CommentaryOperations ManagementTrends

The Future Is Here

Marilyn Saulnier is the Director of Global Contact Center Consulting at Interactive Intelligence.
Marilyn Saulnier is the Director of Global Contact Center Consulting at Interactive Intelligence.

It’s starting to feel like we are living in a science fiction movie. Technologies that used to exist only in the movies and comic books are becoming a reality. It’s kind of weird, exciting and scary—all at the same time. In the past, we had the luxury of time to adjust to changes in the contact center industry. Those days are gone. The world has an unquenchable thirst for high-tech innovation and it is coming at us like flies on a windshield. It is going to impact the contact center industry in a big way. Get ready or get left behind.

Big data is going to be a game changer. It is a train barreling down the tracks, picking up speed as it rolls into your life. With big data, companies will know what people want and need before they know it themselves. Big data will become increasingly more powerful and intrusive as technology provides the ability to amass and analyze enormous amounts of data.

Biometric authentication through voice, retina and fingerprint will displace ID and password authentication. With so many security breaches and rampant fraud, this is a welcome innovation. Another big bonus is that we will no longer need to remember a billion IDs and password combinations. Biometric authentication and big data will be a powerful team. It will minimize the need for IVR routing by connecting the caller with the right resource without requiring caller action. Natural language speech will prompt the customer for the call reason when needed and IVRs will fade into obscurity.

Artificial intelligence. Even the name is kind of scary, right? Science fiction is becoming science fact. AI virtual agents will become a reality in the next decade. Think of agents that have unlimited capacity for knowledge, retain everything they learn, do not require breaks, lunches, vacations, and who can speak to customers in natural language and provide a highly personalized customer experience. AI will be the ultimate in self-service options.

THE FUTURE IS HEREThe need for live agents will continue. Liveagent interactions are becoming more complex than ever as self-service options become increasingly more powerful and user-friendly. This requires higher levels of skills and more investment in training and performance coaching. Powerful, robust knowledge bases must be developed and maintained to support the agents in handled these complex interactions. Poorly maintained KBs will no longer be an option.

Technology innovations are exploding all around us. They are impacting all areas of our lives, including how we communicate, travel, eat, shop, manage our health, socialize, etc. We already have cars that can park themselves. Mercedes-Benz will reportedly have cars that can drive themselves by 2020. Tesla and Google are also investing heavily in driverless cars. You will be able to get into your car and say “home.” Computer wearables will be big. Clothing will have the ability to check your vital signs and tell you when to get active, slow down, hydrate or get to an emergency room quickly. Retail stores will create avatars for shoppers that will choose which jeans will look best on you. Awesome. Virgin Galactic will fly civilians into space. Richard Branson’s $24 billion empire has had its share of bumps in the road in its quest for space, but in true pioneer spirit, Branson is not deterred. Think of how these customer interactions will change in the future. It’s hard to get your head around it.

Are You Ready for the Future? It’s Closer Than You Think

“The future depends on what we do in the present.”—Mahatma Gandhi

That is a very profound statement from a very wise man. Most companies want to provide a good customer experience. It’s not typical for a company’s mission to be “to provide mediocre service,” or to be recognized for the most complex, convoluted IVR, to have the least trained, least helpful and rudest agents ever, or to have the most obsolete, unreliable and customer unfriendly technology in the industry, right? Most corporate visions and mission statements are very inspirational statements about how exceptional their company is, how they will beat their competition, and how their customers will be devoted to them.

Sadly, there is often a major disconnect between the lofty corporate goals and the ability for the contact center to execute upon those goals. The following are five fundamental components that need to be in place to provide an excellent customer experience. Gaps in these areas are putting many contact centers at future risk. Consider each component, assess how you are doing in the present and make it a priority to close any gaps that you identify. Start now, not later—because it’s already later than you think.


We have not done a great job of developing strong leaders as an industry. We have been very task-oriented, focused on real time and very much in the weeds. Don’t get me wrong, real-time management skills are highly regarded in our world. But it is time to step up and fill the senior leadership role that only we are poised to fill. We interact with customers more than any other part of the organization. We are the most powerful voice of the customer. We are a vast repository of customer and business intelligence. We know the broken processes and policies, product and service quality issues, communication failures, etc. Investing in developing leaders in the contact center and sharing the intelligence that only we possess will serve to strengthen the organization.

Contact centers are getting exponentially more complex with each passing day. Without haste:

  • Provide leadership skills training to the contact center management team.
  • Formalize and rollout a succession plan for all critical positions.
  • Enroll your management team in professional associations and make sure that they actively participate.
  • Subscribe to industry publications.
  • Attend contact center conferences and network, network, network.


THE FUTURE IS HEREFinding out about marketing campaigns from customers used to be the most common complaint from contact center managers. The good news is that collaboration between the contact center and marketing has improved in recent years.

However, the IT and contact center collaboration gap seems to be widening. This is a dangerous trend. Managing contact centers in today’s innovative world of multichannel, omnichannel, blended and simultaneous interactions, Internet-empowered customers and big data is extremely challenging. Formalize the relationship by establishing ongoing meetings to review business objectives and create shared goals. You will achieve greater success and avoid costly technology mistakes.


We have long assumed that C-level executives knew everything about everything. We didn’t always like what they told us to do, but we did it—reluctantly and grumbling maybe, but we did it. The reality is that they do not know everything or even much of anything about the contact center. Sometimes the biggest distinction of the contact center to executives is how much it costs. It’s time to grab this bull by the horns. Invest in educating senior management about your value and contribution and you will be surprised at how it will change everything for the better.

  • Develop a formal presentation on the unique dynamics of contact centers, realtime management, data-driven metrics, etc.
  • Show them the math. Getting them to understand the math will be a huge breakthrough. You’ll be speaking their language, which will make getting the needed staff and budget much easier.
  • Share the top five to 10 customer intelligence and business intelligence gaps that are driving customers to the contact center. Quantify the cost to support these contacts and provide recommendations to address the drivers.
  • Emphasize how customer loyalty can be strengthened or broken on each and every customer interaction. Investment in WFM, quality, training, supervisors and performance management are needed to ensure the former. Do some analysis and quantify the cost of not investing in these areas.
  • Do whatever it takes to get senior executives to sit side-by-side, doublejacked with agents to listen to calls for an hour. They will be blown away by how hard the agents’ job is and by how much they know.
  • Customers will become real people with real concerns and desires, and the executive will be forever changed by the experience. Follow up with quarterly agent focus group sessions.



Customers are more empowered and fickle than ever before. Getting and keeping customers has never been more of an imperative than it is today. We hear a lot of talk about focusing on the customer experience, but there is not enough action. It’s time to walk the talk.

Time for customer journey mapping. This is a highly effective process of breaking down the customer experience from initial awareness of your company through all the steps of their engagement with you. This detailed assessment identifies opportunities to improve the customer experience, increase efficiencies, simplify processes and reduce costs, resulting in a win-win for customers and the organization. If you think you already know everything about the customer journey and this would be wasted time and energy, think again. Remember what Gandhi said, “The future depends on what we do in the present.” Drill down and find out what you are doing in the present. You will be amazed at the countless a-ha moments as well as the crazy things you’ll find. Then prioritize and fix what is broken.


It is surprising how much unsupported and obsolete technology still exists within contact centers. No doubt this is an outcome of the gaps identified in the previous four areas. Poorly designed IVRs, lack of CRMs, complex and ineffective call-flow designs, unsupported channels, and technology features and functionality that are not utilized: This house needs to be put in order before adding new technology and complexity to the mix. Senior management, IT and the contact center teams need to collaborate obsessively to:

  • Define a technology strategy and roadmap based on business requirements and ROI.
  • Identify IVR and call-flow design pain points, redesign and validate effectiveness.
  • Analyze gaps in use of technology’s features and functionality, train users and evaluate impact.

Don’t get overwhelmed. You don’t have to do everything all at once, but you do have to get started. Prioritize, pick one area and define what you can do in the next 30, 60 and 90 days. Make time for it and hold yourself accountable. You will thank yourself later.

Marilyn Saulnier is the Director of Global Contact Center Consulting at Interactive Intelligence.

– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline,

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