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The Age of the Headless Contact Center

This article was updated on July 6, 2021

The way that businesses deploy software is changing. In the same way that the broader economy is becoming more fluid, enterprise technology is no longer defined by closed, all encompassing platforms.

This change is especially relevant to customer communication. Customers expect flexible, convenient communication that follows them across their chosen channels. The old monolithic solutions offered by legacy vendors simply can't keep up.

Instead, modern organizations are turning to a concept that we call the headless contact center. Following the headless model gives businesses the agility to respond quickly to customer demands and to bring new innovations to market with minimal overhead.

In this briefing, we'll describe the characteristics of the headless contact center and offer advice on how to transform your organization's customer communication.

What Do We Mean by Headless?

Think back ten, maybe fifteen years. Almost all enterprise software, including contact center systems, was delivered as a tightly locked-down solution.

Not always, but often, such software was built to solve some generalized version of a problem. When it came to the specifics of a company's real-world problems, the solution was like a badly tailored shirt; it had the right basic shape but it simply didn't fit in those areas that really mattered.

The answer was to pay for expensive consulting time from the vendor or its approved partners. Even then, they could only make adjustments to what was already there. The results were usually disappointing.

Then, three things worked to topple the dominance of such software:

  • self-service APIs meant that uniquely tailored solutions could be built from specialized components

  • cloud computing commoditized compute power, making it cheaper and faster to respond to change

  • enterprises recognized the value of open source software in allowing them to bring solutions to completion more quickly.

This completely changed the conversation around build versus buy. "Build" no longer meant taking on a huge maintenance burden by creating a monolithic in-house solution. And "buy" became "collaborate." Crucially, that freed businesses to differentiate through software they built themselves.

So, what does headless mean in this context? Let's look at an example. Traditional web content management systems (CMSs) act as an all-in-one solution with three components:

  • a front-end that allows editors to enter content for publication

  • a back-end that manages the content

  • another front-end that handles displaying the content to website visitors.

That's an end-to-end solution. Even the most flexible content management system limits what website owners can do because they're inevitably limited by the imagination of the CMS's creators.

A headless CMS, instead, has only the first two components. There's a front-end for editors to enter, schedule, and manage content. There's a back-end that looks after that content. But instead of a front-end that builds the resultant web pages, a headless CMS makes the content available through an API. That means that web developers can take the content from the API and use it in whatever way they choose.

A headless contact center works in the same way. Rather than being tied to a single solution that dictates what is and is not possible, the headless contact center lets developers mix and match APIs, especially CPaaS APIs, to create perfectly tailored solutions.

Characteristics of the Headless Contact Center

The headless contact center mixes solutions, in the form of APIs, to deliver an omni-channel experience that can react rapidly to new customer demands and integrate technologies as they become relevant.

At Nexmo, the Vonage API platform, we see seven characteristics necessary for a contact center to be considered headless:

  1. Standards-led: use open standards where possible.

  2. Collaborate-first: build on the shoulders of giants using CPaaS, APIs, and open source solutions.

  3. Tailored rather than adjusted: external tools, such as APIs and open source software, are there to serve rather than dictate what is possible.

  4. Vendor-agnostic: no one vendor has the power to determine how the contact center serves customers.

  5. Late-binding to channel: the channel that you use to deliver a message shouldn't matter all that much. Why? This is important because it means that you can prepare outreach that works no matter which channel the recipient prefers. Employing late-binding hand-in-hand with graceful degradation (see point 6) means that the channel used to deliver a particular part of conversation is irrelevant until the last possible moment.

  6. Graceful degradation: the core of a hi-fi message is deliverable through lo-fi channels. So, prepare messages that contain high quality video but that work well if the recipient can receive only still images or even plain text.

  7. Location is irrelevant: the contact center exists as a collaboration between tools and people. Whether the team is physically in the same building or entirely remote doesn't make a difference to the operation of the contact center.

So, how can you adopt the headless contact center approach?

Transitioning to the Headless Contact Center

If you're building out a new contact center, then there has never been a better time.

But most organizations have a legacy contact center already in place. The good news is that headless isn't all or nothing. You can begin adopting the headless model alongside your existing set-up.

Here are our three tips for beginning the transformation of your contact center from legacy to headless.

  1. Audit your existing set-up: be certain of how and where your existing solution succeeds and where it falls down, so that you can plan a phased migration to a headless replacement.

  2. Build new projects the headless way: many organizations begin their journey to headless by deploying new solutions alongside their legacy platform. Want to engage customers using WhatsApp? Use Nexmo's Messages API to build your WhatsApp capability.

  3. Understand the trade-off between sunk cost and opportunity cost: it's tempting to stick with a legacy platform that's paid for, but that could be a false economy because a move to CPaaS and a headless contact center can drive stronger retention, better customer satisfaction, and greater revenue per customer.

The API economy is here and software is now a crucial differentiator for businesses. Moving your organization to the headless contact center model, combining CPaaS, APIs, and open source with your own systems, will empower you to deliver an omnichannel communication strategy that serves your customers precisely in the ways they demand and give your business the flexibility to drive your own future.

Vonage staff

Vonage staff

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