Working with CCA’s Thought Leadership Council at a recent workshop – the third of four that are leading up to the creation of some new scenarios which will be revealed at Convention this year – I was struck by the variable speeds at which change really takes place and the challenge that this presents those involved in business planning and strategy of any kind. Participants were asked to review an existing consumer tech timeline that the Future Foundation has recently produced with the IPA as a baseline for a study on the future of consumer engagement and identify what elements need to be added in from a contact centre perspective. This highlighted both the potential for significant change and the fact that there will continue to be many core elements that will remain largely the same. The modern manager has to balance and blend both together. 

The time horizon we are working with is five years ahead – thus we were looking to identify what will have actually changed by 2020. There was agreement that we are already in the world of mobile first, but by 2020 we will see visual media becoming the dominant means of communication in social networks and increasingly in the consumer-to-brand world too. This shift certainly gave pause for thought – how can customer service be delivered in an entirely visual way with images at the centre both from the customer and from you in return? Instant video is seen as one of the key coming elements, combined with visual IVR and video chat. It seems likely that 50% of people will have some form of wearable media by 2020 and working out what this means from a contact centre perspective is key too – will this lead to greater intimacies and more frequent contact or mean that business interactions get excluded from the wearable to a more formal environment (as it used to be)? Cashless payment and biometric recognition were both mooted as being fully functioning and available by 2020, making life a lot easier in the financial services sector at least. Everyone was confident that predictive analytics at the interface will be faster and more accurate but the reality of virtual agents was a point of debate – however convincing the ‘synths’ in the Channel 4 series Humans seem - most agreed that these are a decade away at least!
The question then arises as to how to best plan for and incorporate these significant new interfaces. Business as usual tends to dominate and preoccupy, but the trick is to constantly anticipate and test new types of interaction alongside mainstream operational activities. The question is how to do this at the same time without disrupting the everyday service levels or bogging down good new ideas in well-meaning quality processes and red tape. Some of the UK’s biggest brands are finding the answer to accelerating innovation is to invest in incubation hubs outside the main organisation. Unilever have The Foundry; Barclays their Mile End Project and Tesco’s have Rainmaker. Could this approach be the answer in the contact centre world too? After all it was where First Direct started all those decades ago – well outside the mainstream. Should you establish truly separate experimental units that can risk real failure without damaging your main business in order to leapfrog ahead with the new technologies that are coming on stream? This is one of many topics that I am looking forward to discussing at Convention in November.