The role of the contact center may be changing, but it remains a lynchpin of delivering a stand-out customer experience.

There are many areas in which today’s consumer-facing businesses have managed to eliminate human contact. Thanks to e-commerce and the addition of digital channels, many transactions are now completed without the involvement of a human agent. But with the ease of using these channels and online purchasing, comes competition.

Competitive businesses are wise to realize that customer experience is “king,” and although a fast and user-friendly website or a predictive chat solution is part of the equation, it is by no means all that matters to today’s consumers.

Advancing technologies in artificial intelligence, automation and chat bots for customer support have some pundits predicting the extinction of the call center. But while chat and social media are proving a popular alternative to phone support, 83% of US consumers still prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels.

Perhaps this is why American businesses continue to invest in their contact center operations. In the 2013 Deloitte Global Contact Center Survey, 62% of respondents considered customer experience as delivered through the contact center a competitive differentiator. And in 2015, that number rose to 85%.

A Data-Driven Connection

This renewed interest in the contact center doesn’t mean companies are dusting off their touchtone phones. Savvy businesses are using a modern contact center as a home base for comprehensively managing multi-channel support, using integrative technology to connect their customer relationship management (CRM) platform (e.g., Salesforce, Zendesk, Freshdesk) with their existing telephony system, and in many cases, chat software and other customer touchpoints. In doing so, call agent responsibilities are expanding from that of in-the-moment troubleshooter to brand ambassador, enabling companies to create a personalized experience for each and every caller.

Agents no longer need to rely upon rapid-fire questions to fill in the blanks of a customer’s call. With informative screen pops identifying the caller upon transfer, agents now see the customer’s support history, their previous reasons for calling, and personal information collected during previous interactions. Callers can be addressed by name and needs can be anticipated, without painstaking details being rehashed over and over again.

With all this information in hand, callers can also be matched to the agent most equipped to handle their request, be it someone they’ve worked with before, a specialist in their particular product or service line, or a seasoned agent trained to work with high-profile clients.

The result: companies cut down on their cost per call and customers get the answers they need easier and faster than ever before.

The Contact Center of Tomorrow

Given its new, multi-faceted role in promoting a positive customer experience, will contact centers withstand the test of time? There’s no question that there will come a day when voice recognition software begins to more successfully interpret nuanced language. But what won’t change is the importance of customer experience in a click-to-buy economy.

While natural voice processing can and should be employed in appropriate situations to collect basic call details, such as account number or reason for calling, it is hard to imagine a world where a customer would enjoy navigating a robotic call tree to resolve their problem.

In the years ahead, AI technologies will continue to advance and evolve, but when it comes to connecting with customers, I expect we may never find a true replacement for that empathetic voice on the other end of the line.

Originally published on Call Center Times.