Contact Centre to Customer Experience – We’ve Been Here Before

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In the previous articles explaining the shift from contact centre to customer experience I’ve detailed, how the business case is very positive, how to embrace the new approach and capabilities within the new platforms and how best to avoid the mistakes of attempting to deliver the change with an existing mindset and team.

In this article I’ll explain how the shift from contact centre to customer experience is inevitable and rather than have it done to you your team and management should embrace it.

In 2007 Microsoft released Office Communication Server with the ambition of not just providing a corporate instant messaging platform but also completely changing how office workers communicated with each other.  In 2007 almost all office workers used email and a telephone, either on a desk or a mobile/cell.  To communicate with colleagues you might have been given an audio conferencing bridge which you dialled in to.  If you were an executive and senior enough you might also have access to video conferencing which might have been 1 or 2 rooms in each headquarter building and cost £500k a room to build and maintain.

Microsoft believed that all these services could be accessed via a computer (not necessarily a mobile this was pre iPhone) and would revolutionise how office workers communicate.  Very few people believed them.  Existing video and telephone vendors didn’t take Microsoft seriously but to anyone who worked with global companies could see office workers were completely open to new ways of working and communication.

Existing vendors could not understand how Microsoft could possibly enter this market and existing IT department who had Exchange admins had no concept of how to deploy or maintain Digital Workplace Services.    The one area which met the heaviest resistance was the office telephone.  The office telephone was seen as a crucial service which needed to be built with dedicated equipment to five 9’s availability.

Microsoft had a different vision – once office workers had Instant Messaging, voice over IP, web conferencing and the ability to desktop video each other telephony would simply fade away as a service.   

You could not believe how many meetings I’ve attended with vendors and internal IT teams that simply could not understand the bow wave of demand from their office workers and the ability of Microsoft to service the demand.  In 2010 I led a team that started a limited pilot in a global organisation of 80k people.  The pilot grew in 12 months to 38k users.  This organisation were well on the way to a having a fully unified set of communication capabilities.  The demand from end users was remarkable but understanble.  I remember receiving an email from one person who had to travel within Europe to see one of their direct reports and felt guilty either not travelling or having to leave their family – now they could simply share video.

On the other side Microsoft didn’t fully appreciate that servicing voice well was also required table stakes to fully remove existing services from their estate.

Fast forward to March 2020 – Microsoft had made excellent progress with Office 365 and had turned OCS to Lync to Skype for Business to Teams.  They had millions of active users and they had enough capability in the product to start to replace voice services.  Teams meetings still had short comings which Zoom were willing to fill.  By this time I had been involved in major global deployments which consolidated an employees communication capabilities onto Microsoft – savings millions of pounds but also making organisations truly global in nature.  It was not easy though senior managers – especially in IT remained sceptical that a) there was a true need and b) Microsoft could meet the demand.  Getting projects approved and deployed was possible but not always easy.

And then COVID hit the world.  Within a matter of weeks Microsoft and Zoom were having to pour cold water on their existing servers and deploying many more to meet the demand of a global workforce forced to work remotely.  It is often not said enough that Technology kept the world working in 2020 and for those who were sceptical of technology were no more.  Project that would have taken many months and millions of pounds were completed in days.  The advent of Software as a Service and Cloud prevented corporate IT departments from grinding to a halt.

Now in 2022 no one argues that services such as Teams (or Slack/Google etc) isn’t a staple of office life and what has happened to voice?  Microsoft were correct most office workers don’t need voice. Organisations paying money to maintain decades old telephone systems or even 5 year old systems are simply throwing money away.  They should be decommissed as quickly as possible.  Office workers now communicate over their desktop or mobile.  The office telephone is mostly consigned to history and office lifts and doors.

Where does that bring us to Contact Centres?  2022 feels very similar to 2010 in the Contact centre world.  People in businesses who service customers feel frustrated that they don’t have the technology to provide the most responsive and effective service to their end customers who are either looking to buy something from them or need help with a product or service.  Meanwhile internal teams responsible for Contact centre diminish the requirement for chat and web based technologies and remain focused on providing telephony based customer contact.  Vendors too may make great play that they are moving to web based technology but you should always follow the money and presently a great deal of revenue is made from traditional telephone calls into Contact Centre.

Fortunately there is a way forward.  Cloud providers such as Amazon (and hopefully soon Microsoft) understand that customer contact must be web and mobile first.  Voice capabilities are still required but they are a diminishing service and there will be a gradual and inevitable movement away from traditional contact centres to web based customer experience platforms.