to improve and develop offerings is simply by listening to customers. For example, many customers still wish to speak quickly and directly to a line operator, so an obvious area for improvement is to close the gap between digital and voice-based engagement or automation and agent-led support.
“Resellers and MSPs can begin by identifying their current compelling offerings and look to develop these aspects as well as improving in lower scoring areas. Internal evaluations of current offerings will benefit resellers and MSP in actioning improvements that drive a better overall customer and employee experience.”
It can also be beneficial for resellers to ensure they have a range of offerings within their solution portfolio. Mark Purdom, cloud solutions director, Nuvias UC, said, “For those looking to onboard a contact centre offering, it’s key to offer a full range of contact centre capabilities – starting at customer engagement, right through to omni-channel contact centre. This allows
them to meet requirements for end-user businesses of all sizes.”
Progress and evolution
Innovations are continuing to be made in the call and contact centre space, and it is important that resellers and MSPs keep an eye out for new features, integrations and other advances. Tony Martino, CEO of Tollring, expects better integration and unification of communication channels. He said, “Innovations in customer service are on the horizon due to the fact there is still very little joined up communication.
“This will require technology to embrace and leverage CRM systems so that information can be pushed to an agent as well as an agent being able to access a customer’s interaction history, customer sentiment from previous calls and even the ability to playback recordings of previous calls. This level of intelligence will enable an agent to deliver a far more personalised experience to every customer.”
Myles Leach, managing director, NFON, said contact centre technology is being democratised, with more businesses able to access time-saving and efficient technologies. He explained, “No longer the preserve of big organisations, with significant budgets and dedicated IT teams supporting extensive office-based departments; cloud hosted contact centre technology is in now accessible to SMEs across all sectors.
“Along with this switch to the cloud comes omni-channel solutions offering highly flexible licencing models, with increased automation and self-service functionality which help drive down costs. Productivity and efficiency are being boosted by the ease with which agents can handle multiple social channel sessions, including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, while still being available to take calls.”
Aaron Fox, CEO, TelXL, added, “The transition to omnichannel is key. Staff want one platform for all their communications, managers want to surface insights across them all as well. This ultimately removes the challenges of siloed data.”
He explained that automation will be critical in meeting customer demand. “There’s a danger that [automation might] get applied in a sub-optimal way, in the wrong situations, or at the wrong point of the interaction. Combating this means making automation accountable – both through insights and visibility into its actions and the value it delivers – to the customer and the contact centre, which is vital if resellers want to remain transparent and ensure customer confidence in its adoption.”
The rise of video
Robinson, from Gamma, explained that many businesses will continue to prioritise opening up options for customers so they can send communications via their preferred channel. He said, “The way end customers are communicating has changed. The demand for more than voice has grown over the years and the innovations we have already seen are simply just continuing to grow.
“We’ve seen the move away from voice to non-voice channels – such as WhatsApp and webchats – which has given rise to AI technologies innovating the contact centre space.
“Whilst there’s been a move away from sole voice communication, there has been a rise in video channels, especially within the younger generation. Whereas you use to have to travel miles to view cars, or houses, make appointments in cold bank buildings or wait for hours at the doctors, you can do this all through a video service, and the use of these technologies has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. I don’t see a desire for these fading anytime soon, and I only see the need growing.”
Gary Bennett, vice president of sales in EMEA, Enghouse Interactive, also emphasised the significance of video within the contact centre space. He said, “A key trend is the rising use of video – a communications channel that customers have come to favour. With many now saying that video is the new face-to-face channel, companies have a lot to gain by leveraging video-based capabilities to enhance the customer experience.
“Customers can show agents exactly what issues they are experiencing in real-time, which reduces frustration levels and helps the problem to be resolved more efficiently. By implementing video technologies, companies can become more customer-centric, responsive, and ultimately more successful.”
Bennett explained that video could be a vital component for organisations working with consumers or businesses that might be affected by the cost-of-living crisis. He said, “As we head into a challenging winter after a tough couple of years, contact centre agents need the ability to empathise with customers and deliver a sensitive service.
“This is why companies should pay attention to the growing importance of video as a communications channel. The use of video brings the human touch back to automated operations, enabling agents and customers to interact directly on a more personal and compassionate level.”
Steve Miller, head of customer success, Cirrus, agreed economic and financial uncertainty in the UK will impact on the call and contact centre market. He said, “New and recurring global turmoil demands that contact centres be flexible. The cost-of-living crisis is putting a strain on finances, and staff retention remains a key focus for businesses as recruitment challenges continue.
“Innovation around omnichannel technology – in conjunction with artificial intelligence – is helping to support this effort. The key is allowing agents to offload the monotonous tasks to low-touch channels, like AI and emails, giving them the time and space to address complex queries that require greater human engagement.
“By bridging the gaps between each method of communication, omnichannel allows agents to deliver seamless, quality service through the customers’ preferred communication channel.”
Contact centre trends often mirror those within the customer experience, or CX, field of study. Robinson, from Gamma, expects organisations to invest in technologies that build customer loyalty and retention. He said, “Customer retention will always be at the top of the list. Channel partners need to be aware of what the end user experience is, and if they are providing the right solution for their market. Making sure you’re not just providing the 70 per cent and forgetting the 30 per cent is paramount if you want to grow your market.
“Another trend is, of course, hybrid working. Hybrid working offered businesses the opportunity to have a work from anywhere approach, which was favoured by a large majority of the UK population, and with this in mind, partners need to be aware that offering flexible solutions is the key to tackling this trend. As well as thinking of it from an end user perspective, it’s good to think of it from a channel partner perspective. Hybrid working has also enabled us to start employing talent from further afield, allowing businesses to recruit the skills they need from anywhere.”
Martino, from Tollring, discussed how the data generated from customer interactions can be used to finetune to customer experience. He said, “Improving customer service, and experience, is still the major priority. Organisations need to deal with their customers quickly, and if they can’t, they need the intelligence to deal with the enquiry efficiently afterwards.
“This is driving the need for good call back management, accurate scheduling, and effective resource management to ensure agents are available when needed, regardless of location. Accurate customer journey information also enables an organisation to service more customers.”
Iain Sinnott, head of international carrier sales, Enreach for Service Providers, explained why a focus on CX can be advantageous. He said, “CX generates visible ROI and hence is an area in which customers will invest, whether that means casual-contact centre features or a full, dedicated contact centre solution. So, revenues will grow naturally if resellers and MSPs can become part of the customer’s team reviewing ROI creation, staff and process optimisation, and customer satisfaction.”
Efforts to personalise the customer experience will also attract investment. Wilson, from Vonage, said, “Customers’ desire for personalised and intelligent experiences has never been greater. Channel companies must identify where these areas can be improved on an individual, specialised basis.
“The growth and development of artificial intelligence needs to be in such a way as it mirrors human interaction and gives customers the same experience. It is this pace of development in the contact centre space that channel companies must pay attention to.”
Miller, from Cirrus, said that channel companies should focus on two key areas: championing agents and delivering personalised service. When it comes to delivering personalised service, Miller argued that this is simply about showing your customers you understand their needs and interests.
He said, “It’s clear that consumer expectations have moved beyond swift responses and minimal wait times. Customers not only want to feel a connection with a brand, but also want to see businesses commit time and effort to genuinely understand what the consumer wants.
“Just like when visiting your local butchers or grocers, customers want familiarity. And they should be able to communicate with brands through the channel they most feel comfortable with.”
There is the possibility that mixed reality innovations will bleed into the contact centre space. Martin Taylor, co-founder and deputy CEO, Content Guru, said, “Although it can still seem a long way off, immersive CX is coming soon, to an end-user business near you. Channel companies should now start considering how they can support the emerging demand for immersive CX by providing technology and know-how, in order to profit from this lucrative new field.
“Immersive technology bridges the gap between digital and reality, with environments such as the Metaverse set to change the way people engage with content, companies, and communities. Immersive CX will have a direct impact on how businesses conduct customer engagement and as the potential to become the biggest thing seen in CX since digital and social channels went mainstream a decade ago.”
Jonathan Maher, head of contact centre specialists for Avaya Europe, pointed out the importance of keeping pace with the evolving regulatory landscape. He explained, “We know that due to economic factors, cost will become more important than ever.
“Digital communication and how people use it continues to evolve, and we are also seeing moves in some countries to reduce or restrict non-human interaction through regulation, and stipulate how customers should be serviced. These are all trends to watch closely, as these will form the basis of customers’ business cases for change.”
The call and contact centre market has exploded in recent years, so it can be complex for resellers and MSPs to assess the vendors they choose to bring into their portfolios.
Purdom, from Nuvias UC, pointed out the deciding factor is not always the technology. He said, “Realistically, if you did a check box exercise to compare features, a lot of the cloud companies will look very similar. Therefore, we would advise resellers to look at the provider’s Net Promoter score to ensure that customers have been happy with their services.
“The reseller will be the one offering this out to their customers, so they need to make sure that they’re working with a vendor which is going to keep their customers and their customers’ customers happy!
“They need to look at what fits with their customer base. Understandably, they would like to win new customers, but they have already got a captive audience in front of them which they can present a new opportunity to. Therefore, they want to make sure that the services they’re bringing forward and the vendors that they’re choosing to work with can help present these opportunities to their existing customers.”
Sinnott, from Enreach for Service Providers, added, “Innovation and integrations are key to success in this increasingly competitive part of the market, so look for strong strategies around both of those. Plus, look for vendors focused on customer outcomes, not short-term revenue targets: we should be building long-term partnerships.
“Look for the ability to create a customer adoption path, and willing to work with service providers and their customers on their collective learning journey using innovative technology to provide better experience to their customers. New entrants to the use of CX tools will need to evolve first before trying to engage with more sophisticated solutions.”
Miller, from Cirrus, emphasised the importance of expertise. He said, “MSPs and resellers should partner with vendors that live and breathe contact centres. The chosen vendor should be able to deliver expertise to capitalise on every market opportunity that arises. The partnership should be completely collaborative across marketing and lead generation campaigns from initial strategy sessions to delivery stages, not simply a go-to-market package.
“People buy from people, not businesses, so the ideal vendor should stand alongside the partner, not behind them. Seamless integration with MSP and reseller teams is also essential for supporting in-life account management and helping boost operational output and revenue.”
For Leach, from NFON, being able to meet a wide number of scenarios with a single provider is vital. He said, “Rather than adding multiple contact centre vendors, in order to service customers across a range of sizes and sectors, resellers need to align with a vendor whose solution can be tailored to fit the widest possible range of customer needs – and that includes sector specific compliancy requirements.
“How a platform integrates with other line of business applications in the reseller’s portfolio is also going to be a key consideration. It’s not just end users who risk being overwhelmed with multiple tools and systems – resellers themselves are increasingly faced with multiple vendors’ processes, portals and accreditation. Choosing a solution that integrates well with other platforms can help speed up the route to market, and ensure smooth and successful rollouts to end users.”
This can be a competitive market, so choosing the right partner is essential. Content Guru’s Taylor said, “As well as selecting credible and proven vendors, who can demonstrate their capabilities across a range of industries, channel companies’ should focus on selecting vendors who offer bespoke professional services, which tailor their technology to an organisation’s needs.
“Being able to provide professional services that support effective delivery is already essential, as customers look for standards-based solutions that integrate fully with their systems of record and other legacy IT and processes. An evergreen approach will see those professional services called upon again and again, as new processes are devised and legacy IT is renewed.
“Lastly, it is important for partner companies to consider vendors’ product roadmaps. Partnering with vendors providing the most innovative solutions, not just the cheapest ones, will be key to channel companies thriving and surviving in the ultra-competitive years ahead.”
Gabriela Saborio, assistant sales manager for Europe, 3CX, added every reseller should pay attention to price, features and flexibility before upgrading their portfolio.
She explained, “The more features the system has, the easier it is to please and wow the end user and to fully adapt to the needs of the client. Plus, managing a system which addresses multiple communication pain points is always a lot easier than managing multiple disintegrated solutions. In addition, how flexible the system is will largely determine the potential market size that the resellers can hope to occupy.”
In terms of the big opportunities that resellers and MSPs should pursue, Gavin Murphy, head of propositions, BT Wholesale, discussed three key areas. He said, “There are three big opportunities on the horizon with call and contact centre technologies in the channel that MSPs and resellers should start to capitalise on.
“Firstly, there is a shift in who is demanding these solutions. Traditionally, formal contact centre solutions have been built for larger organisations. However, small to medium businesses now want to be able to provide a high-quality customer service, but at an affordable cost.
“Secondly, contact centres have historically been premise-based, however, now many businesses are moving their applications to the cloud. This must be accounted for to improve accessibility, performance and availability.
“Lastly, the way people communicate has changed. Many end customers still prefer to contact companies over the phone, while others prefer email, web chats and other digital channels. New contact methods are growing in popularity too. Indeed, recent research from Cavell has found 86 per cent of businesses use their website for initial customer contact, and 55 per cent use chatbots.
“At the same time, social media is becoming increasingly important. Leading to increased demand for contact centres that deal with more than just phone calls – this can be seen as more of a customer experience centre. Only by selecting the right vendor can resellers and MSPs get one step ahead of growing demand for communications as a service.”
Fox, from TelXL, said being able to deliver beyond expectations can be essential. He said, “Look for ‘wow factors’: things that go above and beyond to solve customer problems. For example, enabling visually impaired staff to be effective in the contact centre isn’t impossible.
“Enabling a CC platform to output an agent’s UI using audio prompts and queues may be a rarely-used feature, but it’s essential for that subset of users and adds a huge amount of value to that customer.”
This feature appeared in our November 2022 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.