Contact centers are overwhelmed. Support your employees and customers with these 3 strategies.

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Since March, contact center agents have experienced an increased volume of customer interactions. According to ContactBabel, 65 percent of inbound contact center interactions are still conducted via telephone with a live agent, while only 10 percent have been successfully shifted to self-service over the phone. Most large enterprise contact centers receive between 50 million and 100 million calls per year.

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, for example, could only answer 2 percent of its incoming calls during the pandemic, with an average wait time of more than six hours. And the state of Colorado’s unemployment office received more than 12,000 calls each day — most contact centers can only answer a daily average of 2,000 to 3,000 calls.

Contact center agents are struggling without the tools and support needed to meet the surge in demand. Furthermore, busy holiday shopping (and return) season as well as another year of uncertainty are right around the corner. Without solutions to address the influx, the contact center saga will only continue to negatively impact customer experience and service.

Equipping contact centers to manage a surge in demand

Months of increased call volume have highlighted a problem too long ignored: Current contact center best practices and technologies are both outdated and inefficient. While digital transformation is a priority for many organizations, during their efforts to increase efficiency, many forgot about one of the oldest, most critical aspects of the business: customer service.

Here are a few crucial steps to update the contact center experience:

Lighten workloads with artificial intelligence (AI). When agents must complete multiple steps or ask several questions to understand or identify a customer’s problem, it adds time to calls and further increases hold time for customers in the queue. Conversational AI can break this time- and money-wasting cycle. Contact center AI solutions can interact with customers before the agent, gauging needs and routing calls — or even solving the issue before an agent becomes necessary. So, not only does conversational AI create efficiencies for inbound calls, but it improves the overall customer and agent experience by decreasing the number of misrouted calls, enabling a significant amount of customer self-service for trivial requests and freeing up agents’ time.

Introduce video to the contact center experience. Industries like insurance and financial services can use video conferencing in the contact center to foster more personal connections with high-value clients, creating deeper customer engagement. For sectors like healthcare and manufacturing, face-to-face communication is essential for working directly with patients or partners remotely, allowing for more detailed instructions and care. For retailers, adding video to the contact center toolbox helps them provide live how-to instructions for product assembly or troubleshooting, reeling the product experience back in from YouTube videos or online articles to the brand itself. Video enables organizations to inject a level of collaboration and attention to the customer service experience that isn’t possible with voice or chat alone.

Amp up contact center agent engagement. By nature, contact center agents are bombarded with negative responses and customer frustration on a daily basis, which is only compounded by higher demand. Customers can hear (or see, in the case of video) when agents are answering with a smile, and if agents are overwhelmed and unsupported, it’s unlikely they will feel up to that level of cheer or enthusiasm when addressing a customer’s issue. Determine where you can alleviate friction and increase engagement in the contact center experience. Agents who are working from home have lost the necessary camaraderie of sitting next to their coworkers, so create a schedule of check-ins to offer agents one-on-one support and a safe place to vent. Or add an element of gamification to the surge in calls, rewarding agents who take or resolve a certain number of calls each day with gift cards, time off or bonuses.

Supporting the contact center is a key lever in customer loyalty

Great customer service motivates customers to return to your business — and inspires them to become brand evangelists. According to Ameritas, 97 percent of customers will tell others about a very good or excellent customer service experience and nearly a quarter (24 percent) of customers will return to a business two or more years after a good customer service experience. Why? People turn to customer service when they have a problem — when they are vulnerable. These moments are when brands have the greatest opportunity to make a positive impression on customers, and in turn, imprint loyalty.

Positive, efficient customer service interactions are critical to driving the business forward. During a time when customer service is in high demand and contact center agents struggle to keep up with calls, customer experience is on the line. Organizations must deploy strategies to support their agents — whether in the form of conversational AI, video technology or an internal engagement system — before a negative experience inspires customers to take their business elsewhere.

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