The state of the call center industry

We've come a long way from the telethon-style call centers of decades past — and the innovation hasn't stopped yet.
The state of the call center industry

Many people probably imagine call centers look like a 1990s telethon: row after row of sales representatives dialing and answering landlines. Call centers like these are still out there, but with their manual processes and legacy infrastructure, they tend to be time, labor, and cost intensive.

Now there’s a much better way. Far from the large and expensive telemarketing firms of years past, software-based call center solutions have empowered in-house sales teams and transformed the contact center industry. And organizations that are still doing things the old way are being left behind fast.

As a result, today’s call centers are remarkably different than they were 30, 20, or even 10 years ago, and the global sector continues to shift and evolve. Let’s redefine — and redesign — what the state of the contact center looks like, and examine the trends that are currently impacting the call center industry.

There’s global growth — if you know where to look

The actual size of the world’s call center market is difficult to calculate. Estimates can vary widely depending on whether they’re being ambitious or conservative — but either way, it’s big. In 2017, some set the overall marketplace revenue at around $200 billion, with the belief it would more than double to $401.7 billion by 2022.

It seems that today’s call center industry statistics are indeed within that range. A recent report measured the global market at $339.4 billion in 2020, and expected it to increase to $496 billion by 2027. This same research estimated the value of the US market at $100.1 billion — the largest in the world.

But what’s driving this growth? Any organization with a call center knows that telemarketers don’t have it easy. Legacy systems are capped on dialing speeds, effective lead lists are hard to come by, and as more people use mobile phones rather than landlines — and prefer to communicate via social platforms or text messages — fewer are picking up calls from unknown numbers. As a result, contact rates are falling.

For many organizations, the solution is to hire more sales reps, spending more money to make more calls. But a closer look at the call center industry reveals that its greatest catalyst of growth is technology.

The market for software shows no signs of slowing

Today, digital transformation is in overdrive as organizations implement software-based solutions to automate manual processes and maximize agent productivity. Modern technology is improving both inbound and outbound telemarketing initiatives, which sales teams are increasingly able to manage in-house:

  • A solution such as a predictive dialer drastically reduces downtime for sales reps by calling multiple leads at once, and leveraging algorithms to determine when to ring a new set of numbers.
  • Automatic call distribution (ACD) software significantly cuts down on customer wait times by instantly routing incoming traffic to available agents, with customizable orders for queues.

For call centers of all sizes, cloud technology has been a game changer. According to FinancesOnline’s analysis of call center statistics, the rate of adoption for cloud-based contact centers was only 2.2% back in 2008 — but by 2017, 62% of organizations had some type of cloud-hosted software for their call centers. Since then, Deloitte has reported that a quarter of contact centers worldwide had moved their systems to the cloud by 2019, and another 30% were in the process of mapping their own migrations over the next two years.

Bringing the contact center in-house and on-brand

The reasons for widespread cloud adoption are clear: the technology is easy to implement, deploy, and scale, and eliminates the costs of maintaining on-premises infrastructure and an IT team to keep it up and running. FinancesOnline’s research also shows that cloud solutions cost 27% less than legacy hardware and experience 35% less downtime.

While large enterprises are still the main adopters of call center software with 58% of total market revenue in 2020, the affordability and scalability has leveled the playing field. Now, with the ability to host predictive dialers, ACD, telephony integration, and interactive voice response (IVR) systems in-house for their own sales teams, small- to medium-sized businesses are positioned to grow the fastest.

Another huge value-add is the ability to collect call analytics to improve campaigns and processes — including metrics such as average handle time and agent downtime. Meanwhile, customer analytics allow organizations to build better lead profiles, keep track of contacts, and deliver more personalized sales and services.

For many organizations, this is made possible by cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software, which has quickly become the must-have tool for modern call centers.

  • Organizations in all industries and sectors prioritize creating engaging, seamless omnichannel experiences for customers, and a CRM lets them track activity and behavior across the customer journey.
  • Leading call centers are adopting CRM systems that integrate directly with their predictive dialers and other tools, combining their sales workflows with the ability to collect, analyze, and leverage data.

Keeping pace with the customer at all touchpoints 

Customers are more demanding than ever: 90% expect an immediate response when they call a company, 89% expect omnichannel engagement, and 73% expect customer service to always be consistent — and are willing to take their business elsewhere if it isn’t.

So what does omnichannel customer engagement look like for a modern contact center? The CRM centralizes data from every customer conversation so that agents can track their sales journey, and continue delivering the most efficient, effective, and personalized offerings in future calls — or with other leads who fit a similar profile.

Agents want to ensure a better experience for leads as well. The majority of call center industry professionals (95.7%) consider customer satisfaction to be a very important metric. A cloud-enabled contact center technology stack, including a predictive outbound dialer, inbound ACD software, and a built-in CRM helps them exceed leads’ expectations the moment they pick up the phone.

Embracing tomorrow’s newly emerging technology

Organizations are continuing to invest in innovative solutions to take their call center technology to the next level. According to the same Deloitte report mentioned previously, 76% of contact centers were investing in artificial intelligence within the next two years, 57% of companies were testing AI to assist call center agents, and 13% of contact companies had already launched AI for chat support.

Support is the operative word here. It can’t be overstated that these new innovations are meant to assist reps, not replace them; for proof, look no further than the fact that voice is the preferred customer service channel in the US, with 44% of people listing it as their top choice. Those time-tested modes of communication — calls and emails, which can be conducted through a CRM — comprise a large majority of customer interactions even as newer technologies are added. After all, a call is the closest thing there is to having an in-person conversation, and there’s nothing more valuable than that.

It’s also worth noting that machine learning algorithms are already incorporated in many of the market’s leading predictive dialers and CRMs, so companies that have modernized their tech stack are already leveraging helpful artificial intelligence programs in some form.

Adopting a world-class call center solution prepares organizations to connect with more prospects today, convert more leads tomorrow, and embrace the future of the call center industry. The essentials are all here: a predictive dialer to intelligently optimize outbound efficiency, ACD software to ensure customers spend as little time on hold as possible, and a CRM to centralize workflows in one place while delivering personalized, consistent pitches. ReadyMode covers all of this and more — try it out for yourself.

Photo: GaudiLab/Shutterstock Inc.

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