Cutting Contact Center Costs in COVID-19

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The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic fallout have forced companies to look inward and reevaluate their financial outlook. This introspection usually leads to the same conclusion: the unpleasant task of finding cost-cutting measures to offset declining revenues. Cost reduction programs can often be scattershot, impacting multiple departments and operations at once.

Customer service operations are frequently raised in these discussions as there is a common misconception that contact centers are a necessary cost, rather than an innovation driver. Most forward-thinking companies, however, realize that contact centers are not just a necessity. They are an essential, value-added component.

If reductions to customer service functions must be made, a strategic approach is needed to address short-term conditions while protecting long-term ROI. Unfortunately, there is not a single solution because COVID-19 has touched companies and industries in varying degrees, requiring varied responses. In broad terms, there are three climates that organizations are weathering at the moment and customer experience (CX) leaders must consider the direction of the wind before implementing their own cost-cutting strategies.

Heightened Contact Volume

Despite social-distancing rules and stay-at-home orders, some organizations, particularly public offices and nonprofits, have reported surges in contact volume since the public health crisis began. More often than not, these organizations offer services that are in higher demand due to the new normal. On a financial level, these organizations are not in need as others, but they may still want to adjust operations to improve efficiencies and save costs. In most cases, these organizations are experiencing spikes in both inbound and outbound contacts, requiring contact centers to augment their staffing needs to handle the bandwidth. Fortunately, there are levers these organizations can pull in order to ensure continued customer service while maintaining or even reducing costs.

For one, these types of organizations should consider proactive solutions, such as push notifications that can lower contact volume. These proactive push notifications, via SMS or automated calls, preemptively answer customer questions and eliminate the need for agent-assisted interactions.

Other technologies that can make customer service more efficient include AI-powered bots. Today’s contact center platforms are able to deploy consumer-facing bots to help ease simple inbound inquiries, mitigating the need for more agents to juggle the surging volume. On the back end, contact centers can also leverage AI capabilities to help agents eliminate mundane administrative tasks, giving them more time and energy to focus on their immediate customers’ needs. These tools allow high-volume contact centers to conserve the number of agent seats while boosting the number of interactions it can handle.

Static Contact Volume

Although most companies have grappled with drastic change, some have experienced static customer contact volume rates. These contact centers likely sit in industries like technology and finance where business continues to be relatively steady. Nevertheless, there are external conditions that may still force these companies to cut costs. Thankfully, there are some actions CX leaders can take in order to improve efficiencies in relatively stable environments. It starts with expanding channel choice for customers.

Contact centers with omnichannel capabilities allow businesses to service more customers without increasing the agent pool. Digital channels such as email or even direct messaging unlock cost-effective communications tools that enable agents to support several concurrent interactions, decreasing customer hold time in the process. Contact centers that provide customers channel choice need to adopt advanced routing capabilities to ensure that every contact, regardless of channel, is sent to an appropriate agent who is equipped to deal with the specific customer and issue. Intelligent routing can pair the right customer with the right agent to assure better first-call-resolution. This type of routing also helps with load balance, ensuring that the agents on duty are bearing the volume equally, ultimately reducing the need for extra agents.

Lastly, companies can leverage digital technology by creating customer communities on their websites. These platforms empower a business’ core audience to help solve issues for customers, cultivating an engaged user base that can serve as an additional value add on the customer journey.

Diminished Contact Volume

Businesses that have witnessed shrinking contact volume post-COVID-19 are probably confronting a shrinking budget as well. These companies are not only losing customers, but the profits that come with it. A more drastic cost-cutting approach here will likely result in an abbreviated contact center. For business leaders tackling this puzzle, this does not mean they need to entirely shut down their customer service operations.

One of the most reliable customer service tools that contact centers can always utilize is an updated frequently-asked-questions page that anticipates customer questions and dispenses user-friendly answers. If a customer does feel the need to call customer service, simple interactive voice response services can be used to address the contact’s needs. Modifying those phone menus to ensure they are relevant to the times will convey a more personal touch that customers often appreciate.

Another option a company can consider is outsourcing their contact center offshore to find more economical agents. Companies do not need to completely offshore their customer service operation, rather they can adopt a hybrid model that maintains the same agent experience at home while employing cost-effective agents abroad.

Future Contact Volume

Several of these cost-cutting measures will have an immediate impact by reducing expenses in the short term. Others require investments in new technologies, which increase budgets but eventually offset the costs once the contact center’s performance improves. Most importantly, all of these strategies maximize ROI and protect companies’ customer service operations.

The common denominator for most of these programs is that they rely on the cloud. Cloud-based platforms do not just improve finances by increasing efficiency and optimizing workload management. It also eliminates costs around maintenance, upgrades, redundancy and scale, reducing costs dramatically when it comes to implementation and integration. A recent Forrester study found the economic impact of investing in cloud technologies quantifies benefits not just in terms of high TCO but long-term ROI and rapid paybacks.

Modernizing contact centers with solutions that can facilitate customer interactions across various touchpoints gives CX professionals the flexibility needed to deliver outstanding, personalized experiences. That does include heavy investments, though can be done by reallocating costs and keeping an eye toward long-term ROI. Consequently, cost-cutting initiatives do not always portend the beginning of the end. They can be a signal that a company is better positioning itself for the future.

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