In 2021, the answering service industry will likely see continued growth after several consecutive years of expansion. Market research released in 2020 suggests the global call center and answering service industry will grow to nearly $500 billion by 2027. That projected growth rate was recently revised upward after the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many businesses to shift to remote employment and customer service, many outsourcing to call centers and answering services in the process.
That trend should continue into 2021, as businesses of all sizes will still be dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its eventual aftermath. Remote work will remain the norm for at least part of the year, so many companies have turned to answering services to handle incoming customer calls.
Many answering services have seen significantly increased demand as businesses transition to a fully remote work environment amidst the pandemic. For answering services, this means finding at-home employees who are prepared to make or receive customer service calls. According to a story in The New York Times, many answering services and call centers are hiring people with disabilities to fill their vacant positions. The at-home agent will likely become a more prominent part of answering services' business models in the future. The impact of that trend on the industry and its clients remains to be seen.
Automation will continue to play a role, but won't replace answering services
As in years past, automation will play a major role in customer service at all stages of a small business's growth. In fact, researchers at Ameyo predicted four years ago that 85% of all customer service interactions would be automated in 2020, especially with the rise of artificial intelligence supporting automation of the simplest tasks. While automation has grown to be a major part of today's customer service equation, Gary Pudles, CEO of AnswerNet, says call-answering services will remain integral.
"Artificial intelligence doesn't really understand how to make inferences based on a large number of answers … it can't pull information out of contextual speech," Pudles said. "Answering services are actually able to. [These services] are able to operate side by side with technological advancement."
To put that into perspective, Pudles added that "as technology continues to increase, answering services will continue to be the place where the human lives."
While many answering services offer phone trees and interactive voice response (think "press 1 for sales, press 2 for technical support," etc.), do not overlook person-to-person service's importance in customer satisfaction and loyalty. Consumers will still interact with chatbots and other AI going forward, but you should always give them the option to speak with a live person when the bot doesn't answer the question.
Omnichannel communications will grow in importance
Today's average consumer communicates in multiple ways on a daily basis, such as telephone calls, video chat, SMS and any of the various social media platforms. According to data from Microsoft, as of 2017, 66% of consumers had used at least three different communication channels to contact customer service. A 2018 survey by Forrester found that 33% of customers have contacted a company using Facebook and similar social channels.
That diversification of communication methods will continue to spill over into customer service methods, with answering services likely to address the trend in 2021 and the coming years.
Data portals will be easily accessible
Another anticipated change for the answering service industry is the more widespread introduction of data portals that will let users access call data on a whim. Over the course of the year, more services will probably offer a centralized online location where companies that outsource their call-answering needs to a third-party service will be able to log in and find data on each call. In some cases, those users can even listen to the interaction and extract data to use for follow-up.
April 2021: Recent market research published by Market.biz projects the value of artificial intelligence (AI) used by answering services and call centers will grow from $930 million in value in 2020 to more than $3.1 billion by 2030. Adoption of AI solutions for answering services and call centers, already a trend well underway, accelerated in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. As AI solutions improve in sophistication, offering benefits like reduced overhead for answering centers, an improved customer experience, more responsive chatbots, and improved data analytics, more answering services and call centers are expected to integrate them into their existing systems.
September 2021: A ransomware attack targeting Covisian, a major Spanish call center company (along with its Latin American subsidiary GSS), impacted dozens of major businesses in multiple countries when it froze the customer service provider’s IT systems. Major businesses, from the City of Madrid’s water supply service to Vodafone Spain, saw their customer service capabilities disappear in a moment, leaving them without answers for their own customers.
This cyberattack is an example of how important cybersecurity is not only for your own business, but for businesses you work closely with. Since businesses share access to systems and important information, data breaches, ransomware attacks, and other forms of malicious activity threaten more than just the target of the attack. Ensuring your business and those you work with are protected is critical because cyberattacks can have a big impact on your bottom line. According to the annual IBM Cost of Data Breach Report, the cost of a data breach increased 10% in 2021 over the previous year to an average of $4.24 million per incident.
Unique challenges posed by organizations with significant remote workers compounded this increase. The cost of data breaches for businesses with more than 50% remote workers is nearly $5 million on average per breach. It also took IT teams nearly a month longer to respond to breaches when most employees worked remotely. Developing a cybersecurity strategy and incident response plan is important for all businesses, especially those that transitioned to a remote-work environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
May 2021: Speech analytics is a particular type of machine learning making its way into contact centers, including answering services. Speech analytics tools allow contact centers to monitor the voice patterns of customers when they call in and determine their satisfaction rating based on the analysis. Businesses can use this data to improve customer service by identifying pain points for callers and training employees on specific issues and best practices.
Contact centers anticipate the implementation of speech analysis to begin identifying keywords. For example, if a high volume of calls complaining about faulty products comes in, companies could use speech analysis tools to identify the issue and proactively announce a recall. Speech analysis could also be used as a form of biometric security to prevent fraud.