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3 min read

Contact Centers in the Cloud: A Welcome Disruption

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Three cheers for the energy and innovation that cloud vendors are bringing to financial services contact centers

In 2018 I predicted that cloud contact center platforms would be “mainstream” in financial services within three to five years. I was wrong about one important detail: the shift to cloud delivery is already here.

In recent years, while everything from loan origination systems to CRM to digital banking moved “to the cloud,” contact center platforms remained one of the last bastions of on-premise banking technology. There are a variety of contributing factors, but the bottom line was a total lack of innovation and stagnant capabilities available to bank and credit union contact centers. Well that’s all changing in 2020, and we’re seeing two fundamental developments behind the shift.

First, technology advancements have mitigated the reliability and security concerns. Faster, cheaper, high speed Internet and improved bandwidth mean little to no latency. Improvements in architecture (i.e., microservices) mean greater resiliency and average uptime of 99.99%+. The rise of “public” cloud players like Amazon Web Services and Azure and sophisticated encryption methods mean less chance of sensitive customer data being improperly exposed. Plus, cloud vendors have focused on open application programming interfaces (APIs) and developed novel methods to tie into an organization’s existing telephony, enabling financial institutions to take a best-of-breed approach.

The second development is more subtle but just as important. Contact center platforms are being “unbundled” from the rest of the telephony environment. A little background: For pretty much as long as FIs have had formal call centers, the technology came from the same telephony vendor used across the entire enterprise. If Vandalay Savings Bank bought switches and routers from Cisco, then that’s where it was getting its automatic call distributor (ACD) and other call center components. This was a perfectly rational decision. IT leaders knew and trusted their local resellers, and going with the package deal was viewed as minimizing integration and support challenges. The solutions worked fine when bank call centers were essentially glorified switchboards.

But as contact centers grew more complex — in terms of types of interactions and the range of support topics handled — systems on offer started to show major deficiencies. Whether due to disorganization, complacency or some combination, legacy vendors failed to deliver meaningful innovation. At the same time, contact center vendors that were already successful in other verticals like consumer goods and healthcare began to focus on financial services, seeing a huge market opportunity.

The result is that at least a half dozen new options are now on the table for banks and CUs going to market. While value propositions and go-to-market approaches vary slightly from vendor to vendor, the business outcomes delivered by cloud players are compelling:

Increased agent flexibility – Modern, web-based agent desktops mean that representatives with a laptop and Internet connection can log in and start handling calls from virtually anywhere. This matters for disaster recovery situations but is also important as flex time and non-traditional schedules become the norm.

Reduced administrative burden – Lighter implementations with little to no hardware required mean a much more user-friendly experience in terms of system administration. Gone are the days of waiting on vendors or resellers to make a minor change to the integrated voice response system or build a custom report.

Modernized user experience – Cloud providers are delivering vastly superior agent user interfaces. As many contact centers struggle to attract and retain talent, having a system that doesn’t require intimate knowledge of MS-DOS to navigate should not be overlooked. Modernization extends to managers as well with improved capabilities around real-time performance dashboards, advanced analytics and quality management.

In the digital-first era, the “human voice” of the contact center is as important as ever in delivering a differentiated client experience. Yet, the vast majority of bank and credit union contact centers struggle just to keep up with inbound call volumes. While technology alone isn’t the fix, the potential of cloud-based platforms to positively impact client experience and operational efficiency can’t be ignored.

Don’t get me wrong, GonzoBankers. As with any major technology decision, there are trade-offs to consider, and there’s no “silver bullet” solution. But I’m bullish on the competitive energy and innovation that cloud vendors are bringing to the financial services market in 2020.

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