Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My Contact Centre Top 5 Predictions for 2009

This year I thought I'd do something different to welcome the new year and stick my neck out by making some predictions. I'm often asked what I think the contact centre trends will be in 2009, and so I'll put forward what I think is going to happen.

Making predictions is always a risky business and 2009 looks so turbulent that the risks will increase. I'll have a go, but I am fully prepared that I begin 2010 with a blog post on how I got it wrong!

1. IP Contact Centres will continue to grow rapidly.
I'll start off with a relatively uncontroversial prediction. This is backed by most of the market analysts I've seen, but if 2009 proved anything, then it was that uncontroversial, analyst backed predictions could be totally wrong! The most up to date research I've seen was yesterday on Network World (see: "IP call centers will do well despite VoIP slowdown") where Infonetics' newest report had some interesting statistics. Infonetics predict the market for IP Contact Centre as growing 38% in 2008 and continued growth in 2009. The growth in 2009 could be as low as 5%, but that's still pretty rapid for a relatively mature market segment in recession. Forrester and Gartner have higher figures for growth, but I suspect they will revise them downwards as they reassess them in light of the global economic situation. Still, there is steady momentum towards Voice over IP (VoIP) in all aspects of telephony and I expect contact centre to follow the trend.

2. Fixing customer processes will be a major focus in 2009.
To a certain extent all contact centres (whether using TDM or VoIP for the voice traffic) can now do all the basic things needed, namely answer the phone and provide the agent with some information on the caller. These historically have been what technology spend has been focused on, answering the call (which is all the spend on telephony) and getting usable information to the agent (all the spend on CRM).

The problem is that telephony plus CRM has not not fixed most of the issues customers experience. What matters to customers when they call is (1) did I get my problem fixed? and (2) was it a pleasant experience. I've been interested in 2008 to see the big system integrators start to focus on process (see posts like: "System Integrators write interesting things about contact centre for the downturn!" or "Contact Centres, Process and Six Sigma") and much more focus on the customer experience (see posts like: "HSBC creates 250 UK call centre jobs & offshore in decline").

3. A major contact centre technology provider to fail/ be bought from administrators.
I'm not confident enough to predict who, but the press and blogs are providing quite a selection of possibilities. Nortel has had some rough press (see: "Nortel Drops After WSJ Says It’s Exploring Bankruptcy" and "Juniper: the big winner if Nortel goes under?") to pick just two recent articles and their financial situation is not good. There are still Nortel supporters, and I admire the optimism of the article "Don’t write off Nortel yet", but I can't say I share it. I do agree with the point the article makes that Nortel is underestimated and is still a very technically capable company and is likely to have fewer self-generated problems going forward.

Aspect may also have trouble, despite their alliance with Microsoft (see: "VoiceCon 2008 - IBM, Microsoft & Aspect"), but they haven't had the focus that Nortel has. They have a strong (and lucrative) product in Aspect Workforce Management but their core call centre offerings have seemed to struggle in recent years.

There is always the chance that Microsoft will buy one of these vendors (or perhaps private equity as with Siemens) but I'm not sure I see other obvious candidates. It's possible that SAP or Oracle might move in, as both have bought small IP contact centre companies in the past (SAP bought Wicom and Oracle bought Telephony@work) but that seems less likely.

4. Offshoring to decline further for front line customer service.I think it's hard to see further offshoring as going to be well received by consumers. Offshoring of call centres was perhaps already in decline for reasons of brand reputation and cost (see posts like: "HSBC creates 250 UK call centre jobs & offshore in decline ") and I think consumers will be very hostile to brands that are seen to be destroying jobs. In the banking industry this will be a particular issue, as with the banks potentially dependent on government, the views of politicians may suddenly be very important.

I think offshore for non-customer facing activities, like IT, may well go offshore more rapidly. The signs are there (see "Lloyds TSB offshores IT, not call centre ") and Barclays has been doing this for a while and I think this is an area where offshore may prosper.

5. Predictions will be wrong!
OK, this is a bit of a cheap one, but there is a serious point. In very turbulent times, the range of possible outcomes for a given set of events increases substantially.

The predictions I've made look the most probable, but I'm prepared to apologise profoundly if against my expectation, 2009 turns out to be the year of TDM offshore contact centres!

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