Contact Centers must always be out on the look for ways to improve their productivity, efficiency, and overall customer satisfaction. At this point, any Contact Center that doesn’t properly invest in providing the best experience possible will fall behind the competition. That’s why its so imperative to stay up to date on the latest trends sweeping the industry.

And Contact Centers are no stranger to constant innovations. We’ve seen the omnichannel experience become a standard, we’ve seen social media support become a new go-to option, and in 2018, we’re sure to see a lot more innovations pop up.

That’s why we wanted to take a look at the current landscape of Contact Center solutions, and what is just coming up on the horizon. Now that 2017 is coming to a close, we went ahead and put together our list of what we expect to be the biggest Contact Center trends of 2018.

1. A Bigger Focus on the Customer Experience

We’ll start here, because every other trend we talk about fits neatly into this concept. This revolution has already begun, and if it hasn’t for your business yet, then 2018 is definitely the year to get on board. Moving forward, the number one aspect your contact center should focus on isn’t first call resolution (although that will still be important don’t get me wrong), but instead it will be providing the best customer experience possible, according to inContact.

We are in a time where the customer experience will make or break a company or provider: if your customers have a bad experience and cannot get the help they need, they will simply abandon your brand for another. Improving the customer experience could mean offering new channels of communication like in-app support or even video conferences and screen sharing with agents (more on that later), opening up self-service options, or personalizing interactions by offering customers recommendations based on their previous purchases and transactions.  After all, customers are always making their own recommendations as seen by our inContact Reviews.

How you get there will be different for each specific contact center, but the end goal is the same: the highest level of customer satisfaction possible. Companies should begin to utilize customer-centric metrics, including how long a customer stays on one section of your website, or a customer lifetime value (how much a customer will spend over their relationship with your business), to measure performance, and understand that this level of satisfaction is the most important aspect to focus on.

Every other trend we take a look at will follow suite of the customer experience, and should be embraced by your contact center in order to provide the best experience possible.


2. Artificial Intelligence

This is a bit of an easy one to predict, because chances are you’ve already heard of some way AI will drastically change our lives within just the next few years. Contact Centers are a particularly great candidate for AI as well, for a number of different reasons. Whether your contact center smartens up its routing process with AI, or utilizes machine learning to help dig deep into all that data the center is collecting, AI will grace the shores of your contact center in some way.

We of course could see AI being utilized to create some truly conversational and human-like chatbots, or going one step even further — imagine if every single agent had their own unique personal assistant powered by AI. In chat conversations, this AI could scan the conversation and provide agents with a recommendation for the best solution listed an internal knowledge base, or getting even more science fiction like, what if that AI could listen to phone calls and suggest to an agent how to respond based on the emotion detected in the caller’s voice.

It all sounds futuristic, but a lot of this is already here, and we will only see AI become more prominent as time goes on, especially in the contact center.


3. Self Service as the New Standard

We saw this trend begin to rear its head a little bit in 2017, with self-service options becoming more widely available. In 2018, we expect to see self service options for customer support not only grow, but to even become a new standard for customer service. Self service could include a simple Frequently Asked Questions page on your company’s website, or it could include useful tools like online package tracking, or if your product is a service this could mean including the ability to configure that service online.

The entire point is to have customers fix their issues on their own, instead of having to wait on hold for an agent on the phone. In fact, offering self service options is a win-win solution for both the contact center as well as customers. Most people would prefer to handle their issues themselves, on their own time and at their own pace — it’s a much more pleasant experience than having to contact support most of the time.

This helps improve customer satisfaction and resolution time, and of course lowers the number of inquiries to agents, allowing them to handle the real complex cases.


4. In-app Support as a Priority

Speaking of customer self-service options, one that has become more and more popular over the past year, and will only continue to expand into 2018, is the idea of in-app support. We’ve seen providers like Helpshift and more recently UJET offer their own unique take on in-app support, generally ranging from the same self-service options we listed above like FAQs and tutorials, all the way up to initiating a conversation with an agent in real-time. Allowing users to directly interact with support right from inside your business’ app will become a priority in the next year.

Contact centers should always be looking for new ways to engage customers, and new ways for customers to interact with support. The real goal is to go where the customers already are — that’s why we’ve embraced social media channels, because customers and clients are already there — and they certainly are already using your apps. As the concept becomes more common, we expect more providers to begin offering this type of solution.

The idea is fairly simple and one being embraced already, we’re just expecting to see this new avenue to receive support become a high priority for contact centers looking to offer the best experience possible.


5. Context is Key

This is a topic we’ve discussed time and time again on GetVoIP, and for good reason. Avid readers will already know that I first learned of the concept from my conversation with Vonage CEO Alan Masarek. The problem is fairly simple: when a customer needs support, they have to stop what they’re doing and pick up the phone or initiate a chat. The agent that assists them has no idea who they are, what they are doing, or what their problem is. The customer needs to explain all of that to the agent.

But what if the agent already knew who you were, and exactly what you were doing when the problem occurred? This is the idea behind embracing context. This is again something uJet focused on, and is a problem we even saw Talkdesk attempt to solve in 2017. The reality is that the mobile devices and even standard websites we use collect a lot of information about us.

Contact centers need to embrace and utilize this information, like what webpage the customer was looking at, or what product they were shopping for in the app, to provide a seamless experience.


6. Even More Chatbots

Now I’ll be the first to admit, chatbots aren’t really the newest tech on the block anymore. In fact, I can recall interacting with chatbots on AOL instant messenger when I was younger. But the chatbots of today are a bit more advanced than those of the past thanks to AI. Now your business can equip itself with a front-line army of chatbots in order to handle the simpler customer inquiries. Chatbots can actually be considered a form of self-service support, but we felt that they were so important they deserved their own trend.

And chatbots don’t necessarily need to be smarter. Just look at what Facebook did with their chatbots earlier in 2017, they made them much more versatile, but not necessarily smarter. Again, the idea is to equip your business with a new front-line defense, one that allows customers to receive the help they need as simply and quickly as possible. If a more complex issue comes up, on too complicated for a bot, well then that’s when your human agents come in to save the day.

We’ve been talking about chatbots for quite some time now, but we fully expect them to become even more common during 2018.


7. WebRTC Powered Video Support

While the technology is already there completely, this trend is something we haven’t seen to0 much of just yet, but I think that will change in the upcoming year. I’m talking about, of course, video support. The idea is a really unique one, that could completely transform the right use-case. In fact, Amazon is already using video support, powered by the WebRTC protocol, on their Fire tablets and devices. If users require assistance, right from their tablet or device they can request support. Once an agent is able to take that request, the user will receive a video pop-up of that agent.

From here, agents can take control of the user’s device, or highlight functions and elements on the screen. The beauty here is that Amazon marries both video support and screen sharing rolled into one. But it doesn’t have to go that far to provide great support with video. Some issues might simply require that agents receive a video to see a product defect or issue in real-time.

Whatever the case may be, as WebRTC continues to evolve, contact centers will be able to take advantage of this seamless video experience to offer completely new methods of support.


8. Automation For Agents

The concept of automation isn’t anything new, kind of like chatbots. However, what will be revolutionary will be the inclusion of automation within different contact center and CRM platforms. The idea is very simple: with basic if>then statements, or even drag and drop configuration, agents can setup different tasks to be carried out by the software itself. The benefit is that agents don’t have to spend nearly as much time on the same basic tasks for every interaction. For example, agents could setup an automation so that whenever they finish a phone call, a new ticket is automatically created with all of the user’s relevant information that they provided the agent with input into the proper fields.

Managers could even setup their own automations to assign specific leads or tickets to different agents who are best prepared to handle those queries. One of the most common uses of automations would be to send a pre-call or post-call email to clients, or to mark tickets closed once your agent ends the current interaction. Or, a contact center can even setup automations to instantly reply on social media whenever your business receives a mention. Overall, automations are all about empowering agents with the tools they need to work more productively and efficiently. And these don’t have to be just simple actions, businesses can even automate their entire marketing strategy.

Automations should soon creep their way into just about every contact center and CRM platform, allowing agents to save valuable time and simplify their lives.


9. Bridging the Gaps of Internal Tools

With so many different tools and applications on our desktops, we end up wasting a lot of time just flipping through the different windows, trying to find the one we need at that exact moment. Agents at contact centers are no stranger to this time-wasting procedure. For example,  if your agent is having as live chat with a customer inside your CRM, then they need to communicate with a manager, they’ll have to flip to their internal communication window, losing sight of their current conversation. This is something we’ve already seen Nextiva tackle.

But integrations are here, and have been around for quite some time. The idea is that we can connect multiple applications and solutions through the power of integrations and APIs. As we enter 2018, we expect to see even more integrations become available, and become the absolute standard for contact center solutions. In fact, just look at how 8×8 recently acquired Sameroom, a tool that connects different team messaging software.

This idea will continue to grow, and contact center tools will become deeply integrated platforms, combining the different tools agents use together, including CRMs, internal and external communications, internal knowledge bases, chatbots, personal assistants and more.


10. Conversational Commerce

Now the main use we might see for chatbots is in the customer service sector, working  to help clients and users solve their issues without having to wait on hold for a live agent. But what about the sales side of the equation? Chatbots will reign there, as well, in the near future. This is where the idea of conversational commerce comes from — a direct intersection between all the messaging apps potential clients are using, and the AI powered chatbots contact centers should be embracing.

The idea is fairly simple, instead of just ordering an item online, customers can interact directly with a chatbot right within their favorite messenger, like Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger. There’s a benefit for both sides of the process here: customers receive an easy experience with direct one-on-one personal attention from the bot who could answer questions and help the customer place an order.

But on the other side, your contact center has a lot to gain as well: these bots will study the information directly inside their conversation with a customer, gaining insight into the customer’s buying habits. The bot can then use this information to provide even more personalized recommendations or suggestions to the customer, or the contact center can utilize this information to improve services in the future.


The Bottom Line

Contact Center should always be searching for new ways to improve agent efficiency, productivity, and in the end, the customer experience. Without jumping on the latest innovations and trends, most contact centers will fall behind the competition, unable to deliver that satisfying experience that customers and clients absolutely demand. In this day and age, there really isn’t much excuse for your Contact Center to miss out on some of the largest trends.

Simply focusing on the customer experience, and recognizing this should be a key priority for your business can go a long way in improving the overall bottom line: happier, more efficient agents, and happier, more satisfied customers. Because at the end of the day, that’s what its all about: ensure clients receive the help they need in as little time as possible, with as little friction as possible, so that they keep coming back.