Ovum’s recently developed global forecast of contact center agent seats through the year 2020 projects a slight upward trend in the total number, from 9.3 million to 9.6 million. However, the +0.5% CAGR is driven primarily by the Middle East and Africa, Central and South America, and Asia-Pacific regions. The more mature markets of North America and Europe are projected to remain relatively flat over the same period.
The contact center industry is undergoing a wave of change in terms of technology, transition to the cloud, required agent skill sets, and customer service channel expansion. All these changes will have a considerable effect on how pools of agents grow or shrink in the coming years.
In some regions of the world, including North America and Europe, where the customer service environment has a long and well-developed history and more mature character, these driving forces are resulting in a flat or slightly downward agent forecast through 2020 — -0.5% and +0.2%, respectively. In these regions, technology changes are already shifting more interaction volumes into alternative digital channels, which are often self-service-based.
In addition, the use of artificial intelligence is beginning to have an effect on contact center staffing decisions. The net result is that in North America and Europe the customer service market is largely becoming a replacement market.
In some of the still-expanding, less-developed customer service regions of the world, such as the Middle East and Africa, Central and South America, and Asia Pacific, projected CAGR in agent seats over the forecast period is +2.1%, +1.9%, and +1.6%, respectively. In these geographic areas, a mismatch between available service capacity and consumer demand still exists. Therefore, in these regions, the leveling off of agent positions is not expected to occur until after the end the forecast period.
The number of outsourced agent seats, a subset of the total agent market discussed above, is projected to move in a very similar direction to the overall market across the global regions. Outsourcers tend to be on the leading edge of new technology implementations and multichannel implementations and therefore are often seen as leading indicators of market trends.
For this reason, we project North American and European outsourced agent seat shifts to be slightly ahead of the total agent forecast. We project the CAGR of North America outsourced agent seats to be -0.6% and European outsourced seats to be flat through the year 2020.
However, in the Asia-Pacific region, Ovum projects outsourced agent seats to grow at a faster rate than total seats, with a CAGR of +2.2% versus +1.6% overall, based on continued rapid expansion of the Indian outsourcing marketplace.
Ken Landoline is Ovum's principal analyst for customer engagement