Businesses that rely on on-premises contact centres faced a rude awakening with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. A key challenge for organizations relying on on-premises technology has been addressing social distancing requirements and work-from-home mandates during the quarantine. The firms are also receiving no information on agent activity and productivity in the contact centre.
COVID-19 put many organizations reliant upon on-premises contact centres in a squeeze. At the same time, they were experiencing a surge in customer service and customer service calls, social distancing and work-from-home requirements were limiting their ability to respond. Fortunately, communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) can provide them with the communications flexibility they need now — and in the future. Better yet, partners can help customers get the technologies they need.
In this article, we look at how Communications Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS) uses the flexibility of the cloud to deliver connectivity between applications, people and objects and how it provides businesses with access to the latest communications offerings and technology. Find out how to begin your cloud/CPaaS journey today.
You Will Learn…
- Use cases for CPaaS
- Two examples of how CPaaS is helping businesses during the pandemic
- How CPaaS can help build a lasting client/partner relationship
- The benefits of automation, AI and omnichannel
- How CPaaS presents a viable alternative for organizations looking to enable flexibility in their existing on-premises contact centre
- How having a strong omnichannel strategy can improve the customer experience if built properly
- How agent-facing AI can also help quicken response times
Table of contents
Businesses that rely on on-premises contact centres faced a rude awakening with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A key challenge for organizations relying on on-premises technology has been addressing social distancing requirements and work-from-home mandates during the quarantine. Moreover, the pandemic also resulted in a surge in customer service and customer support calls.
“In other words, many organizations experienced an increase in traffic to their contact centres and at the same time as their capacity to respond was being limited by external factors,” said Raul Castanon, senior research analyst with 451 Research, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Donna Kruse, CEO of Savvy Technologies and a Cloud Girls member, said she knows of multiple firms that rely on legacy, premises-based technology and have their agents working from home on their cellphones with their desk phone being forwarded to them.
The firms are receiving no information on agent activity and productivity in the contact centre.
Cloud can enable work anywhere, including remote work in a pandemic, she said. Also, you can continue to measure agent productivity. You can gain access to capabilities that “cost a fortune” in a legacy model, like paying a per-seat price for things such as workforce optimization and call recording.
Premises-based contact centres created immediate challenges for businesses dealing with agents who suddenly became remote workers, said George Aldea, partner engineer with AppSmart.
“There was a rush to set up remote workers with equipment and necessary bandwidth,” he said. “Once they got settled into the ‘new normal,’ large call centres have stabilized. But what was once considered a common feature, like overhead dashboard visibility and an agent queue, have become harder to manage for agents who are accustomed to the on-premises call centre environment.”
Remote supervisors are limited by not having direct contact with their agents and saw a drop in productivity, Aldea said. Companies that manage large call centres are faring much better than those with smaller on-premises systems as they have more resources to dedicate to the new normal.
“Planning for the future of cloud-based technology has been sped up, and we will see a big shift to CCaaS, especially if the on-premises-based system has a cloud offering and migration path,” he said.
Contact centres faced the same challenges that customers had just moving to work from home, said Michael Brandenburg, senior industry analyst of connected work at Frost & Sullivan
“They never really thought of how to get out of the corporate firewalls and how connections would be made, and having to, in concise order, just come up with a solution,” he said.
During the lockdown, you had two options: close your call centre, which is not feasible for most, or create social distance for employees with physical space or work shifts, said Matt Hostacky, regional sales manager for FlexIP Solutions.
“Clearly, this reduces productivity, and key performance indicators like hold times can go way up,” he said.
Communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) uses the flexibility of the cloud to deliver connectivity between applications, people and objects. It provides businesses with access to the latest communications offerings and technology.
So how do partners help these organizations begin their cloud/CPaaS journeys? In this report, we look at how partners can help their customers get the most of these technologies.
“I’ve been writing about CPaaS for three or four years now, and there’s an ah-ha moment happening among customers,” Brandenburg said. “And the pandemic in my mind is really driving that. It’s like they may have stayed on on-premises for a couple more years to figure it out … and this was a jumpstart. It’s going time because we have no choice.”
IDC forecasts the global CPaaS market will grow from $3.3 billion in 2018 to $17.2 billion by 2023
Start with Use Cases
CPaaS hasn’t consumed the same way as traditional telco services, Brandenburg said. Everybody needs a phone line and meetings, but those are horizontal solutions that spread across industries and businesses.
“CPaaS is unique in that it’s use case driven, and it’s particularly vertically use case driven,” he said. “Your doctor’s office sending out mass notifications for an appointment reminder didn’t happen in retail pre COVID-19. But now we have things like curbside pickup and a lot of those business models are changing.”
Where a partner can add value is by understanding their customers and their verticals, Brandenburg said. It’s also listening and understanding their specific challenges.
“I think of CPaaS as a communications tool kit, and where channel partners can add value is knowing when to use that set of tools to help a customer meet a business objective,” he said.
CPaaS opens the door to helping the client with business planning, Aldea said. The ability to either uses an out-of-the-box, third-party software or use developers to build a solution to meet business challenges and help automate the “new exciting area of this part of our business.”
Aldea gives two examples of how CPaaS is helping businesses during the pandemic:
A funeral home wanted to offer live video of services for those who cannot attend due to COVID-19 restrictions. The UCaaS provider, through their CPaaS platform, was able to build the video component and store the content.
A large burger chain received complaints from takeout customers about soggy fries. The solution was to get the fries in the fryer just in time for the pickup. By building an application to connect into third-party, geo-locator software, the restaurant would know when the customer was en route to pick up their food, assisting them with the optimal timing of when to drop the fries into the fryer.
“Both scenarios came about by simply asking ‘What else is on your mind?’ or ‘What are some of the challenges that you are dealing with today?’,” Aldea said.
Partners should discuss moving to cloud with their customers, Hostacky said. That includes what it means to go cloud, how it differs and the advantages from a business perspective.
“Partners should also help customers begin planning,” he said. “Start documenting how things work today, how calls are routed, who handles what calls, what your business numbers are and where they sit,” he said. “If you prepare and document in advance, then your transition will be much smoother and quicker.”
Also, partners need to know the customer’s contract with their current provider, Hostacky said
“You don’t want to be on the hook for a three-year contract if you need to move quickly to the cloud,” he said. “Understand when the contract is up, and if you can go month to a month afterwards until you transition.”
CPaaS-based contact centres have proven invaluable to many organizations, given their flexibility for rapid deployment and their ability to support a distributed workforce, Castanon said.
Build Lasting Relationships
With CPaaS, partners can start with one simple thing and a critical need, like a doctor’s office needing to enable mass notifications, Brandenburg said.
“They should treat it as a journey,” he said. “It’s getting that use case, and in my mind, it will snowball because it will create ideas. Now that we know what’s in this toolbox, we can apply it to other places. And we can be in it for the long term with the customer, rather than trying to solve it and then move on to the next customer. Sell the solution and the relationship rather than selling a point product.”
If an enterprise isn’t comfortable with completely migrating to the cloud just yet, CPaaS gives the client the ability to build cloud-based voice, interactive voice response (IVR) and text messaging applications, Aldea said.
“This scenario is most likely occurring where there is a large investment in the premises-based system,” he said. “Some of the premises-based systems have a migration path to the cloud. But if we see a client with a system from a manufacturer that doesn’t have a strong reputation in the CCaaS space, then introducing a CPaaS strategy may be a good way to help them adopt some of the benefits of moving to the cloud.”
CPaaS initially targeted developers and digital-native companies, largely through a self-service, go-to-market approach, Canstanon said.
“However, CPaaS is expanding into the enterprise segment,” he said. “I expect that channel partners will play an important role, guiding businesses in their transition to cloud-based solutions, leveraging the advanced capabilities that CPaaS can provide while at the same time ensuring a smooth transition that allows business continuity during and after the COVID-19 shutdown.”
Companies should assess their current situation, infrastructure, requirements and continuity plans, Hostacky said.
“If the goal is to move to full cloud eventually, then migrating a satellite site may be the best route,” he said. “You can often snap a cloud call centre into a premises-based one relatively easily, which can let you see how well everything will function. From a continuity standpoint, it’s helpful to understand what employees will be working from home and how it may affect them, or even if their home environment can support the added bandwidth requirements. You can’t just tell everyone to work from home and use a bunch of cloud applications if they still have DSL as their main internet connection.”
Partners can start by understanding what is fundamentally important to the client as an organization, and then understanding how the various providers rank against those criteria, Kruse said.
“While a phased approach can make sense, I would recommend getting contact centre agents to the cloud as quickly as possible to realize the benefits,” she said.
Customer Server Use Cases for CPaaS
- Optimize the customer support process: Automate trouble ticket management processes and configure workflows to route interactions for the quickest resolution.
- Make customer-centric decisions: Track customer behaviour and gather feedback through surveys to improve the processes that affect the customer experience.
- Oversee field support: Keep-in-house field and support teams on the same page with the ability to send updates and connect through multiple forms of communication.
- Provide customer self-service options: Empower customers with the tools they need to address routine inquiries, and free your agents up to handle more complex issues.
The Benefits of Automation, AI, Omnichannel
CPaaS presents a viable alternative for organizations looking to enable flexibility in their existing on-premises contact centre, Castanon said.
“Several CPaaS vendors provide off-the-shelf cloud contact centre solutions that can integrate with and augment the capabilities of existing on-premises contact centre solutions,” he said. “This can allow organizations to enable remote workers and optimize operations with advanced features such as AI-enabled intelligent routing, dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) and automatic speech recognition (ASR)-enabled IVR, omnichannel capabilities and workflow automation. While some vendors emphasize call deflection, I believe the main advantage these features provide is based on supporting and augmenting the work of contact centre agents, for example by tackling repetitive tasks with self-service IVR and chatbots, or routing calls based on criteria such as speciality and level of expertise.”
Having a strong omnichannel strategy can improve the customer experience if built properly, Aldea said. The strategy needs to be based on a seamless unified experience incorporating all channels, so agents have a complete view of each customer interaction.
“AI alone without a strong omnichannel customer experience strategy will not attain the experience businesses are looking for when investing in AI-oriented technology,” he said. “If a business uses AI to support its omnichannel strategy, they will see the benefits that are being sought.”
For instance, when dealing with interactions over the phone, resolving them with customer-facing AI can cause a breakdown in customer communication, leading to frustration and undesirable outcomes, Aldea said.
“A better way to look at the benefits of implementing the technology is to build the AI to support the agent with social, chat, messaging and email conversations,” he said. “In this situation, AI is monitoring the conversation and helps the agent provide answers to customer queries. These agent-assist applications provide suggested responses based on specific prebuilt responses to specific questions for the agent from articles, documents or web pages. The agent can reference and properly filter the material before conversing with the client to ensure proper outcomes of the call and stay in control of the conversation.”
Building the knowledge base to draw information from can be daunting for businesses, Aldea said. Agents can flag questions that aren’t resolved by the information in the database. And once answers are found and approved, they can be added for future use.
Agent-facing AI can also help quicken response times. In some instances, the AI will generate instant responses for the agent to communicate to the query. This is the robotic process automation (RPA). Examples are account balances and transaction history. The RPA frees up agents to handle more complex requests and benefits the customer with a quick response.
When it comes to omnichannel, ask your marketing person if they only like to use one or two channels to reach customers, Hostacky said.
“They’d laugh and say ‘Every channel we can use is preferred,’” he said. “It’s the same here. If you can have your customer service agents receive requests from calls, emails, chatbots and/ or social media, it makes them more productive. More importantly, the customer experience is better. Personally, if I can use a chatbot to solve my problems or questions with a company, I prefer it. I’m on the phone enough during the day, and I don’t want to be on hold in my personal life.”
Automation and AI offload agents from common inquiries, so they are available to spend more time with clients needing assistance, Kruse said. Omnichannel allows clients to interact with a firm from the user’s preferred channel such as Facebook, WhatsApp, text, email and voice.
Business communications — whether composing an email, responding to a message or answering the phone — involve some of the most manual processes that exist in companies, Brandenburg said.
“Automation, AI and omnichannel … each one of those when done right takes a few seconds off the employee’s time,” he said. “Any click or button press or anything you could save adds to worker productivity.”
Not every customer needs to have an in-person conversation with customer support, Brandenburg said. Some customers would much rather text or tweet and get a response to their challenges.
“For me, omnichannel lets you right-size to what the customer wants,” he said.
Source: Channel Partners