Contact Center Technology

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Contact Center Technology

by Geoff Keston

Docid: 00021033

Publication Date: 2006

Report Type: TUTORIAL


As new avenues for companies to provide customer support have emerged,
new challenges have also presented themselves. Contact center products and
services, which expand upon the features of traditional call centers, aim
to help enterprises overcome these challenges by giving them an
"omnichannel" view of customer interactions. But this technology is still
relatively new, and using it successfully demands both careful planning
and a deep understanding of what today’s customers expect.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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Today’s “contact centers” are much different from the call centers that
were common until just a few years ago. 


Self Service Concepts &
Technology Tutorial
IT Service Management Tutorial
CRM Market Trends
Contact Center Market Trends
Speech Analytics in the Call Center Tutorial

First, more channels of communication are used. Some customers still call
companies for help, but many others chat over the Web, seek help through a
mobile support app, or talk over social media. Second, the integration of
various software enables new features, such as sophisticated trend
analysis, automated flows, and electronically provided training.

Often, the software used is delivered over the cloud, so modern contact
center technology is just as commonly provided as a service offered for a
monthly subscription fee as it is sold as a product to be installed on a
company’s own network. This cloud model can be used to support an entire
contact center or it can be used in conjunction with on-site software in a
hybrid model. In the coming years, the use of cloud-based contact centers
is forecast to grow rapidly, driven in part by the greater sophistication
of communications technology and the need for experts to manage it. The
cloud can also provide customers with a familiar interactive interface
that resembles, for example, a social media site.

To successfully select and use a contact center product or service, an
organization needs to consider the other software it uses to provide
customer support and must define what key performance indicators it wishes
to track. These decisions are best made in respect to direct calculations
of return on investment, which contact center tools can help to measure.


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Over the past few years, the technology that enterprises use to provide
customer service has greatly evolved. Traditional call centers relied
almost entirely on phone technology, but as companies began to increasingly
use a wider range of tools to interact with customers, a broader concept –
the contact center – emerged. Contact centers (sometimes also referred to as
“customer engagement centers”) let customers get support through a variety
of channels, such as

  • Phone
  • E-mail
  • Web forms
  • Web chat
  • Social media
  • Mobile apps

The uses of these different channels are typically integrated. Therefore, a
company will know, for example, that a particular customer reported one
problem by e-mail and later got help with the same problem through a Web
chat. This integration is often called “omnichannel” support. Information
about customers is consolidated regardless of the system from which it
was gathered, so customer interactions can be analyzed comprehensively. And
since a great deal of customer interaction is now conducted through
software, data can be more easily gathered and analyzed. Companies use this
data to develop a deeper understanding of individual customers and to assess
the effectiveness of their own processes. Prominent examples of new contact
center features are:

  • Support Communities – Many products let
    organizations create an online support community in which customers can
    ask and answer questions among themselves.
  • Self-Service Portals – Many of today’s
    contact center applications enable organizations to create a
    self-service portal, through which customers ask for help or make
    requests via an automated cloud-based interface.
  • Knowledgebases – Many contact centers
    have or can be integrated with a database of additional information.
    Some of the information may be pre-developed but most of it will be
    custom created by each company that uses this “knowledgebase.” Agents
    can use the resource to service customers by, for example, easily
    finding articles that help to solve common problems. Some products even
    have a rating system for items in the knowledgebase, making the resource
    akin to ranking books at an online store.

The integration of software with contact centers has also led to a boom in a
practice called “workforce optimization” or “workforce management.” The core
of this practice is familiar in traditional call centers – analyzing the
performance of agents and coaching them on how to improve – but the ways
that this can be performed have significantly broadened:

  • Customers are given automated surveys after each interaction with a
  • The adherence to meeting service commitments, such as service level
    agreements or warranty requirements, is monitored.
  • Workflows and approvals, which are either built-in templates or
    customized processes, are automatically enforced.
  • Trend analysis tools identify customer habits and other information.
  • Agent activities can be monitored in detail, even including
    identifying their specific keystrokes during a call.
  • Training, such as instructional videos, can be shown to agents or
  • The management and enforcement of security policies, such as
    authenticating customers and controlling access to data, can be built

The transformation of the traditional call center into the modern contact
center has also been shaped by changes in the philosophy and processes
behind how customer support is managed. First, an increasing amount of
executive and financial governance is being exercised: The performance of
technology has been elevated from an IT concern to a corporate concern, so
the availability of technical support has become more crucial. Second,
technology is being delivered more like a service than like a product:
Customers and internal employees are being given more autonomy in choosing
and maintaining their own technology, and they increasingly expect that
getting support will be as easy and convenient as using social media or
other contemporary tools.

The change in service delivery approaches is often handled according to
ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library), a broadly popular
framework. Examples of ITIL processes that are often built into the
structure of many contact center designs include:

  • Asset management – Maintaining a detailed inventory of
    hardware and software, and ensuring that they meet an organization’s
  • Availability management – Ensuring that services and
    resources are available as described in contracts, service level
    agreements, etc.
  • Change management – Formal handling and documentation of
    processes for executing changes.
  • Configuration management – Maintaining an overall view of
    services being offered and of the physical and logical design of the
    underlying technology.
  • Event management – Observing single occurrences which may
    require further attention.
  • Incident management – Addressing individual issues that have
    a negative effect.
  • Problem management – Analyzing root causes of systematic
  • Release management – Testing and approving of software
    updates or other technology reconfigurations.
  • Service catalog management – Maintaining all of the services
    available (whether to internal employees or external customers) and
    publishing them as a browsable catalog.

Current View

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Market Leaders

The leaders in contact center technology include:1

  • Aspect Software
  • Avaya
  • Cisco
  • Enghouse Interactive
  • Genesys
  • Huewei
  • Mitel
  • NEC
  • SAP
  • Vocalcom
  • ZTE

Closely related to core contact management software are workforce management
products, which help enterprises monitor contact center activity, forecast
utilization, conduct training, and perform other functions. Leading
providers of workforce management products and services include:2

  • ADP
  • Ceridian
  • HotSchedules
  • Kronos
  • Oracle
  • Reflexis Systems
  • SAP
  • Ultimate Software
  • Workday
  • WorkForce Software

Data Analytics

Many of today’s contact management tools gather data about customers and
about service representatives. Data about customers can be used both to
help in providing technical support and to perform sales and marketing
functions, such as determining what additional products people might buy
or identifying “at-risk” customers who might cancel their contracts. Data
about service representatives can be used to evaluate and coach them.

Advances in analytics technology have enabled more types of data to be
gathered and for the information to be analyzed in a greater number of
ways. Automated search tools can look for keywords to determine where
customer complaints are focused or what features they want in
products. Even the speech of customers and service representatives is
open to analysis.

But integrating these different sources of information is challenging,
and data often remains isolated and difficult to interpret.3
The use of analytics has expanded and diversified, but it is still at a
somewhat immature stage. Each piece of data tends to be disconnected from
others, and much of the available data does not clearly point to actions.


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Cloud-Based Contact Centers

In the coming years, it is likely that cloud-based contact centers – in
which the software and other underlying technology are maintained by a third
party – will become increasingly popular. The market is forecast to
grow at a compound annual rate of 24.57-percent, reaching $49.12 billion in
2025, according to Research and Markets.4 That study
mentions e-commerce as a key industry that will help drive demand for
contact centers.

A major development in this trend occurred in 2017, when Amazon launched
Connect, a cloud-based contact center.5 Offered to customers of
Amazon Web Services, the most popular cloud platform in the world, Amazon
Connect is based on the same system that the company itself uses for
customer service. It charges for use by the minute, and the company says
that it can be set up quickly by people who don’t have technical
backgrounds. The entrance of a company as large as Amazon into the field
likely marks a turning point, as it has far more cloud customers than any
other service and thus tends to lead developments in the field. But there
are significant competitors, including the following:6

  • 8×8
  • Aspect
  • Avaya
  • Cisco
  • Enghouse Interactive
  • Five9
  • Genesys
  • NewVoiceMedia
  • NICE inConnect
  • Serenova
  • Talkdesk

The increasing use of the cloud to deliver contact center functions has
transformed the technology from something that was burdensome and
time-consuming when installed on-site into something that can be easily
accessed and leased as a monthly service. All or part of a contact
center’s functionality can be placed in the cloud. The advantages of using
the cloud for a contact center include:

  • Better accommodating geographically dispersed agents
  • Enabling easier mobile functionality
  • Reducing time spent on technology management
  • Offering customers and agents an interface that resembles popular Web

Artificial Intelligence

A significant development in AI’s implementation in call centers was
Google’s 2018 introduction of Contact Center AI, a suite of tools that
other vendors can use.7 Contact Center AI’s capabilities
include natural language processing for chatbots and interactive voice
functions, configurable workflows, and automated management of
knowledgebase content for live agents. It is used by major contact center
vendors such as Five9 and Genesys.

More recently, the forced move away from onsite work and the reduction of
staff in the public and private sectors due to the coronavirus has led to
the use of more chatbots, which use a basic form of AI to interact with
customers.8 These technologies use natural language processing
and data analytics to provide customers with access to answers or support,
without direct human intervention. But although the response to the
coronavirus was sudden and social distancing regulations may ease before
long, the use of AI is likely to persist in call centers because it has
advanced to the point that it can perform many tasks that until recently
only humans, but at a lower cost and with some additional benefits.9


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Consider the Other Software in Use

The ways that customer service can be provided have so greatly
diversified over the past few years that many companies will find it
confusing to choose which software or service to use. The choice is also
more difficult – and potentially more hazardous – because of the
integration among different types of software. Enterprises will not
want a jumble of tools that are either incompatible or that have redundant
capabilities, so they would be wise to make their decisions about contact
center products and services while keeping their other software in mind.
For example, a company might already be using a customer relationship
management tool like or a service management product like
ServiceNow. These products and services have functionality that companies
often need for supporting customers, so they may be used in conjunction
with contact centers.

It is also important to consider the types of customers being supported
and the types of support being provided. A major distinction is
whether the customer service center is providing high-volume support to
ordinary consumers or high-tech support to major enterprises. Another
major distinction is whether the focus is on inbound or outbound

Define Key Performance Indicators

Today’s contact centers are designed in large part to enable
organizations to objectively measure customer service. To do this
effectively, it is crucial to define which key performance indicators
(KPIs) to use. The ability to measure various KPIs is included in most
major products, but paying attention to all of them equally would be
burdensome and distracting. It is therefore up to each organization to
determine which KPIs to use and how to integrate those into its business

As a starting point, organizations may consider using the following KPIs, as
recommend by writer and consultant F. John Reh:10

  • Time to Answer
  • Abandon Rate
  • Call Handling Time
  • First Call Resolution
  • Transfer Rate
  • Idle Time
  • Hold Time

Beyond these granular metrics of performance, organizations may wish to link
their contact center evaluation to the broader concept of a Net Promoter
Score (NPS), which is a popular method for measuring customer loyalty. Using
NPS will typically require cooperation from other parts of an organization,
however, as it cannot in most cases be used solely by the contact center but
instead needs the involvement of all customer-facing parts of an

Think in Terms of Return on Investment

Considering that modern contact center technology aims to foster
objective measurements, it is wise to base product purchasing decisions
heavily on direct financial measurements. Unlike other types of enterprise
software platforms whose benefits may be indirect or qualitative such as
“improving customer perceptions,” today’s contact centers have the ability
to measure a variety of specific quantitative cost and performance

When calculating contact center return on investment, some factors to
consider include:

  • Software license cost or cloud subscription cost
  • Agent salary and benefit expenses
  • Agent training costs
  • Hardware costs
  • Employee or customer retention impact11


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About the Author

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Geoff Keston is the author of over 250 articles that
help organizations find opportunities in business trends and technology.
He also works directly with clients to develop communications strategies
that improve processes and customer relationships. Mr. Keston has worked
as a project manager for a major technology consulting and services
company and is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and a Certified
Novell Administrator.

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