Nostra damn it!

At this time of year, during the festive season, we begin with predictions – which rarely fully materialise – and we end with resolutions – which promptly get broken.

Both are done with the best of intentions, but “gang aft agley” like “the best-laid schemes o’ mice and men.”

With the (Gregorian calendar) New Year approaching, you’ll see predictions from and for almost any industry sector you care to mention. It’s the traditional thing to do; like a compelling event.

I’m compelled to predict that the arrival of 2016 won’t be ignored. Here are some more persuasive predictions from Aculab, which you are free to heed or ignore. Perhaps you will make a resolution to revisit them – to check if they’ve “gone agley” – during the year ahead.

The flow of data will not abate

We are part of an increasingly connected world. For better or worse, we are all LinkedIn as you might say. In recent years, we’ve seen the phenomenon of social media or the Internet of Folks (IoF). In the coming year, the Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to develop and gain our attention.

A consequence of the IoT is the generation of data on a massive scale. That is reminiscent of a Parkinson’s Law derivative, which states that “Data expands so as to occupy all available bandwidth and storage.” If that were to happen, the Internet would grind to a halt. But fear not, I’m not predicting that for 2016.

The thing about data is that it’s of no value until and unless it’s analysed. You need to locate the signal(s) from within all the noise. That is particularly true in contact centres, where businesses should expect to do more this coming year. Data will spring from an increasing number of customer engagement or customer interaction channels. And that includes incoming and outgoing communications.

Most businesses won’t cope with all that data coming their way. That’s why the Cloud is so important. My predictive advice for 2016 is not to invest in data storage, any more than you should invest in on-premises contact centre solutions. Some things are best taken care of in the Cloud – including communicating with real folks.

Average handling times (AHT) will increase

In the contact centre world, the trend has gone beyond multi- to omni-channel communications. It cannot be denied; that is the only way. There is also a trend towards increasing self-service effectiveness, as many companies look to reduce customer effort and focus on first contact resolution.

You would think that would have the effect of reducing AHT. You would be wrong. That is, if you’re thinking of AHT in relation to agents. By definition, self-service channels don’t involve agents. Unavoidably, as routine contacts are increasingly handled through self-service, the AHT of more complex interactions – those involving agents – will increase.

The future of customer contact will involve the extremes of highly personalised agent service and the increasing use of automated systems. However, that is not to say that automation plays no part in agent service. On the contrary, it is essential to reaching the right agent, which is where seamless transition features such as skills-based routing are applied.

The skill most in demand will be that of dealing with complaints, which will contribute to the increase in AHT. The advice for customers is, if you have a complaint, call the business. The advice for businesses is that your telephony channel will continue to be seen as the channel that gives the best service and best handles complaints.

Voice will remain a key technology.

Following on from the above, it will not be a surprise to read that the majority of customer interactions occur by voice. The figure is somewhere around 88 percent, in Europe at least. That is ahead of other, prevalent channels such as e-mail, snail-mail (as amazing as it sounds), fax (believe it), social media (e.g., Facebook and Twitter), web chat, video, and WhatsApp (or equivalents).

The prediction for the coming year is that the use of channels such as web chat and WhatsApp will increase, but that voice will continue to be the predominant channel, with the highest percentage of contact centres using the telephone compared to any single, alternative interaction channel.

The advice for developers and users of contact centres alike, is that when looking at new solutions, you should offer or select something that is flexible enough to accommodate both traditional and new channels. That is, create an omni-channel environment.

If you take all of these predictions and advice, you will be encouraged to look at cloud-based alternatives for your contact centre solutions. If you are a developer, you will be encouraged to look at cloud-based telephony software stacks and APIs. I predict it will be so.

And to prove that I am truly far sighted (and that you should pay attention to what I say), one day we will have robots communicating using ThatsApp, whilst bemused humans will be crying, “WhatsUp?”

I’ll leave the last, prophetic words, to The Bard:

“But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!“

Happy New Year!

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