In the early years of the new millennium, companies began to realise the value of contact centres for the purpose of better understanding and interacting with customers. As opposed to call centres which solely focused on communication via phone calls, contact centres involved reaching out via multiple channels including chat and email.
But most of the contact centres at the time were run as on-premise software systems that required large outlays for manpower, software deployment and upgradation costs. Legacy software providers such as Cisco, Genesys and Avaya had a lion’s share of the contact centre market.
Over time, a few organisations such as US-headquartered Five9 and inContact realised that call centre software could be taken to the cloud. Instead of having to install and maintain full-fledged on-premise systems, call centre employees could log into any internet browser anywhere and access the same software.
This came to be known as Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS), with providers handling both development and maintenance.
“Customers are fed up of on-premise solutions -- the scalability problems, power shutdowns, poor call quality, and requirements of an internal IT team,” said Shivakumar Ganesan, founder of cloud telephony platform Exotel, which is headquartered in Bengaluru. “The burden of it being a capital expenditure (as opposed to operational expenditure) weighs heavily on the company.”
Chaitanya Chokkareddy, chief executive officer of Hyderabad-based Ozonetel, told TechCircle that the real push came when US service management provider Topdesk realised CCaaS’ revenue potential.
Ozonetel is a provider of CCaaS solutions. It generates the bulk of its revenue from KOOKOO CloudAgent, a cloud-based contact centre software solution that functions as an inbound and outbound call centre and operates out of a web browser.
Chokkareddy said that enterprises previously used to tap legacy software providers such as Avaya or a Genesys for an on-premise solution. But now, enterprises, especially in the financial services and healthcare domain, are moving towards CCaaS solutions for increased benefits.
Industry experts say CCaaS reduces the need for high IT investments, while providing omnichannel contact centres that promise flexibility and agility essential for digital enterprises. Perhaps the most notable advantage is its ability to scale up or scale down the services to meet fluctuating seasonal demands.
“The trend has become so big that Amazon has also come into the space with Amazon Connect,” said Chokkareddy.
Some of the key CCaaS players in India include US-based Cisco and Genesys while homegrown firms such as Exotel, Ozonetel and Knowlarity are also making a mark.
“As time has passed, Twilio, Five9 and even Amazon have launched their own cloud contact centre solutions because they realise that customers don’t need to install expensive hardware and maintain it on-premise,” said Knowlarity’s founder Ambarish Gupta.
Such developments, coupled with the fact that a host of other legacy contact centre providers have been aggressively moving towards the cloud, are a clear indication that CCaaS is here to stay.
The CCaaS market is expected to triple from $6.8 billion in 2017 to $20.93 billion by 2022, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets.
In emerging markets such as India, the opportunity for CCaaS is fuelled by a growing number of customer-centric enterprises, improved technology penetration and the strategic imperatives for vendors and contact centre service providers.
And as enterprises fight for the edge in a competitive environment, the growth of CCaaS could play a crucial role in upping their digital game further while facilitating better customer engagement and raking in new clients.
Looking to the future
But with the advent of artificial intelligence-powered chatbots and voicebots, are contact centres under threat?
“The question that is being asked is why do we need to pick up the phone? Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and a host of other chatbot solutions can be used to automate calls,” said Knowlarity’s Gupta.
But Ozonetel’s Chokkareddy said that chatbots and voicebots are currently limited to interactive response mechanisms and have a long way to go before replacing natural conversations.
“Enterprises cannot communicate via chatbots alone. We might be able to see 80% of queries being handled by bots, but there will always be 20% of queries that need to be addressed by humans,” he said.
As things stand, machine learning engines within the bots closely monitor conversations and learn how to respond to specific instances.
“Companies want to enable communications with context and the next trend is that communication will be widely available integrated within the CRM, ERP and other platforms,” said Exotel’s Ganesan.
In the meantime, social media appears to be emerging as a new frontier for CCaaS.
CCaaS solutions such as Ozonetel’s Kukoo agent have already integrated their voice support systems with text messaging, WhatsApp and Facebook messaging for companies such as Big Basket, Foodpanda and Zomato. These solutions can also be combined with customer relationship management (CRM) and ticketing software such as Salesforce, Zoho, Zendesk, and Sugar CRM among others.
“Email as a support system will be replaced by social media accounts. Most people complain on Twitter or Facebook. We need AI alert systems that can filter which data they can respond to,” said Chokkareddy.