Contact Centers May Never Be the Same Again

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When the economy returns to relative normalcy, there are some professions that may not resemble pre-pandemic conditions. Customer service, for example, has experienced considerable change, as contact centers went virtual to protect their employees and maintain business continuity. This abrupt pivot has proven to be successful for many contact centers, so much so that the transformation is likely permanent.

The contact centers that transitioned to remote work were a litmus test for telecommuting. The experiment ultimately demonstrated that certain industries can maintain business continuity even when employees are working from home. As contact center leaders evaluate the successes and challenges during this time, the lessons that emerge may help revolutionize customer service.

Migrating to the Cloud

The most effective work-from-home policies were made possible due to cloud technologies. This is largely due to the fact that modern cloud platforms replicate the experience for contact center agents and managers. For every COVID-19 success story, however, there was an example of a business struggling to navigate the public health crisis. Some organizations were unprepared to make the appropriate adjustments because of outdated technologies, compared to smaller contact centers that have long recognized that the cloud was the next logical step in their modernization.

The pandemic has only created a greater urgency for small businesses still running on legacy business telephone (PBX) systems. And while a soft economy usually discourages technological investments, it appears customer service leaders are resolved to not get caught unprepared again. A recent survey conducted by NICE inContact, which focused on the impact of COVID-19 on contact centers, found that the shift towards remote work may not be an isolated trend. The survey showed that 66 percent of respondents whose companies are not using the cloud today are planning to accelerate their move to the cloud as a result of the pandemic. Contact center leaders are evidently growing more and more confident that the cloud not only enables business continuity plans, but that it can even elevate the performance of agents, resulting in better customer experiences.

Growing Interactions

Despite economic turmoil, many businesses have not seen a slowdown in customer interactions. NICE inContact’s latest study found that 92 percent of the contact center respondents experienced an increased volume of interactions across both traditional and digital channels. By contrast, only 11 percent of respondents reported a decrease in interaction volume. Contact center operations are defined by ebbs and flows, as holidays typically represent rush seasons followed by lulls. Although the latest surge in customer interactions will not hold once the economy recovers, the desire of businesses to scale contact center operations will continue. Contact centers that adopted cloud platforms before and after the outbreak were able to handle the influx of interactions by assisting customers through a variety of channels. Unlike voice-only services, operations that have omnichannel capability empowers agents to manage as many as three customers at once, as email, SMS and even social media are made available.

There’s little doubt that customers are embracing channel choice. According to the survey, 57 percent reported an increase in phone calls and a whopping 62 percent of respondents reported an increase in digital interactions. Beyond agent-assisted interactions, cloud contact center platforms can also deploy chatbots that allow customers to address their issues themselves. Even this channel saw an uptick during the pandemic, with 46 percent of contact centers seeing an increase in self-service. For business-to-consumer businesses, contact centers reported a greater increase in digital engagement and a decline in phone interactions.

Smart Investments

Modern contact centers were able to manage all of these interactions despite the fact that a sizable number of its workforce were working from home. The coronavirus pandemic did not birth the concept of remote contact centers. Many customer service operations already relied on remote agents to fulfill service needs. Nevertheless, the data is quite clear that the public health crisis has normalized the work-from-home strategy.
It is this forward-thinking leadership that has encouraged contact centers to consider implementing digital solutions to achieve organizational goals and provide consistent customer support during times of disruption. Technological investments can be a daunting project, especially when there is economic uncertainty. Nevertheless, many contact center leaders have been able to see inefficiencies in the contact center and chart a course that will make those improvements that, at the very least, help buoy organizations trying to stay afloat.

Since the “new normal” appears to be trending towards standardized work-from-home practices and contact center modernization, determining the path forward for 2020 and beyond requires an effective strategy and an understanding of how to best sustain your contact center. CX leaders must make sure they are deploying technology that can provide the customer-centric conveniences in demand today, effectively handle increased interactions and foster sustainable long-term relationships.

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