Balto CEO and founder Marc Bernstein ends every episode of Reimagining the Contact Center with the same question for his guest:
“What does the contact center of 2030 look like?”
Over 30 industry leaders — from customer experience speakers to contact center leaders — have shared their thoughts with Marc.
Every guest agreed on one thing: Humans aren’t going anywhere. The contact center of 2030 will be data-driven and technology-backed, but human-led at its core.
What other changes do they expect? Check out what each guest had to say.
Voice is Here to Stay
“I’ve been through so many false predictions. I remember when the internet was going to kill the voice channel, which now we know… internet actually drives voice. And then video was going to kill voice, and we were all going to sit at home on videos with agents. It’s been fascinating in this space. When I started, in my first job, we had sticker sheets and a manual dial phone to call, and then you’d write if you left a message or the amount somebody was donating on a sticker.
“What is consistent is that in complex or high priority transactions, everybody tends to still want to go to voice and have that confirmation that it’s fixed. It’s getting done. Somebody is working on it. We’ll take advantage of as much of that true omnichannel as we need to, but I don’t see voice going away.”
Christa Heibel began her career as a telemarketer at a contact center, and has since risen in the ranks to serve as an executive in various sales and consulting organizations. In 2011, she started her own business – CH Consulting Group – to offer strategic services to businesses in all industries and across all stages of growth.
“We’re going to have much more information that’s transparent between the organization and the consumer. I think we’re going to increasingly see self-service and customer-defined automation. So if I want to interact with you using a bot or a virtual assistant, I’m going to be able to do that.
“Systems and organizations are going to become much more capable of identifying needs in advance. We’re going to know about a defect or a problem, and we’re going to push out a solution. That’s going to be centered around self service. That’s not going to have to be a live person.”
Colin Taylor prides himself on bringing order to the chaotic customer service world, a tenet reflected in his current position. The Taylor Reach Group provides advisory services to contact centers, contact centers, and customer experience organizations.
“I think it will be much more targeted. I think the segments of who serves who in what capacity will change dynamically, that there will be experts with a lot more expertise in certain issues or fields and that it will be focused more on that engagement piece. We talked about how service is truly about helping customers achieve the value out of the product or service, not just about resolving issues. And I think there’s going to be a much more proactive way of doing that.
“I don’t believe what everybody says that there will be no contact centers, that you’re not going to ever be able to get a human being anymore. As a matter of fact, I think the pendulum is swinging the other way – we need uber-agents. We need to hire the right people for the right role for the calls that do come in. That’s what quality looks like. There’s not going to be the same ‘fix it’ approach that we’ve had for years and years.”
Diane Magers has over 25 years of experience in customer support strategy and solutions. She founded Experience Catalysts nearly a decade ago and has served as its Chief Experience Officer ever since, bringing her domain expertise to clients like Equifax, Fidelity, State Farm, Moneygram, and more.
Contact Center as Part of a System
“We’ve been stacking technology over technology and forgotten about the principles of why we’re there, right? I think the future of management in the contact center to me is about having that systems-thinking capability of being able to see your contact center as part of a system in itself, and in the organization. What are the levers as a leader that you can pull at different times to get better results?”
Eduardo Nofuentes is the Founder & Director of The Agile Contact Centre and Director at Neu 21. Both help transform organizations so their employees can produce their best, most innovative work together.
Retain High-Skilled Employees
“I think we’re going to continue to accelerate down this path of having very high skill people who’ve been around. This may seem counterintuitive because we say ‘hey, people are jumping from job to job” but I think you’re going to see that pendulum swing back. You need to retain those people that have that deep knowledge.
“And you may say, ‘Well, we can just pack all that stuff into AI’ but you still need to have a human being in order to be able to do the interpretation that the AI technology that exists today just can’t do. Now, will it ever get to that point? Maybe, but I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.”
Jim Rembach is an entrepreneur and expert in B2B digital marketing and online learning. As the president of Influence to Action, he operates several entities, including Call Center Coach Virtual Leadership Academy, B2B Digital Marketer, CX Global Media, and the Contact Center Virtual Summit. He’s the host of the Fast Leader Show and the B2B Digital Marketer podcasts.
Humans Dealing with Humans
“In many ways. I think we’re going to see a higher expectation for resolution… a more holistic approach to contact. I think when we think about contact centers, there’s going to be an opportunity to foster connection within the customer base or within the tribe, through the non-business related conversations that are more aspirational or more communal.
“So I think there’s a lot of possibilities and it’s going to be fascinating to see this merging of humans and technology to create the contact center of 2030. I think at the end of the day, what we’ve come to realize is that this belief that we have our personal life and we have our work life, or we have our customers and we have the organizations that are selling to them, these are fictions. It’s all the same. It’s all humans dealing with humans.”
Joey Coleman is a prolific writer, keynote speaker, workshop leader, and consultant for companies in the customer experience state. He is the founder of Design Symphony, a branding firm dedicated to creating ‘raving fans and zealous advocates’ out of your customers.
Hybrid of Digital Solutions and Human Interaction
“I would say that 99.9% of contact required voice interaction 15 years ago. Now you’re probably seeing 40-50%. Chat and social media channels are increasing more than ever. Because why even bother going to the website and searching if you can just throw a question out into the digital world and get answers and different opinions and guidance?
“You need a hybrid between digital solutions and human interactions. I don’t believe that human interaction is ready to go away yet. We are social animals. Emotions are important in certain conversations, especially if you’re purchasing a life insurance policy or negotiating a healthcare bill… and I don’t believe any AI in the world today is capable of truly interacting and understanding that level of emotions. Even 10 years from now, the contact center will not be a humanless experience.”
Mario Baddour has been at STARTEK for nearly a decade. As Global Chief Operating Officer, he takes value in providing customers with business process management solutions, improving their omnichannel experiences, and outfitting them with meaningful enterprise technologies so they can produce the best customer experience possible across channels.
High-Touch Expert Environment
“The contact center is going to be a much more high-touch expert environment. Expert teams. Imagine entire contact centers filled with them. So it will be more like AI support teams – your AIs will be handling much of the transactional side of it. The human element will always be there because you need the person-to-person connection for certain things, especially enterprise sales or anything to do with high ticket items.
“But also at the end of the day, people just want to at least connect and make sure that there is another human being on the other side. That’s sales, right? It’s the transference of trust between one person and another.
“I think that’s the contact center of 2030. High speciality, high demand. Your tele-doctors and those kinds of things. The trick there though is to still find room for entry-level, because if we lose entry-level we lose all the greatness.”
Michael McMillan serves as the Chief Executive Officer at both BizSprints, a task and process management consulting firm, and ProximoCX, a support firm that uses contact center data to provide key insights and actionable feedback to clients. He is an expert in the customer journey, and dedicates his time to helping companies optimize processes and procedures around best practices.
Amazing Customer Service Experiences
“I think it’s going to be a better, more informed experience. The best companies, the ones that really have thought about how they’re going to integrate their products with their services and support give that amazing experience right now. When you go through it, you feel it. You’re like wow, that is truly differentiated versus the ones that are mired in the past, where you call in and put in your account number seventeen different times and then you get a person and repeat the number. It’s a frustrating experience. You have to believe that those days are going to go away; at least I’m hopeful that they will.”
Bill Murphy is the Managing Partner at Cresting Wave, a team bringing innovative technologies to the enterprise technology community. Bill is also a board member at Accurics and a Senior Advisor to McKinsey.
Expand the Ways People can Communicate
“It’s going to be important to continue to expand the ways people can communicate with us and we can communicate with them. I don’t agree that human interaction will go away entirely. People are still going to want to pick up the phone and ask some questions and have some interaction.
“And so what will the method of communication be otherwise? It’s going to be another learning curve – We’re going to have some trial and error. We just have to keep making adjustments until we get it right. The good news is that the younger generation of business owners are going to be in a good spot to take advantage – that’s going to open up some market share for companies that have a little bit more of a tech savvy foundation.”
Over the past decade, Nick Richmond has transformed his love of the remodeling industry into a multi-million dollar business with Matrix Basement and Bath Systems. He also serves as Chief Imagination Officer at Grosso University, a professional development program that provides advanced sales training for those in the home improvement sphere.
Create a Great Experience Across Channels
“People will want to interact with brands the way they do with family and friends, right? So if you can think about that contact center experience and what makes it a good experience, it will be the brands that have figured out how to allow their customers to interact with them like they would their friends and family. Those are the brands that I think are really going to excel and the contact center will be the vehicle in which they interact.
“The contact centers are going to have to adapt to that and create a great experience through each one of those interactions, and do it consistently across all channels.”
Randy Clapp is dedicated to providing his clients with strategies for top-tier customer care and sales and operational growth.
Calls Will be Fewer but More Complex
“Because there’s more automation, when people need to reach someone and actually talk to them, the contact center representative is going to be more respected and higher paid because the jobs they are going to have to handle are more and more complex or time consuming to solve.
“But in that context, we also have to make sure that the employees have better and better tools. I know that for our group, we’re investing quite a bit in making sure that the technology is better for our team. Companies are going to have to compete against each other… If you want to provide great service for customers, you have to give them great tools and technologies in order to be able to do that. So I think that there’s going to be a heavy investment in that over the next 10 years. There may be less phone calls overall, but again, I think that those calls are going to be even that much more important.”
Rob Siefker began his career nearly twenty years ago as a Customer Loyalty Representative at Zappos, a company known for its customer service mentality, before rising in the ranks to serve as Zappo’s Senior Director of Customer Loyalty.
Thinking About People Development
“I know something I’d like to see is this concept of individuals and groups being designed for. So if we’re thinking about people development, how are we designing for the individual to take advantage of their learning and really own it? How are we designing for that group effect, the community effect that we’re talking about? And how are we shaping the rules, tules, and technologies towards that learning victory? I think in 2030, I want to see everyone who is working as a leader of an organization or a team thinking about it and being more deliberate in practice. We’ll learn more about how to do people development by then.”
Adam Lupu is on a mission to make work wonderful with Startwise, a company which helps businesses hire, onboard, train, and manage employees. He has spent the last twenty-five years in the realm of education as it pertains to school, film, academia, and technology.
Energy and Relationships
“The company will know stuff about me from my history that I don’t even know. They’ll anticipate my questions or tell me something that I didn’t even know that I needed based on where I’m at as a customer and what I want. There will be a relationship. Instant rapport. Agents won’t be order takers, or appointment bookers, but human beings that have empathy.
“No one is loyal to an app. No one is loyal to a bot. We are loyal to other human beings. We have to create that energy and those relationships on the phone and virtually.”
John DiJulius has served as President with The DiJulius Group for nearly two decades. He is a powerful keynote speaker, consultant, best-selling author, and overall expert on delivering world-class customer experiences. He’s worked with companies like The Ritz Carlton, Lexus, Nordstrom, Starbucks, and others to implement revolutionary customer service techniques.
Data Command Center
“It’ll be a command center where all of the data that we are accumulating allows us to make real-time changes. I’ll liken it to Formula 1. All teams have six or seven driving packages that they can deliver to a car with the click of a button. The pit crew yells out ‘Package 5’ and it’s delivered in real time through telemetry and satellites. We’re going to have a point where we have all this data coming in that allows us to make real-time adjustments. I’ll be able to see the effects of the change as it’s delivered and know if it’s actually creating the improvement I wanted it to create. Not at the end of the day, but live. It’s exciting to think about.”
Shawn M. Farris serves as the Senior Vice President of Global Digital Operations at Phillips & Cohen Associates, Ltd. He is a strategic digital operations executive with extensive experience in contact center operations. He previously served as the COO at Aargon agency, Inc.
Customer Peace-of-Mind Artists
“Whether you call them customer peace-of-mind artists or whatever, we’ll enable them to do just that. There’s a lots of great companies who have been able to achieve this – they very explicitly hire and coach not just on skills but on how to be a better person. The whole theory of escalations in support is demoralizing to both your people and your customers. With elevated coaching, we’re going to trust our employees more.”
Jeanne Bliss is the President of CustomerBliss, a keynote speaker and 4x bestselling author on experience leadership & customer-driven growth. She is also a cofounder of the Customer Experience Professional Association.
Phenomenal AI Capabilities
“The kinds of technology that are coming into the contact center are going to change things. Having the availability of artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, look how that’s changed things already. The fact that I can say something and have it understood by a system somewhere, as opposed to just a person, the idea of having things translated in real-time from one language to another, it’s phenomenal.
“Provide people with the right knowledge, and have the ability to grab the huge amounts of data that exists at the contact center that nobody’s paying attention to – If you can munch through that with artificial intelligence and have that data provided to the right people in the organization, whether that be the people in the contact center or elsewhere sales, marketing, whoever in the organization, you’re going to be ahead of the game.”
Roy Atkinson is a veritable industry thought leader, with published work in The Economist, Social Media Today, BizTech Magazine, and ComputerWorld. Since 2013, he has served as CEO and Principal Advisor at Clifton Butterfield, a consulting firm that specializes in customer service, customer experience, and service management.
Great Tools, Great Customer Experiences
“The contact center of 2030 is full of qualified, happy customer service representatives equipped with great tools to create great customer experiences. People will always want to talk to a human being and be treated like a human being.”
Ariel Gorelik is an expert on digital transformation and international IT strategy. His extensive operational leadership experience in the insurance sector includes expertise in centralization of operations and transformation of service delivery to improve customer satisfaction.
Match Their Preferred Communication Style
“Realistically, I’m not sure that two years from now we’ll have a contact center that looks anything like it does right now. Calls are being blocked at the network level, or if there’s any potential for spam. This stuff is real. If people aren’t prepared for those inevitabilities, they could find themselves in a world of hurt in the short term.
“The fact is that we’re changing the way that we communicate every single day. Millennials aren’t a huge part of our customer base at this moment, but they’re entering it every day. The way that we communicate with them is going to have to change to match their preferred communication style.
“So ten years from now, there won’t be a ‘call’ center. It could be video. You could earn somebody’s trust with a text message in order to transition to a voice call. We’re not going to be picking up the phones and randomly dialing leads because the phone will never ring for them. It’s just that simple.”
Chris Hove is the CMO for Matrix Bath Systems and an experienced marketing, technology, training and telecommunications expert.
Humans and Higher-Level Experiences
“You know how people think that humans are going to be replaced by chatbots and artificial intelligence? The ATM came about and people said: Oh great, this is going to revolutionize the banking industry. People are going to be able to go to a machine and get their cash. And they’re not going to have to deal with the tellers anymore. Well, every bank I’ve been into has a teller, and there’s still drive up windows. This is 20, 30 years later. So as we look out to 2030. There may be more technology. There may be better virtual interactions, digital interactions. However, there will be a need for the human to human relationship at this point. You can’t automate and digitize a relationship. So recognize that if you’re going to put up technology between me and a human being, that technology better be so good.
“I believe that humans will be used for higher level experiences with the customer, helping them at deeper levels. That’s what I think 2030 is going to look like. And of course there’s going to be some amazing technologies like Balto, for example, that will support this.”
Shep Hyken is the author of seven books that have been on both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal’s best selling author lists. He’s translated his expertise into his company, Shepard Presentations, where he serves as Chief Amazement Officer.
More Scientists, Analytics, Programmers
“There’s not going to be as many collectors. Instead you’re going to see more data scientists, more analytics, more programmers. The emphasis is on the sheer amount of data that contact centers are able to glean, and a changing workforce will be needed to analyze and act on this information.”
Mike Gibb’s career has spanned over 20 years of journalism and business expertise. He is the founder of Accountsrecovery.net, the number one spot for debt collections and accounts receivables news.
For Chip, the contact center of 2030 is about embedding the customer service experience into the product itself. “So I wouldn’t have to have that avenue as the only way for me to get a resolution or have my needs met. I think we’ll go towards that – part of it may be through artificial intelligence, but part of it will be through smarter experiences and smarter products that will help customers self-solve. So I think we may not have a contact center as we now think of it in 2030.”
Chip Bell is the Senior Partner and speaker at the Chip Bell Group. He is the author of Axiom Business Book Award winner “Inside Your Customer’s Imagination” and various other books, nine of which have reached national or international best-seller status.
Responsiveness and the Power of Data
“I think that organizations will be far more responsive to customers than they are today. By responsive I mean offering the customer’s choice of interaction channel. Omnichannel, you know. It will become much more of a reality in the future. We’re already starting to see it become a reality today, but only in a very small minority of situations and organizations.
“I think responsiveness is about predictiveness. So analytics will increasingly predict what I want before I even have to tell you what I want. You’ll have all this data about not just me, but people like me, and you’ll know exactly what I want. How I like to be talked to, through which channel, what language and tonality.
“I think contact centers aren’t just the function that sits there on the side. It’s front and center. The contact center is in many ways the nerve center of every organization. The contact center is the frontline. It’s the primary interface between an organization and its customers and its stakeholders. It more and more defines the experience the customer has of an organization.
“And think about all the data that you’re collecting as organizations start to wake up and understand the power and value of data. Where else do you get as much data as you do in a contact center?”
Stephen Yap serves as a director at the Call Centre Management Association, Platform 195, and Insurtech Insights. In his free time, he takes consulting work at Jam!Research, his own consultancy firm that helps brands tell their stories through research and market insights.
Wherever They Want to Talk to Us, We’ll be There
“I think it’ll be mostly remote – location really won’t matter. Also, the contact center of the future will be taking far fewer calls than we’re taking today, but the contact rate will be even higher than it is now because we’ll be talking to people through text, chat, Pinterest, Facebook. Wherever they want to talk to us, we’ll be there.”
Philip Bennett has had a career in customer service and support that spans nearly three decades. For the past six years, he’s been the Customer Service Operations Manager at Empire Today.
Communication Channels and Nuanced Customer Interactions
“I look to the contact center of 2010. The contact center of 2000. Over the past twenty years, we’ve had rapid acceleration of a number of channels. I think these channels will grow or be sifted out in terms of adoption. Mobile services, SMS, video – I think we’re going to continue to see them grow in significance.
“In terms of how businesses can leverage automation or get better about self-service, we’ll continue to see the highly repetitive tasks drop out of human-to-human interaction. That will happen through an app or a website or an interactive IVR. What we’re going to be left with are the interactions that are complicated and nuanced. That’s my bet on what we’ll see.”
Justin Robbins is a customer experience researcher, educator, and advisor who has spent his career leading contact center operations and consulting on how to define and deliver exceptional customer experiences. In 2021, he joined PagerDuty as their newest Head of Community to lead the strategic development and support of their 16k+ customers and 700k+ users.
An AI Renaissance
“The contact center is going to go through a renaissance around AI. For instance, what Balto does — you give superpowers to the agent right in real time, that makes the conversation more meaningful and efficient which is why the customer called you in the first place.
“When we begin to push in the direction of a virtual agent, then the current agent base can do the super specialized and more value-added stuff. So when I think about the virtual agent, the future, it’s not about doing away with the great things that contact centers do today, it’s about expanding them and making them more effective… you’re going to see this AI get baked in, and then five years from now, you’re looking at very high accuracy from this engine that can be deployed to answer a lot of the questions that customers have.”
A serial entrepreneur with over three decades of experience, Tim Guleri currently serves as the Managing Director at Sierra Ventures. He also serves on Balto’s Board of Directors.
More and More Robotics Taking Hold
“I’ve thought about it. I’ve written about it. People have this view that it’s only going to be a robot. I think there will still very much be human intervention needed in some form or capacity at companies. But I definitely see more and more robotics taking hold in this industry, especially as more communications start shifting from voice to non-voice.”
Michael Lamm spearheads all of Corporate Advisory Solutions’ operations within the tech-enabled outsourced business service arena, and oversees its strategic direction and growth.
Automating Processes, Not People
“It’s going to be loaded with AI, without a doubt. Everywhere that AI can be used, it will. But at the same time, I don’t think that people will lose their jobs. We’re automating processes, not automating people. And you still need people to identify the processes, and somebody’s got to teach the AI.
“People, especially coming out of COVID, crave human interaction, and I don’t think that’s going to go away. There’ll be more AI mixed with self-service and a focus on how to get people moving through the contact and center and to a resolution a lot faster than they are today.”
Annette Franz is the CEO and Founder of CX Journey Inc. She is also the author of “Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the ‘Customer’ in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).”
Messaging, Voice, and the Customer Journey
“When you communicate with a voice conversation, you get tone and other things that you struggle to get via SMS or messaging. You’re always going to have voice, but you’re going to see a big increase in messaging as well. It’s so versatile in how it’s interspersed in the customer journey. Maybe you start with SMS and then there’s a bit of voice and other channels beyond. Of course I think AI – like Balto – is going to play a huge role in contact centers moving forward as well, with bots interacting on behalf of the brand or to support agents.”
James Diel is the Founder and CEO of Textel, a platform that allows contact centers to connect with customers directly through text. Companies like Valvoline, Sony, Pearson, CBS, 3M, and more have used Textel to drive more engagement and revenue.
Messaging is Going to Make a Significant Play
“I don’t think they’re going to be called ‘call’ centers anymore. Messaging will be such a big piece of it. This move to digital – the huge push that we see right now – it’ll be interesting to see the split between messaging and voice and how it breaks down. Messaging is going to make a significant play here in the next 10 years. The stuff we’re doing today may remove the need one day to ever pick up the phone and talk to a call center.”
Mike Mixon is the Chief Revenue Officer of Textel.
What Does Marc Bernstein Think?
One thing’s for sure, humans aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
As AI technology becomes more sophisticated, it will pave the way for customers to self-solve the simple stuff. Contact center agents will have to be specialists in not just the product or service they are representing, but in empathy and communication skills in order to accommodate the harder questions.
AI and data-driven analytics will be a huge tool for agents and customers alike, allowing both access to a wider breadth of information so that conversations can be less focused on problem solving and more on forming and deepening relationships between a customer and a brand.
In 2030, customers will choose how they want to interact with a brand. Whether that’s voice, chat bot, text message, or social media direct message, each customer will have their own preferred method of communication, and brands will have to adapt to omnichannel in order to keep up.
The contact center of the future will be better for agents. They will require a higher skill level, and their contributions to company goals of customer acquisition and retention will be more clearly defined. They will be higher paying positions with more room to grow, and a closer tie to corporate mission.
We believe the contact center of the future will be better for consumers, too. According to a study run by Mike Mixon and James Diel at Textel, the average American spends 45 days of their life on hold with a contact center. “Hopefully by 2030 we can cut that number down.”