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4 min read

The Sorry State of Contact Center Technology

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Customers love digital self-service—right up until they don’t, and then they want a live person.

In our work with banks and credit unions around the country, an unavoidable truth comes up again and again: Even the flashiest digital strategy falls flat without the backing of a strong contact center. Today’s contact center is the critical human voice of successful multi-channel delivery.

Long-neglected contact center operations are finally getting attention from the C-suite. Executives are quickly finding, however, that rather than gaining valuable efficiencies from their vendor partnerships, technology options represent a huge execution risk. In fact, leaders are faced with navigating a perfect storm of suboptimal technology choices. (For more on what distinguishes contact center leaders from other financial institutions, see our research report on The Future-Ready Contact Center.)

First, the contact center fintech market has been subjected to non-stop consolidation and ownership changes as of late. Just last month, customer experience player Avtex acquired competitor and fellow Genesys re-seller/integrator Adapt Telephony Services.

In addition to the high-profile Avtex/Adapt deal, we’ve seen the following string of events in just the past two years:

  • August 2016: Interactive Intelligence is acquired by Genesys.
  • January 2017: Avaya files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection.
  • September 2017: Mitel acquires ShoreTel.
  • December 2017: Avaya goes public (for the second time).

Unfortunately, the focus on deal making seems to be at the expense of clients in terms of implementation support, functionality roadmaps and overall service.

Second, most of the surviving platforms are not tailored specifically to financial services. Take Cisco, the long-reigning market share leader. With strong brand recognition and integration with its telephony infrastructure offerings, Cisco’s Unified Contact Center Express (UCCX) platform has been a natural pick for bank CIOs for years. Cisco’s total reliance on third parties to implement and support UCCX, however, has led to client dissatisfaction on an epidemic scale. A sprawling network of third-party partners is key to Cisco’s ability to sell to industries ranging from insurance to public utilities. But its all-things-to-all-people approach means varying degrees of expertise and knowledge of banking-specific business needs and inconsistent results.

Contact centers are too often frustrated by shaky implementations and over-promised, under-delivered functionality. Phone menus dead-end. Pulling basic management reports requires a phone book-sized manual. And that nifty customer call-back feature works as expected only 50% of the time. Cisco’s partner ecosystem model may work just fine for routers and switches, but it is seriously missing the mark when it comes to contact center software.

Third, bank and CU contact centers are small fish in very big ponds. These vendors are allocating resources to their most valued accounts with hundreds or even thousands of seats. Meanwhile, contact centers at most midsize financial institutions are staffed by fewer than 50 agents.

Can we hope for the Avtex/Adapt deal to shift that paradigm? Although Avtex has not been a household name in the financial services space, Adapt has gained traction by selling against the weaknesses of the corporate biggies, focusing on core integrations and layering on innovative “smart app” functionality like routing, analytics and fraud defense. Adapt’s recent high profile midsize and large credit union signings made it a prime takeover target for Avtex owners Norwest Equity Partners. The questions now are:

  1. Can the combined Avtex organization ride the wave of Adapt’s success to deliver competitive support, integration, functionality and pricing?
  2. Will the integration of the two companies prove to be too large a distraction?
  3. Can the new company effectively compete with corporate behemoth Cisco, which despite its consistent disregard for its clients’ satisfaction, still dominates the competitive landscape?

The old guard of contact center platform vendors are missing on the fundamentals for many of their bank and credit union clients, and the market is in desperate need of disruption. Some midsize FIs have opted to go with new market entrants including Enghouse Interactive and Altigen, but they remain a small minority. Point solutions from firms like Pindrop, TRUSTID, and Nuance for fraud/authentication are promising but only solve for a small sliver of functionality and add to implementation and integration complexity, not to mention cost. Cloud-based contact center platforms, largely de-coupled from traditional infrastructure, would be cheered by bankers, but it will take three to five years to allay reliability and security concerns and for these offerings to move into the financial services mainstream.

Unless and until the call center fintech “metamorphosis” is complete, contact center leaders must:

  1. Focus on disciplined vendor management and be willing to “fire” third party implementers who cannot support business needs;
  2. Work to incrementally close under-utilization gaps by bringing together internal business line SMEs and technical experts; and
  3. Allocate resources to improving integration across existing systems and carefully examine the business rationale for adding third party solutions.

The ability for midsize FIs to truly compete with a digital first strategy hangs in the balance.

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