There is much to recommend about the value of cloud-based contact centers. Most leading platforms have made cloud-first their primary architecture.
But when it comes time to move, make sure you move to the cloud for the right reasons and with your business goals in mind. The wrong objectives can lead to major failure and missed opportunity.
The cloud has undisputed benefits including easy flexibility to scale up or down to meet changing business needs and significantly lower upfront costs. Cloud architecture has powerful potential to enable better outcomes.
The key question is: what strategic changes would meaningfully improve your business outcomes?
With outcomes in mind, imagine how you might tune your business processes and ways of working, interacting, and delivering service. Knowing which strategic changes will make meaningful impact lies within insights that are not necessarily at your fingertips.
So why are so many organizations still struggling to achieve the expected outcomes?
Data is your most powerful asset. But timely, contextual, and actionable insights from data are not inherently available: not unless you work with cloud toolsets designed to unify datasets. These toolsets can help you see meaningful patterns emerge and prepare you to take actions based on data to improve business processes and outcomes.
APIs allow for integration with other systems and applications. They enable the unification of those disparate datasets to make possible meaningful analysis of your total experience.
You can streamline workflows and get a deeper view of your customers via a unified view of CRM systems, help desk software, survey data, analytics platforms, or any tools where your customer interaction data is created and stored. When you have enabled a comprehensive, transparent view of the experience, the insights can be astounding.
Robust disaster recovery and business continuity are capabilities that the right cloud contact center software offers as well. Your data is strategically stored with security and redundancy in mind to reduce the risk of data loss due to hardware failures, natural disasters, or other unforeseen events.
Utilize the inherent flexibility. With cloud-based applications, agents can theoretically work from anywhere with an internet connection. This flexibility enables remote work opportunities, allows for distributed teams, and can help attract and retain top talent.
Cloud software can be deployed quickly compared to on-premise solutions since there is no need for physical infrastructure setup, installation, or configuration. And these remote agents can be added in minutes.
Cloud or software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers take care of system updates, patches, and maintenance tasks, ensuring that you are always using up-to-date technology. This relieves your IT staff from the burden of managing and maintaining the infrastructure, allowing them to focus on more strategic tasks.
Perhaps most critically, the cloud also enables powerful AI (artificial intelligence) capabilities that impact the bottom line. Examples include (but not limited to):
- Accurate demand forecasting: identifying busy cycles and enabling preparation and staffing.
- Realtime assistance for agents: on-demand coaching and guidance for agents engaged with customers…when they need it most.
- Personalized training for each agent that helps them learn faster and retain more knowledge.
- Enhanced customer experience (CX) by providing agents with the context and history that demonstrates familiarity and insight.
Is the cloud transformative? Yes, it can be. Is it easy? It can be. So why are so many organizations still struggling to achieve the expected outcomes?
Moving to the cloud is more than a technical challenge. I have seen firsthand that when shifting people and platforms, the strategy and tools you use are pivotal. There is a very important blend of art and science that goes into building a strategy that centers around understanding people and performance, and how a technology shift will hinder them or make them soar.
I have seen common threads to success in large federal government and large enterprise customers moving their contact centers to the cloud. The determining factor for their large-scale cloud successes was in the mindset and strategic approach around why they were moving to the cloud and what business outcomes they were aiming to achieve in the process.
The solutions we deploy for contact centers must be secure, thoughtful, and tested.
If you are going to move to the cloud simply to change and update technology platforms, you are going to miss a lot of opportunities to achieve better results.
Imagine your rationale is a mere cost analysis like, “My on-premise hardware is $X a year; my software license fees are $X a year; my staff is $X a year. I am going to move to the cloud. All that is magically going to improve.”
If that is how you look at it, you are likely not going to meet your expectations because that is not a solid business case.
Ultimately, a big differentiator for those who succeed versus those who fall short of achieving outcomes aligned with their expectations is a deep understanding of the current state.
Knowing what is working and what is not working and implementing the right technology tools to manage that transition is essential to achieving better outcomes. So, yes, of course, move to the cloud, but make sure you have the right strategy and toolset lined up.
There is much to glean from the experience of those who have already moved to the cloud. The race to the cloud took off with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The contact center industry is experiencing momentum to the cloud. Pre-pandemic statistics were just 36% cloud or hybrid based, according to Aberdeen Strategy. Fast forward to 2023 and Gartner is now projecting CCaaS will represent 60% of licenses in 2027.
The cloud became necessary to enable the rapid shift to a remote workforce. But once companies started arriving to the cloud, they realized that their CX was not necessarily getting better. This lack of progress has been shown in global satisfaction surveys for several years now.
There are several reasons for this. Enabling a remote agent workforce required many cloud channels to be deployed, such as Salesforce or Zendesk for chat, and Talkdesk for voice, or some other blend of similar applications.
Also, many organizations have “vendor sprawl” across the different silos of applications. And some of the tools that are designed to help us manage these applications, in turn, create new data silos that have to be combined. Even though these apps are all in “the cloud,” it is not just one cloud. The solutions we deploy for contact centers must be secure, thoughtful, and tested.
AI is already integral to modern contact center operations and growing in importance. And while it is a bit choppy at the moment, Generative AI tools like ChatGPT will become a big part of some major shifts going forward.
Generative AI tools have tremendous possibilities, but few of us are comfortable with the idea that conversation data could be moved from where it is captured and input for analysis elsewhere.
Imagine agents copying customer conversations into ChatGPT to get a recommended response. Or inputting a batch of data for analysis.
The general expectation is that conversation data should be kept confidential so this could violate any number of governmental and industry regulations, customer contracts, etc. AI is critical to modern contact center deployments, but AI must be delivered from and built within a transparent and secure technology stack for a multitude of security, privacy, and regulatory reasons.
Getting to that single source of truth is not always straightforward. Many contact centers have BPOs (business process outsourcers) that might be handling a percentage of our interaction traffic. But we need to be able to see that traffic in the context of all existing traffic to truly understand the customer journey and generate a single source of truth across all these systems and organizations.
But obtaining that single source is challenging even within organizations. For example, I have a large banking customer that wants to aggregate their data for insights, but also needs to disaggregate their data.
The customer does not want their private client conversations to be seen by the credit card team because there are different priorities and levels of security among the supervisors. But they still need all the data in one place to understand the customer journey. Success lies in the nuances of how you control these intricate and highly critical needs.
How Best to Migrate/Ascend Your Contact Center to the Cloud
Migrating (or ascending) a contact center to the cloud is a complex process that requires careful planning and execution.
Here are some key steps for a successful migration:
- Set clear migration goals and objectives around metrics such as cost savings, scalability, improved customer service, agent retention, etc.
- Identify what needs to be migrated versus retired or replaced through a comprehensive assessment of your contact center infrastructure.
- Choose the cloud service model that best fits your goals: public, private, or hybrid.
- Select a reliable cloud provider with a strong record based on scalability, security, compliance, and data center footprint.
Testing and Preparation
- Test for performance, call quality, and compatibility with existing systems before going live.
- Continue monitoring and optimizing after migration.
- Implement robust backup and disaster recovery plans to ensure business continuity and minimize downtime.
- Invest in employee training to help staff adapt to new cloud tools, processes, and reduce resistance to change.
Consider a phased migration approach that moves specific teams or functions to the cloud incrementally. This enables a “fail fast/learn fast” approach that minimizes disruptions. Maintain communication with all stakeholders and promote early successes to build momentum.
- Once completed, evaluate contact center performance. Solicit feedback from customers and agents for improvement. Continue monitoring performance to ensure it aligns with evolving business needs.
- Leverage cloud-native needs such as advanced analytics, AI-powered chatbots, real-time reporting, AI-driven demand forecasting, sentiment analysis, live AI conversation guidance, and personalized agent training.
- Stay current with the latest updates and features offered by cloud providers and consider adding a cloud toolset solution.
What Not to Migrate
While cloud-based contact centers offer many benefits, there are some scenarios in which staying with on-premise solutions may be more effective for you.
Contact centers with specialized hardware (e.g., 911 lines) or highly customized or complex integrations to multiple legacy backend systems on outdated protocols may be difficult to replicate in the cloud. The decision to migrate should be based on a thorough assessment of the organization’s needs and goals. It should put those goals first in the migration strategy.
By following these best practices, contact center operators can navigate cloud migration successfully, ensuring a smooth transition that maximizes the benefits of the cloud for customer service and operations while minimizing potential disruptions.
Then there is the most crucial factor of managing the agents who engage with your customers. In many cases, agents have two to five years of experience, and the churn rate is extremely high. Moreover – and critically - many of the agents who are in the workforce right now started out their careers working-from-home (WFH).
These agents were recruited at home. They still expect to WFH. Preparing for this new hybrid workforce is critical. Learning to onboard, train, coach, and inspire in the cloud is part of a successful strategy.
One large scale project that I worked on during COVID was with Maximus (a premier government BPO) for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that needed to hire agents to handle vaccination hotlines. Remote agents were brought in, deployed practically overnight, and trained in a week. The whole thing was stood up within about eight weeks.
But can you imagine trying to hire tens of thousands of people for remote work across the country who can meet a security clearance suitable to handle CDC-related phone calls?
Our customer, Maximus, had to solve that problem. The cloud was the only place to solve it.
What became even harder was training these agents at home. As they progressed, some became supervisors. Having done this for many years, I know that walking the floor of a contact center will tell you a lot of what you need to know about empathy, about buzz, about the general happiness of the agents, and about how things are going today overall.
What happens when you lose that tactile feel? The churn rate is high. Remote work creates more opportunity for dissatisfaction to go unnoticed. These jobs are hard. Agents do not always have the knowledge or guidance they need. They are too often not being properly trained.
These are talented and usually dedicated individuals. They want enough information to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. They are typically very comfortable with technology.
If we give these agents the right tools and empower them, they will do a better job. In fact, they would like to be able to study their own performance.
But the toolsets of previous generations, even when they moved to the cloud, were still very top down, very monolithic. This does not help agents. Simply moving those tools to the cloud does not solve the problem.
We commissioned a study with Forrester Consulting recently and studied how a “toolset” can be a key indicator of cloud contact center migration success.
The reason is because contact center operators are struggling even though they made the transition to the cloud for all those great benefits.
The problem gets back to the root cause: contact centers migrated to the cloud for the wrong reason(s). Maybe they were sent to the cloud by COVID-19 since they could not move workers to their physical contact center. Maybe a sales rep told them they really need to move to the cloud because the on-premise version is going away.
Winning with cloud contact centers is a mindset...set a course for sustainable success in the future.
In the Forrester Consulting study, half of the operators said they are lacking functionality from their previous on-prem tools. There are different types of contact centers, not just service, but only one in three of them feel like they can drive their business outcomes.
The study said that they were looking for better ways of:
- Improving quality management.
- Increasing the amount of revenue that they are getting out of their contact center.
- Understanding, decoding, and driving agent efficiency.
- Reducing customer churn.
These are all problems that plagued nearly every contact center for the last two or three decades. The magic of the cloud is that it gives us the opportunity to not just move to a different architecture, but to get access to all our datasets in real time, extract context and meaning and even more, to apply automation and actions that drive better outcomes.
The example of the CDC hotline shows a way forward by using integrated data analytics behind the scenes. Right away, it had reporting and analytics telling them what was happening. We identified what people were saying and feeling. We studied the data and broke it down by state, by zip code, by the data points they needed to understand.
We looked at different areas of the country and displayed heatmaps showing critical patterns. We put this data in front of the CDC technologists and decision-makers, and they started asking questions. This represented real progress, because then we were in this hypothesis-driven conversation that you dream about having with a customer that really wants to solve this problem.
They started asking questions like, “what do you think is driving vaccine hesitancy?” Since this is private healthcare information it all had to be self-contained. We used advanced machine learning tools in a closed ecosystem. The data stayed in a secure place. And the humans at the CDC got to work with the data and insights they need to be their best and brightest.
The CDC asked where vaccine hesitancy comes up. We gave them a tool where they could jump to the middle of a call to listen. So, a PhD who is highly trained in pandemic research can jump to a real live conversation with different people to gauge how people feel and why, immediately accelerating the learning curve by years over conventional study.
In conclusion, when you approach the cloud this way, you get to measure outcomes and help executives get the information they need to operate the business.
Don’t just move to the cloud because it is the next good idea. Winning with cloud contact centers is a mindset. Have a plan to study and understand where you are performing well today, where your gaps are, and set a course for sustainable success in the future.