As contact centres transition away from on-premise software, the CCaaS market is surging, so much so that the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Zoom are throwing their hat into the ring.
Yet, as this tower of hats grows taller by the day, it is becoming increasingly tricky for contact centre leaders to pinpoint which CCaaS solution is the best possible fit for their operation.
Fortunately, our industry specialists are perfectly positioned to steer them in the right direction, offering golden insights that will ensure evaluating CCaaS solutions is smooth sailing.
In this edition of the CX Today roundtable, our expert panellists include:
- Mark Beeston – Pre Sales Manager at Enghouse Interactive
- David Evans – Head of Product Management at Vonage
- Natalee Wiggins – Contact Centre Specialist at Twilio
- Wendy Mikkelsen – Senior Director of Product Marketing at Sprinklr
- Ted Hunting – Senior Vice President of Marketing at Bright Pattern
- Atif Rashid – Solutions Director of Transformation at Webhelp
- Nuri Gocay – Chief Solutions Officer at Local Measure
- Richard Dumas – VP of Product Marketing, and Blake Nelson, VP of Services Operations at Five9
Unpack all of their invaluable advice and top-notch tips below as they grapple with a series of questions often asked by those assessing CCaaS solutions.
Which Omnichannel Features of a CCaaS Solution Are Mission-Critical for the Modern Contact Centre?
Beeston: The modern omnichannel CCaaS solution should provide, as a minimum, the following mission-critical features:
- Reliability, security, and high availability.
- Relevant capabilities to the smallest and largest organisations across many vertical markets.
- Almost zero IT resource requirements and no infrastructure investment at all.
- Availability as a flexible ‘SaaS’ model with a choice of contract terms, so companies enjoy the latest omnichannel customer engagement functionality and instant scalability, business agility, and analytics that combine to create the best possible customer experience.
- Scalability to support evolving contact centre operations.
- Support for all customer channels, including voice, email, chat, SMS, social media, and video.
- Workflows that allow agents to handle a blend of different interaction types simultaneously.
- Recording and reporting, both real-time and historical, across the entire estate.
- Simple customisation and branding features to increase value and relevance for users.
- Rich and flexible feature functionality to support end-users and drive CX.
- A significant scope for modernisation and transformation strategies.
- Robust CRM integration capabilities, giving agents critical customer context to enhance and personalize contact handling.
Evans: It is critical to integrate the CCaaS solution with a CRM platform to optimise omnichannel capabilities and every customer conversation. Whether it is SMS, email, automated chat, or a phone call, agents must have the correct information on-hand to handle each query effectively.
Creating a real-time link with the CRM enables organisations to offer customers a seamless, personalised, omnichannel support experience.
In doing so, contact centres may improve critical metrics, including first call resolution (FCR) rates, hold time, and customer satisfaction scores, alongside empowering employees and increasing ROI.
The ability to identify a customer, understand their intent, and route them to the most appropriate service or channel based on their desired outcome is fundamental to the modern contact centre operation.
Indeed, each interaction must route to the right destination. Whether through automated self-service or a human, operations must meet the customer’s desired outcome on their first contact.
Also, providing a consistent experience across all interactions and tracking customer context as they switch between channels and different areas of a business is paramount. In doing so, companies may isolate improvement opportunities and deliver actual value to customers.
Mikkelsen: First, a digital-led, unified contact centre architecture that offers a single view of all interactions across channels – including voice, chat, messaging, apps, email, and social media. Unifying siloed systems for a 360-degree view of customer care is a top priority for many companies.
Second, robust digital self-service capabilities, including an SEO optimized knowledge base, AI-moderated community forums, and chatbots that reduce customer churn and decrease costs. Maximizing these online self-service options will significantly impact overall contact volumes.
Third, conversational analytics that exploits advanced AI to assess customer conversations and agent responses in real-time. It then uses actionable data to deliver proactive and more personalized care.
However, many companies have limited or missing sets of conversation and CX data, which impacts the effectiveness of each feature. After all, their existing contact centre systems were not designed to understand unstructured conversation data.
Fortunately, conversation analytics uses AI to understand intent, sentiment, emotion, and valuable patterns across voice and digital interactions. It also provides a real-time, accurate view of CSAT and quality, which may optimize routing strategies.
Hunting: First, the solution should offer omnichannel capabilities, facilitating a single continuous conversation across all channels. Yet, most contact centres are still multichannel, not true omnichannel.
Over the years, vendors have confused companies as many claim to offer omnichannel, but they are multichannel – i.e., they have the channels, but they are siloed. They don’t work as a single conversation. Such a system requires a unified omnichannel desktop to see every interaction across each channel and the complete journey history at their fingertips.
Secondly, the CCaaS solution should include emerging channels like messaging (Facebook, WhatsApp, etc.) as customer preferences turn digital. McKinsey highlight the speed of this transition, noting how digital channel adoption vaulted forward five years in eight weeks due to the pandemic, and these new channels are what is next. In the future, they will likely overtake live chat in volume.
Thirdly, Gartner and other prominent analysts report CX is a top-three priority for enterprises and mid-size companies, yet most people only measure QA across the voice channel. Yet, companies often still only sample one percent of calls.
So, companies should consider a CCaaS solution that includes omnichannel quality management and monitors 100% of interactions on every channel. After all, it is tricky to improve CX if it is impossible to measure.
Finally, consider remote and mobile capabilities, which are quick to deploy. These include empowerment tools, helping agents do their job with knowledge bases and customer info at their fingertips, alongside agent-assist and subject matter expert support channels that replicate hands-on support systems.
Rashid: A CCaaS solution must deliver seamless identification and routing across channels, especially when a channel shift occurs.
Identifying conversational context and intent is critical. A concierge capability, which triages the reason for contact while attempting a degree of self-service through automation, is popular in the service realm.
To achieve this, the CCaaS solution must integrate with critical data environments and CRM tools to understand the triage and decision-making process. Investing in the necessary APIs, data lakes, AI, or rules-based decision engines can transform the business through complementary CCaaS tooling.
Such integrations are critical for disruptive transformation. A CCaaS marketplace offering allows digital-first deployment capabilities – such as asynchronous messaging with out of the box integration, written automation, intuitive triage-based web forms, and conversational bots that act as virtual assistants.
Employee experience is also critical. The end state should provide a single unified desktop view. After all, the industry is moving to customer service specialists rather than a dedicated voice, chat, or email agent.
The optimal CCaaS solutions should render applications into this Unified Desktop view, while integrations must work symbiotically to achieve the ideal business, customer, and employee outcomes.
Gocay: Many solutions claim to be “omnichannel”, yet customers rarely receive unified experiences. Most feel like they are talking to different departments. Unless channels tie back to a customer profile, companies merely collect a host of unrelated data, which provides no insights that will enhance service experiences.
Asynchronous messaging is also becoming widespread, which links to the broader trend of allowing customers to contact when, where, and how they want, rather than when the company dictates.
To create an omnichannel customer experience, seamless integration of all online and offline channels is essential. Such a capability also enables everyone in the organisation to become an agent.
So, for instance, if a customer wishes to check stock, the call routes automatically to the relevant store. There, the employee should see contact centre history on their mobile or desktop devices. With a next-generation modern CCaaS solution, all this is possible.
Which Native Workforce Engagement Management (WEM) Tools Are Now Essential to the Employee Experience?
Beeston: CCaaS solutions should integrate with external Workforce Management applications to enhance forecasting, scheduling and intraday management process with agent and interaction data.
Ideally, standard WFM Connectors will come with the CCaaS solution and integrate with market leaders, including Calabrio and Verint.
Many will also offer native WFM capabilities, but some choose not to. For instance, Enghouse Interactive does not as many environments prefer to use, and are highly familiar with, their existing WFM application.
Instead, with its Calabrio integration, users can harness a market-leading WFM offering. Indeed, the Calabrio solution allows employees to request vacation time and swap shifts via a comprehensive portal while keeping them notified of scheduled breaks during the working day.
Evans: WFM solutions are helpful, particularly in larger contact centres, to optimise resources by combining scheduling and forecasting. A single, pre-integrated platform from a single vendor connects WFM and telephony seamlessly, allowing the contact centre to enhance schedules consistently to meet service level agreements.
In addition, operations may accurately predict demand by harnessing existing data to improve and automate staffing calculations.
Coaching solutions that allow supervisors to drop into any inbound or outbound call in real-time, directly through the CRM, are highly beneficial too. Many utilise a “whisper” mode to offer on-the-spot coaching and review to identify excellent improvement opportunities.
A gamification option rewards employees when they reach a personal or business goal. The fun, game-type elements create engaging activities out of everyday tasks to encourage the team, discourage negative behaviour, and promote office-wide altruism.
Wiggins: Every agent needs the right tools to do their job, which involves having the right information at the right time to resolve the customer queries quickly.
As such, the focus needs to be on the agent desktop. After all, seamlessly surfacing relevant information for every interaction is the biggest driver for delivering a good employee experience.
Alongside this, being proactive and communicating across teams while empowering them to do the right things goes a long way.
Mikkelsen: Automated quality management ensures that customer service and agent performance are consistent while enabling supervisors to monitor employee experiences.
In addition, with automated quality management, companies can track agent interactions using AI to reveal where and how teams can improve in real-time. Doing so may highlight coaching opportunities for agents while eliminating manual quality assurance processes and time-consuming compliance management.
Hunting: First, equip agents with the tools to remotely schedule shifts from a desktop or mobile phone. Having this ability offers the work-life balance that is critical to morale.
Unfortunately, most WFM plans are not so mature. Indeed, most contact centres focus primarily on scheduling and forecasting voice calls, but they do not adequately schedule omnichannel interactions. A true omnichannel WFM capability enables companies to balance efficiency with effectiveness to maximize resources.
Pre-built integrations to solutions like Microsoft Teams are also invaluable. These enable agents to connect with SMEs anywhere in the organisation, on every channel, whether it is a phone call, chat or messenger conversation.
Rashid: With the shift in remote working communication, visibility, flexibility, quality management, and enhanced security have become paramount for an effective WEM environment.
Leading CCaaS vendors have effective mature WEM tooling that paves the way for these capabilities. Yet, integration to Unified Comms and conference tools enables additional functionalities.
For instance, brands can utilise Microsoft Teams or Zoom to interact with remote teams and provide invaluable support channels.
Also, the use of analytics tools such as Power BI and Tableau have increased to provide the necessary visibility to measure and observe teams and organisational performance.
Then, there is gamification, which transforms motivational and reward programmes rather than driving traditional sales, creating a new cultural shift with increased employee engagement.
Finally, advanced CRM and workflow tooling integrate with CCaaS and WEM software, allowing planners and organisations to build advanced flexibility for colleagues without impacting service levels or customer experience.
Gocay: The shift from workforce management to workforce engagement is well underway. This trend comes as more contact centres recognise the benefit of an engaged agent is the difference between an exceptional service experience and an average one.
No longer should cold and impersonal metrics rule the roost. Instead, data-driven empowerment and engagement must come to the fore. Supplying agents with real-time feedback – alongside access to the data they need, when they need it – complements excellent EX and CX.
Such feedback should channel through agent devices. For this reason – alongside others – the desktop experience is a significant contact centre consideration.
Leaders must mull over which screens agents look at, the number of tabs they open, the ease of navigation, and the accessibility of customer information. By understanding this context, contact centres can streamline processes – possibly with robotic process automation (RPA) – to engage agents and facilitate better customer conversations.
Which CCaaS Tools Bring the Modern-Day Cognitive Contact Centre to Life?
Beeston: Beyond the table-stakes features discussed previously, there is an emerging suite of tools taking contact centre intelligence to the next level. These include:
- Video Connected Agents. Many leading CCaaS solutions offer a native video capability that supports iOS and Android devices. Consider the Enghouse solution; its Agent TouchPoint UI sits within any mobile device. Leveraging the advanced routing capabilities of Enghouse CCaaS, Vidyo provides new streams for customer-agent collaboration. Front and Rear camera selection options for customers help solve product problems in real-time, while the possibility of inviting additional participants to a video conference also exists.
- AI Analytics. CCaaS providers now offer analytics capabilities that go beyond historical reports. For instance, Enghouse CCaaS integrates with IBM Watson Studio, a leading data science and machine learning platform built for AI-powered businesses. The platform works with Enghouse CCaaS to enable enterprises to gain valuable insights from their customer interactions and data assets, injecting predictions into business processes, services, applications, and product offerings.
- Real-Time Speech Analytics. Providing agents with an interface that tracks various speech evaluators, alongside checking for the use of compliance statements and other phrases, enables real-time coaching that supercharges agent performance.
- Smart Quality. The ability to use AI to mine and score recordings before escalating to supervisors – highlighting improvement opportunities and excellent performance – is powerful.
- Knowledge Management. Providing agents with an interface that tracks various speech evaluators, alongside checking for the use of compliance statements and other phrases, enables real-time coaching that supercharges agent performance.
Evans: Speech analytics detects trends based on programmed keywords and phrases, alongside variations in pitch, silences, and emotions, offering a complete picture of what customers think about a product, service, or experience.
As a result, the solution provides the ultimate tool for uncovering customer pain points and making improvements that can enhance CX and increase sales.
In a busy contact centre environment, keeping track of customer wants and needs is difficult. Even when agents handle hundreds of calls every day, speech analytics helps gauge satisfaction levels, allowing contact centres to introduce pre-emptive actions that ensure customers return.
Having a human and empathetic lens on how best to serve your customers is more important than ever. As such, companies must carefully balance a mix of AI and conversational digital channels with human contact.
Another AI innovation is speech analytics, which increases contact centre intelligence in numerous ways. First and foremost, it allows operations to accurately assess why customers contact them.
Harnessing this knowledge, companies can signpost customers to the best channel to find a fast resolution. Doing so while providing reassurance and empathy is the ultimate goal.
Mikkelsen: Conversational AI allows contact centres to:
- Automate routine interactions with bots
- Empower agents with the right, real-time responses
- Understand intent, sentiment, and patterns in customer behaviour
Building on this last benefit, teams may create experiences that make modern contact centre experiences feel more human – i.e., personal, intuitive, and contextual.
Conversational AI also automates tasks such as checking an account balance or tracking orders. It can also troubleshoot customer questions, provide answers to FAQs, and triage customer messages to provide important context to agents.
In addition, it may surface the best agent responses for relevant topics, pulled automatically from previous cases, to improve productivity and reduce agent training time.
Finally, particular solutions provide the power to learn from customer data and experiences across marketing, sales, and service while deploying those insights across the entire enterprise to make customers happier.
Hunting: Everybody talks about AI, but so much is noise. It is critical to focus on specific use cases where AI makes a tangible difference on performance. Agent-assist is an excellent example, often built into or integrated with the contact centre.
Such a solution offers the ability to suggest responses to a chat, messaging conversation, or email conversation. While these capabilities are sometimes native, many CCaaS providers will also integrate with Microsoft, Google, Lex, or IBM Watson to harness the technology.
Another example of contact centre AI complementing CX is real-time sentiment analysis. Combining this with a voicebot powered by speech recognition enables sophisticated routing strategies. What’s more, a low sentiment interaction may trigger a real-time alert to a retention specialist, who may join the conversation, no matter the channel.
AI identification can also exploit the potential of word clouds to identify phrases like “cancel service” in real-time, supporting agents to delicately handle these mission-critical conversations.
Rashid: Before deploying a CCaaS solution, contact centres must understand business aspirations, build a contact strategy, and map out CX across all touchpoints.
A data and customer journey-led approach is vital. Only then can companies tap into the flexible capabilities offered through CCaaS and marketplace tooling.
That said, the following CCaaS tools are helpful:
- AI and NLP-powered omnichannel virtual assistants.
- Asynchronous conversation through integrations to messaging apps.
- Advanced routing with a seamless hand-off, alongside the ability to channel shift while conversing with customers.
- Integrated WEM tooling and environments fully enabled for UC and with integrations to people, HR, and reward applications.
- Advanced data analytics to understand intent and sentiment across each conversation, resulting in ongoing transformation and change programmes.
- Out of the box integrations to CRM, data, and workflow tooling, enabling personalised CX.
- SIP and cloud solutions that negate the need for physical infrastructure and do not limit secure remote working.
- Advanced phishing malware and biometric-enabled encryption and authentication.
Gocay: Real-time transcription and sentiment analysis offer invaluable customer context that supports the service experience and broader CX design initiatives.
Prioritizing such initiatives often starts with understanding why customers are calling and the prominence of each contact reason. Speech analytics helps here too, by automating ticket tagging.
Yet, even the most modern cognitive contact centre must prioritise the human touch. It may have the best digital journey in the world, but – if there is no human offramp to manage the process in case the digital experience goes wrong – customer satisfaction is far from guaranteed.
To maximize agent conversations and this human touch, a knowledge base and other integrations are often critical.
Indeed, a well-managed knowledge base gives agents the ability to solve a customer problem effortlessly. Meanwhile, if the contact centre can harness CCaaS to stitch together back and front end systems seamlessly, they can achieve better customer outcomes.
Dumas: Contact centres will see the most significant performance gains when humans and machines collaborate and complement each other’s capabilities. To harness this collaborative intelligence, a new generation of tools is necessary.
AI embedded into CCaaS tools is the next “must-have”. Such AI empowers the human workforce to “punch above their weight”, helping contact centres respond to the increasing volume and complexity of interactions without burning out agents and causing churn.
Throughout their journey, these tools also support customers – as well as during and after an engagement. Meanwhile, AI can help administrators and managers as they analyse how to improve contact centre performance and adapt to changing business conditions.
What Essential CCaaS Services Should the Provider Offer?
Beeston: A CCaaS provider should provide the following services:
- Training. End-user training is critical. Enghouse uses a train-the-trainer approach. Depending on the size of the operation, training lasts between four hours and five working days.
- Comprehensive Tenant Onboarding. The implementation process should provide consistent, repeatable deployments within agreed timelines. It is also critical that the vendor creates a Statement of Requirement (SOR) with new customers, containing a brief introduction of the business issues, agent population size, interaction channels, SIP Trunk section, In/Out Scope, integrations or custom works, and goals.
- Self-Administration Access. Contact centres should have the ability to self-administer active queues, skills, agent assignments, and other functional requirements.
- Quick Customer Support. Global CCaaS vendors should make certified resources available 24 hours per day to provide world-class support to end-users. A programme of quarterly business reviews to discuss current system utilisation and improvement opportunities are also a welcome support service.
Evans: Virtual assistants help organisations respond to high contact volumes. Deployed through the voice and messaging channels, they offer immediate customer service, facilitate a conversation to understand intent, and take the appropriate action.
In addition, bots make it more effortless for organisations to maximise the efficiency of service teams while delivering exceptional CX. This capability enables businesses to expand their contact centre without increasing headcount and provide 24-hour service with minimal human involvement.
While the contact centre queue is peaking, the virtual assistant offsets simple tasks. As such, agents may focus on high-value, loyalty-building interactions while improving handle times and FCR.
Typically, business insights also increase and costs plummet through operational efficiencies. Meanwhile, the customer does not wait long, and straightforward queries are immediately resolved.
Wiggins: The platform must allow organisations to test, learn, and optimize performance by deploying new services and capabilities.
Also, it needs to be agile and allow companies to evolve and adapt in an ever-changing environment.
Finally, vendors need to take learnings from other customers to share best practices and innovative ways of redefining CX.
Mikkelsen: Today, many customer service teams handle increased contact volumes but have limited resources to combat them. As this demand rises, so does the cost of labour. Meanwhile, turnover is a constant challenge for many contact centres.
For smaller teams, supporting dozens of communication channels is often complex. Ideally, they will access an out-of-the-box customer service solution that they can roll out in minutes, where adding a new channel is just a few clicks away.
Also, even for smaller teams, AI is becoming increasingly critical. Everyone can benefit from an AI engine that delivers real-time conversation analytics and automates quality management, performance insights, service levels and CSAT metrics.
With fewer resources, contact centre teams want to implement such solutions quickly, without complex implementation wait times and roll-out phases.
Alternatively, enterprise contact centres need a partner that offers complete implementation and consultation services. Such a partner must also be willing to team up with them on custom integration and application services while clarifying support services within the contract.
Hunting: First off, it is possible to deploy CCaaS solutions in weeks – and sometimes days – without dedicated IT or professional service teams.
For instance, Bright Pattern turned on a contact centre for the State of Maryland to handle vaccine scheduling in 23 hours. So, while additional services are necessary, they should not require a company to spend hundreds of thousands and spend months to implement.
With that said, it is critical to join forces with a vendor that delivers the envisioned use cases and offers ongoing support.
Rashid: Providers should promote an adventurous collaborative pilot or proof of concept using specific use cases and a low disruption, high-value minimum viable product (MVP). Doing so allows qualification and innovative thinking to be tested before making a significant investment.
Such an approach builds a relationship, trust, and allows providers to demonstrate their capabilities. It is not one size fits all. Instead, it empowers the organisation to assess the maturity of its data environments, application layer, and whether an enterprise rich CCaaS offering aligns with needs.
Ideally, the offering will include a marketplace environment that offers a seamless drag and drop experience or enables a unique application layer.
Flexible commercial terms are critical for leveraging value-add components, as are SaaS models rather than licensing when procuring applications.
Finally, services are also essential. For example, Webhelp has experienced that – post-implementation – the application environment becomes outdated when moving to an innovative future state. As such, a proactive service proposition should factor in market trends, analytics, and customer needs with recommendations on how to transform. After all, innovation and evolution are vital. CCaaS providers sometimes lack these services, so partnering with a credible consulting or partner organisation is preferred.
Gocay: Companies must consider how well a CCaaS solution fits their digital strategy. An offering that is quick and easy for the entire business to implement, use, and maintain – including admin, agents, and IT – is paramount.
As such, providers must provide:
- Flexibility – A platform that scales easily and includes the ability to turn on channels as and when required is crucial, as is flexibility to integrate with other business systems.
- Scalability – Contact centres should ramp up and ramp down their capacity on-demand
- Reliability – The ideal CCaaS solution is always on, with no downtime or maintenance windows to manage.
Nelson: A good CCaaS provider works with their customers to implement new solutions and has a well-defined but flexible methodology that helps achieve results.
It is critical that the vendor adapts the CCaaS solution based on business goals and success criteria, configures the technology, trains staff, and validates the solution meets your business requirements.
When the implementation is complete, they must continue to work with the company to review and optimize the solution. Doing so helps teams build the competence and confidence to run the next-generation contact centre.
Indeed, a leading vendor will approach the relationship as a true partnership, not merely a transactional relationship.
As such, they should offer a responsive, competent customer service team that troubleshoots issues quickly. Further, if use cases are complex and there is a need for ongoing advice and guidance as the contact centre grows, check for a dedicated Technical Account Manager (TAM).
A TAM is always helpful because they provide regular account reviews, personalized new release previews, training, and consulting hours to support growth and optimisation.
Did you miss our previous roundtable that lifts the lid on how video is changing CX? Check it out here: Inspiring Customer Engagement With Video