In the middle of the pandemic crisis, it was said that some contact centres had made more changes in 10 weeks than they had in 10 years. Yet while the pace of change has been frenetic, the direction of travel has not greatly altered.
Over 200 contact centres and 1,000 consumers were recently surveyed by ContactBabel, a contact centre industry analyst. From this extensive contact centre research, the impact of the global pandemic took shape across three main themes. In this blog, we’ll dive into the key trends that are influencing how organisations will need to adapt and to shape contact centre of tomorrow:
The contact centre of tomorrow will see a hybrid form of remote working – coaching, quality assurance and training work better in a face-to-face environment – and it’s easy to imagine a working world where an agent goes into the contact centre a few times a month, but otherwise works at home on both voice and digital communication.
Cloud-based contact centre functionality allows remote workers to act as part of a single wider contact centre, meaning resourcing, routing and management look the same as if everyone were under one roof, even if they are actually under their own.
The most obvious and dramatic change is the imposed use of remote working, with lockdown causing an explosive burst in growth from a very low base.
This move to remote working was a little rough-and-ready, with only basic voice functionality for most, and little integration with key CRM systems.
Some companies gave up on the voice channel and focused on their live digital engagement channels – email, web chat and social media – as well as self-service.
For agents too, the move to homeworking was very sudden and many faced big challenges:
Yet everyone pulled together, and the willingness across all departments to make things work meant that most businesses still managed to offer reasonable service to their customers.
And with no commuting or public transport to endure and an increasing feeling of empowerment, many agents actually found that they enjoyed the experience of working at home.
For the business, remote working does not have to be just for emergencies, offering:
But remote working hasn’t been the only customer contact change driven by the pandemic.
Customers’ increased demand for service from some types of business has asked huge questions of the voice channel which could never have been answered even by a traditional centralised environment. Digital channels have plugged the gap.
It would be easy to imagine that lockdown has seen a massive increase in call volumes across the board.
In fact, they’ve dropped significantly for many businesses, as customer demand for their products and services fell away. Others – banks, telcos, airlines – have seen unprecedented levels of calls, and pressure on the voice channel was exacerbated by shorter opening hours.
Changing customer preferences has also made a difference.
But while there’s been a drop in the desire for face-to-face interactions, rather than there being a consequent rise in telephony – being the next most personal channel – people are using self-service instead (especially the older demographic, many of whom are now giving self-service a chance for the first time).
Some new channels will emerge: co-browse or video can help those customers who need a personal touch and who have become used to seeing friends and family on screen.
This rise in digital is a chance for businesses to keep customers away from the expensive and over-stretched voice channel, but digital still has not yet reached its potential.
From a cost perspective, the self-service channels are a much more attractive proposition for businesses than the human-assisted digital channels of email, web chat and social media.
The reason for the small cost differential between phone and most digital channels is that few emails or web chats are handled entirely by AI/chatbots (4%) and or are dealt with by AIs working alongside agents (20% of web chats; 5% of emails).
So, if businesses can dramatically decrease the cost of service through automating digital interactions, and even the older generation are happy to try new ways of communicating with businesses, is this the end of telephony?
The short answer is no: voice provides the familiarity, empathy, reassurance and personal touch that customers value. It’s quicker to speak than to type, and telephony is ideally suited to handling complex issues, clarification and follow-up questions.
Despite the rise of digital, two-thirds of inbound customer interactions still come through the voice channel.
In the future, self-service and AI-enabled automation will handle most of the straightforward customer requests, leaving live channels (including voice and video) to provide premium and personalised service when truly needed.
But there is a barrier to this: the research shows that not having a single view of the customer across channels is the single largest issue impacting upon the customer experience. A unified desktop with a universal queue – delivering calls, emails, web chats and social media requests on a single screen – goes a long way to solving this.
Any actions taken now by businesses are not just short-term firefighting, as the old way of working will not be here again for a long time, if ever. And really, do we want it to be?
Even before the pandemic, the long-term movement of the contact centre industry was towards a greater use of digital, automation and AI, along with the increased flexibility that cloud supports.
While the recent crisis has accelerated the pace of change in the contact centre, it has perhaps not changed its trajectory as much as many of us feel.
The contact centre of tomorrow can be here today: a single unified agent desktop; agent support from real-time AI; a holistic view of the customer’s journey and channels; agents working wherever they need to be; all underpinned by an open, cloud-based architecture.
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