Writing an article on call center software trends is a bit like trying to summarize the contents of Encyclopedia Britannica in one page. The field encompasses CRM, customer service, call center agent management through what is known as workforce optimization (WFO), and even software-based PBX (private branch exchange – a phone system situated within a company that acts as the interface between internal users and the outside telecommunications network).
There are so many trends and sub-trends that capturing them all in a page or two is a thankless task. Well, here goes:
Social Savvy in the Call Center
Call center agents, also known as customer service reps (CSRs), used to make or answer calls. Then came the Internet and they were asked to accommodate email. As the number of channels has increased, so too has the burden on the agent and the sophistication of the software that supports them.
Consumers now use social media to research products, express opinions, influence brands and reach out to companies in highly public forums. So call center agents are now expected to interact with customers on social channels like Facebook and Twitter.
“Agents are not only handling calls but are monitoring and servicing social media contact channels to connect with customers and prospects,” said Chuck Ciarlo, CEO of workforce optimization software provider Monet Software.
The average call center software suite has multiple facets – and has grown in size and complexity over the years. In recent years knowledge management (KM) has become a key feature. Forrester Research analyst Kate Leggett said KM is becoming a critical necessity for agents to effectively answer the increasing range of customer inquiries. KM software performs many functions: acting as a central repository for institutional knowledge, answering customer questions online, searching for answers, CSR training and even keeping track of social media interactions.
You can tell how hot an area is by the number of acquisitions happening. Based on that, KM is smoking. Leggett listed several recent acquisitions made by call center vendors to add KM to their products or boost their CRM capabilities: Consona acquired Knova Software, Oracle purchased InQuira, Saleforce.com bought InStranet, and RightNow acquired Q-Go.com.
Mobile Apps: Service on the Go
Leggett pointed out that mobile customer service applications are becoming a must-have element of competitive call center suites. About 44 percent of companies plan to allow access to CRM systems via mobile devices. A survey by BearingPoint found that doing so increases customer satisfaction markedly as well as boosting sales.
“In 2012, more customers will demand the ability to interact with customer service organizations via mobile devices to register products, locate stores, create support tickets and, receive value-added services and incentive offers,” Leggett said.
Several call center software providers in recent months have introduced applications that allow customers to connect with call center agents via their smartphones. The solutions include Genesys Mobile Engagement, Nice Systems Mobile Reach and Jacada Mobile Agent.
The rapid adoption of technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones and iPads has largely been driven by the younger generation. Now the young guns are driving video calling, another shift that will have a deep impact on call centers.
“Video has long been adopted in the consumer space,” said Laura Bassett, Director of Marketing, Customer Experience and Emerging Technologies at Avaya. “Younger generations are showing a preference for a video chat over a phone call or text. This trend will extend to customer service in specific areas that require personalization, relationships, or advanced support.”
However, video goes beyond one-to-one interactions. Users appreciate the availability of online videos to get instructions or examples as opposed to reaching to a live person 32 percent of the time according to an Avaya study.
From Inbound to Outbound
The call center industry has long been focused on fielding inbound calls. Much of the software has dealt with how to channel, monitor and improve the performance of agents as they deal with the continually rising volume of incoming calls.
But now companies are beginning to focus on proactive outbound communication. Leggett said this type of communication is gaining ground as a means of notifying users of flight schedule changes, bank balance changes, bills due and other such routine transactions. Consumers can choose to receive such alerts via text, email or phone. The result is twofold: a reduction in inbound call volume and a boost in customer satisfaction.
Rising SaaS Credibility
Salesforce.com is the best known example of CRM software-as-a-service (SaaS). But according to Forrester Research, SaaS is entering the mainstream. According to Forrester, 23 percent of companies are using SaaS for CRM, 8 percent plan to add it this year, and most existing users plan to expand usage.
Big vendors now all have SaaS offerings, including Microsoft Dynamics CRM, SAP Business ByDesign, Sage (CRM and SalesLogix) and Oracle CRM On Demand. Oracle also purchased RightNow , which has SaaS capabilities.
In addition, many startups offer SaaS or cloud-based CRM and call center solutions, among them FuzeDigital, Get Satisfaction and Zendesk. Salesforce.com purchased Assistly, a cloud customer service specialist, in a bid to boost its presence in the SMB market for CRM.
“Customer service organizations will continue to evaluate their SaaS strategy and mature their skills that address emerging needs around SaaS and cloud initiatives,” said Leggett.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).