The Contact Center Is Dead. Long Live the Contact Center.

The contact center as we know it is dead. While it was already facing increasing challenges from aging technologies, emerging channels, and new customer demands, the events of 2020 precipitated its demise. Those still managing traditional contact centers over the past nine months faced increasing challenges from the unexpected increase in volumes driven by the shift from in-person to virtual and phone service, the shutdown of many physical locations, and workforce unpredictability.

The benefits of the new contact center, for those that had already made the leap, were emphasized by 2020. Those who had already taken steps to modernize, comparatively, benefited from the following

  • Robust self service. As customers increasingly went online to resolve issues, those with robust self-service capabilities, including an effective knowledge base, were able to deflect increasing contact volumes and accelerate issue resolution for customers without a negative impact on customer satisfaction.
  • Cloud. Companies that had already moved to a cloud-based contact center were able to move agents more rapidly to remote work, scale more effectively to address spikes or shifts in volume, and add new technologies and capabilities, such as video, to the channel mix.
  • Analytics and automation. Contact center managers with real-time access to data to understand and manage call and channel volume, and workforce optimization capabilities, were better able to address the changing dynamics of customer demand.
  • Support for physical agent and management distribution. Companies with a more decentralized approach, rather than one or a few agent locations, were able to better manage the local and regional fluctuations in work-from-home, social distancing, and return-to-work requirements.

The new contact center, however, is not just about a move to new technology. It drives and requires new thinking about operations and behavior, including the following

  • Greater collaboration between sales, service, and marketing. Breaking down the walls between technology and the people that interact with customers means enabling agents to perform multiple roles as sales people, advocates, and advisors, and also means contact center managers no longer operate in their own silos. They'll need to learn more about sales and marketing and collaborate more with sales and marketing leaders.
  • New training and opportunities for agents. Although agents will need to be trained on new technologies, the modern content center has a dramatically lower learning curve and faster time to onboard than traditional ones. In-application microtraining can address emerging and evolving needs for service and product knowledge, and contact center managers should be working with HR to not just optimize hires and resources but to give agents who want it a path to advancement beyond customer service.
  • A seat at the management table for contact center leaders who want it. With more knowledge about customer interactions, product and service problems, and the voice of the customer than any other managers of customer-facing departments, contact center leaders can use their knowledge to open new lines of communication and feedback for customer-attuned marketing, product and service improvements, and business health. Armed with real-time data about customer attitudes and behaviors, they have a huge opportunity to shape the direction of their companies' continuing digital transformations.

What does the new contact center look like? Beyond the benefits of cloud flexibility and innovation, analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and automation, the new contact center is not just a service or cost center. It's at the core of customer experience. Without the traditional divide between CRM and the contact center, leaders bring the best of both worlds together, enabling a more integrated view of all customer touch points and interactions and new realms of opportunity for contact center managers.

Rebecca Wettemann is CEO and principal at Valoir (, a technology industry analyst firm focused on the connection between people and technology in a modern digital workplace.