Call and contact centre solutions are being transformed by technological innovations and new capabilities. Comms Business finds out more.

Call and contact centre solutions are being used by organisations across all corners of the UK. From microbusinesses to the biggest enterprises, the capabilities offered by today’s innovative solutions mean almost any organisation could benefit from a more streamlined way to manage customer, user or prospect requests and queries.

The call and contact centre market is being shaped by technological innovations that reach beyond the boundaries of the contact centre. Other types of communications and customer relationship solutions are being pulled together with contact centre platforms, with the market yet to settle.

Jean-Denis Garo, head of product marketing, Odigo, explained what effect these movements could have within an organisation, with previously clear boundaries and responsibilities becoming more ambiguous.

He said, “The call and contact centre market is evolving very quickly through a myriad of technological innovations. One trend that has begun to dominate debates is where the borders of the contact centre begin and end.

“There’s a blurred line between where customer experience ends and customer relationship management and collaborative solutions such as unified communications as a service start, and which departments are responsible for them.”

Garo expects customer centricity to emerge as the key direction for many organisations. He said, “Soon we will see a push to commit the whole company to be customer centric. Where all the resources available, and in particular those outside the contact centre, are relied upon for business success.”

In recent years, many organisations have adopted an omnichannel strategy for their call and contact centre. Omnichannel contact centres allow agents to manage customer interactions across multiple channels including phone, chat, email, text (SMS), and social media.

Ross Clinch, partner account manager, Evolve IP, discussed the importance of balancing simplicity with customer choice. He said, “Keeping communication simple can be a constant challenge in an increasingly diverse and complex always-on world.

“Multiple platforms, video calls, mobile devices and even traditional desk phones all have a role to play in keeping businesses and their people connected wherever they may be. Driving customer engagement is crucial too.”

Clinch said that “choice is good”, but businesses require one centralised, all-in-one-place communications platform if they want customers to be able to engage via every available channel.

Bringing all channels together is the only way, Clinch argued, to “maximise efficiency and customer experience”.

He added, “It’s an omnichannel approach which requires seamless integration, as cloud-based technology continues to transform the hybrid working world. Responding to this omnichannel challenge is the next step on the journey.”

Dave Reynolds, managing director, Xelion UK, agreed that omnichannel is king in the contact centre space. He said, “First and foremost is the growth of the omnichannel contact centre. People increasingly expect to be able to contact a business without having to pick up the phone. This is likely to become a minimum expectation, so providers will have to be able to meet it.”

Reynolds explained that Xelion is designed to facilitate that approach, with WhatsApp Business integration included as standard alongside voice, video and instant messaging. He said that Xelion recently added a webchat feature that users can add to their websites, which allows customers to initiate a chat immediately via a widget.

He also discussed the increased variety of businesses looking for a call and contact centre solution. He said, “Another trend we’ve noticed is that more and more SMEs want contact centre features, even if they’re not running a traditional contact centre environment.

“It makes sense, as features like hunt groups, call queue management and call analytics are beneficial to any business that handles a lot of calls.”

Organisations that use call and contact centre solutions also have an increased interest in features that can improve the experience of customer service agents who are handling customer interactions.

Nigel Dunn, vice president and managing director, EMEA, Jabra, said, “The call and contact centre market is fast paced, and attrition remains a major challenge for leaders. Ensuring agents have clear development plans in place is key to helping them develop their skills and experience, and offering opportunities to grow and transition to the next step from agent to manager.”

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is also making its mark on the call and contact centre market. Chris Angus, vice president for contact centre engagement in EMEA, 8x8, discussed the role he expects AI to play in the coming years.

Angus said, “I think the contact centre space is in flux. I think it’s at the risk of not knowing where it wants to go next. Voice is still king for now, but the emergence and glamour around AI and automation is now ensuring that everyone is giving serious thought and consideration to their transformation strategy and whether they’re doing the right thing.

“It’s almost like we were with SMS or the cloud five years ago, where people were acutely aware of it and probably waiting for some early adopters to really make it work to provide some use cases that could then let them justify getting on board with it.”

Like Dunn, from Jabra, Angus emphasised the challenge UK businesses face in navigating a difficult economic climate. He said, “As with every other business and sector at the moment as well, another thing keeping owners and managers up at night is costs.

“In my opinion the time is right for a rethink around this. Perhaps it’s time to reframe how we look at contact centres and instead of seeing them not as a cost but as something else.

“Technology like conversational AI and chatbots can be used to quickly resolve or assist agents with resolving repetitive and mundane requests while conserving the contact centre’s most valuable resource, live agents, for more complex operations.

“But this doesn’t mean contact centres need to reduce their staffing levels. Instead, it’s an opportunity for them to do more and bring in further benefits to the business and take productivity to new levels.”

Miles Leach, managing director, NFON UK, added AI can transform the capabilities of call and contact centre platforms. He said, “The hype around the new wave of AI capabilities has been hard to ignore, with experts unsure on whether AI will save the world or end it. We [believe] that AI holds the potential to deeply impact the way we work.

“That’s why we’ve been happy to implement the latest wave of generative AI technologies from Daktela to great effect in our own contact centre product and are excited to see where this journey will take us.

“What does the future hold? While no crystal ball can tell us exactly what twists and turns lie ahead, these are exciting times for our industry.

“Far from the gloomy prospect of cataclysmic job losses, we’ve seen digital technologies transform our capabilities, automating the boring, repetitive tasks that none of us liked doing in the first place.”

New capabilities

When asked what new capabilities are being added to call and contact centre solutions, AI was the phrase on everyone’s lips. Dunn, from Jabra, said, “There have been significant strides in call and contact centre solutions recently, thanks to developments and implementation of AI. But we are only just seeing the potential of this technology.

“Understanding the emotional context of human speech is one of the most important components of good customer service, and AI solutions can now assess tone of voice during call between agents and customers.”

Jonathan Maher, head of contact centre specialists, Avaya Europe, said that AI, particularly generative AI, is the definitive trend of the year.

He added, “Organisations are looking for ways to leverage these capabilities because they can super-charge the ability to innovate with customer experiences. In the contact centre, generative AI will learn from data patterns and create new value-added content based on them.

“This means faster efficiency, greater customer satisfaction, and fewer call backs and agent escalations thanks to more thorough, contextual responses and self-service content, not to mention strengthened KPIs.”

Maher argued that generative AI is “still in its infancy, but its impact is being compared to the emergence of the internet, mobile, and cloud”.

He added, “An effortless way to get started is with AI bots using a pre-built virtual assistant solution. These solutions are the epitome of “innovation without disruption.” They can be managed and customised from a simple dashboard without needing help from a developer team and can be used for simple to very sophisticated purposes.”

Hilary Oliver, chief marketing and experience officer, Tollring, explained how AI and data analysis go hand in hand. She said, “The channel is going to see a fast acceleration of AI applications being integrated into call and contact centre operations.

“New AI capabilities will include the analysis of customer sentiment during calls or chat interactions, the prediction of trends and behaviours based on both historical and real-time data, and the analysis of recorded conversations and transcripts to identify topics and trends.”

These capabilities, Oliver said, will empower businesses and drive decisions. She added, “Business leaders will have access to automated powerful insights into customer behaviour and experiences to improve agent training, detect compliance issues, and drive service improvements.”

Strong partnerships

Resellers and MSPs that are considering vendor partners for their call and contact centre offering should evaluate the technology itself including integrations, scalability, analytics, and security, as well as areas like sales enablement and marketing support.

Leach, from NFON UK, pointed out the importance of being able to align your own goals with that of your vendor partners. He said, “Understanding clients’ specific needs is crucial. A vendor’s offerings must align with the industries and customer bases they serve. Evaluating the vendor’s technology stack is also essential.

“Robust features like omnichannel support, AI integration, scalability, and analytics capabilities should be considered. And assessing the vendor’s reputation and track record in delivering reliable solutions and providing responsive customer support is paramount.

“Flexibility in deployment options, whether on-premises, cloud-based, or hybrid, should match the varied needs of clients. Additionally, considering the vendor’s security measures, compliance with data regulations, and future innovation roadmap is essential for long-term viability. Lastly, fostering open communication and a strong partnership dynamic is key. Vendor alignment with your business goals ensures a cohesive approach to customer satisfaction and ongoing success.”

The right vendor partner could also open new doors for resellers and MSPs. Garo, from Odigo, said, “They need to make sure the vendor is aligned with their go to market model, ideally giving them access to a new customer segment or market. Once resellers and MSPs understand what success looks like to them, the right vendor partners can provide a genuine value-add in terms of support. That support could include sales, pre-sales, marketing and enablement.”

Angus, from 8x8, said, “It comes down to one thing, ‘who can solve the right problems for me?’ Now that means you need to understand your customers, their needs – which may not be the same as what they want – and also what their future strategy looks like. From there, you should be able to have a couple of options. Not every vendor is the right fight for every company so you should ensure you have a range of options for taking to every organisation. Always have a portfolio approach.”

Oliver, from Tollring, highlighted the value many of Tollring’s partners place on APIs. She said, “Resellers and MSPs should seek vendor partners that offer innovative and cutting-edge cloud technologies to enable differentiation in their market. A robust API framework is essential.

“The APIs make it easy for resellers and service providers to pull data from call centre applications in the format and way their customer wants to see it and integrate the information into their own UCaaS deployments. It enables the right information to be delivered to the right people at the right time.”

Reynolds, from Xelion UK, explained resellers and MSPs should look out for the “two Ps”: product and partnership. He said, “You need a product that meets the needs of your base and target market. Just as importantly, you need partners who are dedicated to helping you achieve that.”

He added, “It’s also important to feel like a partner, rather than a party to a transaction. At Xelion, we’re channel-only so we’re never competing with them. Nor do we monetise essentials like technical training – it’s all free. We’ll even help partners win deals. For me, the important thing is to treat partners like partners. We all want the same thing.”

Clinch, from Evolve IP, shared his perspective that “agility is the secret to success”. He explained, “Resellers and MSPs need to select vendor partners that have the ability to keep up with the latest trends and offer best-of-breed services in what is a rapidly evolving marketplace. There’s lots of choice out there so it’s important to choose wisely, with true experts who have the product set and technical knowledge to deliver solutions fit for today and also into the future.”

It can also be valuable to partner with vendors who can help guide you through incoming technologies. Maher, from Avaya Europe, said, “The coming AI revolution might be overwhelming for some customers, so resellers and MSPs need to provide a complete support system across the buyer’s journey.

“That spans education through solution and selection. [There should be] a clear value proposition that differentiates with supporting assets at each stage to move the buyer from suspect to a closed, won deal.”

Creating compelling offerings

With so many innovations being brought into call and contact centre offerings, there are seemingly endless ideas that could be considering when creating a compelling offering for your customers.

Aaron Fox, CEO, TelXL, argued there are opportunities to be found simply through educating your customer base about how they could use this technology. He said, “The right type of technology, at the right entry price, that can flex to the needs of SMEs, is becoming more accessible.

“But the perception, still, is that the right contact centre technology is cost prohibitive and complex to implement, and therefore reserved for big business. This is something our industry must take responsibility for addressing.

“It’s an education issue as much as it is a technological one. Businesses that operate a contact centre and recognise customer experience is key will already have one or more solutions in place and may believe to augment or unify them would be a colossal undertaking, or impossible – especially where the SMEs grow, shrink, or pivot much quicker, making these projects seem unwieldy.

“This is where it becomes the responsibility of the IT supplier or service provider to act consultatively, to identify and recommend a solution that can either replace or overlay existing tools in a way that minimises disruption, at a palatable price.”

Dunn, from Jabra, also emphasised the importance of being that trusted advisor to your customers. He said, “Resellers and MSPs are expanding their offerings to offer contact centre consultancy services and bringing contact centre experts on board who can make recommendations on technology or advise on processes and quality checks.

“Therefore, contact centres are in a far better position when it comes to technology adoption and knowing where to invest in technology and focus on their policies.”

Dunn explained that resellers and MSPs can provide businesses with solutions that can help them understand what is happening in real-time as “traditionally they have tended to deal with challenges retrospectively”.

He added, “If contact centres can use technology to have visibility of a situation or potential issues as they happen, they will be able to resolve problems based on real-time events, instead of taking more time to identify the scale of a problem, before being able to react.

“This will enable contact centres to spend less time fixing problems and more time operating an efficient contact centre and creating policies and procedures to support staff.”

This market report appeared in our November 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.