Tech-enabled contact centers set to boom, finds JLL

by Brianna Crandall — March 6, 2017 — For U.S. contact centers, less really does mean more, according to global financial and professional services firm JLL’s inaugural Contact Centers Outlook. Despite waning consumer interest in talking with a customer service representative over the phone, alternative customer service methods such as live chatting and tweeting are creating jobs in North American contact centers, with an impact on real estate and workspace setup.

Many contact centers are still located in India and the Philippines, but thanks to the rise of smart phones, social media and growing geopolitical uncertainty, the industry is set to flourish domestically in 2017.

JLL’s report reveals that the contact center industry grew steadily across the world in 2016, and predicts further growth over the coming five years for both in-house and third-party operations. It also reveals that the United States is becoming an attractive location and leader among the new tech-enabled contact centers.

Kyle Harding, co-lead of JLL’s Contact Centers group, observed:

Millennials can be reluctant to talk to a live person. They prefer text, live chats, or social channels like Twitter to get their issues resolved. This shift in consumer preference makes the U.S. contact center real estate market more important than ever. U.S. locations feature greater access to a tech-savvy workforce that is now required for the industry.

Yes, this changes everything

Tadd Wisinski, co-lead of JLL’s Contact Centers group, stated:

The shift from “call center” to “contact center” will reach full maturity this year, as non-voice channel revenues have nearly doubled since 2011, growing a massive 91 percent. That means change on two fronts: talent and technology. While the need for tech-savvy workers is exploding, the technology supporting their work is also evolving. Automation and new multi-channel deliveries are pivoting to keep up with consumer demand for a high quality, customized service.

The United States leads the field of high-quality product and services and is fast becoming the market leader in contact center outsourcing (CCO).

Fewer players, but more jobs

The urgency for digital models is spurring third-party providers to purchase new technologies through mergers and acquisitions. Mergers also escalate local consolidation, and while some communities may lose jobs due to consolidation, others will gain them as the industry as a whole expands.

In many markets, open customer service representative (CSR) positions heavily outnumber the volume of qualified candidates, creating a notable labor gap. As a result, competition for skilled labor is high, placing pressure both on wages and on employee expectations for modern work spaces, as well as promotion and incentive opportunities.

Harding added:

With the war for talent, real estate and workplace are becoming more important than ever for contact centers. Companies are not only looking for the right location but the right space to enable their staff to be as efficient, productive and motivated as possible. Contact center operators will pay more attention to workplace strategies.

But many factors are considered in the real estate decision-making process for users and third-party providers. One option gaining traction is the plug-and-play model, which provides convenient and efficient move-in ready centers for operators, and can cut transition and downtime to a minimum. Third-party providers, specifically, search for these spaces to minimize cost and save time.

Harding further noted:

Plug-and-play spaces are also now aiming to cater to the “live, work, play” employee base, targeting areas with amenities, gyms, and restaurants nearby. Another ready-to-go contact center option includes incorporating adaptive reuse elements by transforming former retail spaces and big box stores.

Geopolitical uncertainty breeds opportunity for reshoring

The geopolitical climate is changing in several key contact center markets while pressure mounts in the USA to bring jobs back to the country. U.S. policymakers have proposed several pieces of legislation to combat CCO offshoring. The next four years may produce regulatory obstacles for CCO firms, which rely on access to competitive international labor.

Wisinski concluded:

While contact centers evolve to adapt to the digital communications preferences of today’s consumers, users and buyers will pay close attention to the uncertain geopolitical climate and evaluate their portfolios to prepare for any swift changes in policy that impact their business.

The Contact Centers 2017 Outlook: Technology, M&A and Geopolitical Uncertainty Poised to Disrupt Contact Center Industry report is available to download from the JLL Web site upon brief registration.