Recent research suggests that something has to change in the contact center space

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It’s not been a great couple of months for customer experience.

In the middle of June, Forrester released its US 2023 Customer Experience Index, which showed that brands’ CX Quality had fallen for the second consecutive year. A week later, they released the Canadian version of their CX index, and it had fallen to its lowest point since 2016. Then, in July, the UK’s Institute of Customer Service released its latest UK Customer Service Index (UKCSI), showing that its index had fallen to 76.6, a fall of 1.8 points compared to July 2022, and its lowest score since 2015.

Now, as someone who is an advocate for great service and experience, these sorts of announcements make for troubling reading.

But, I realise that this is often a long, ongoing and never-ending process, so I am always on the lookout for research, insights and clues that can highlight and explain what is currently going on and how best to overcome the challenges that organizations face in this context.

As part of that process, I recently came across two pieces of newly released research into the contact center space.

Together they paint a very challenging picture and possibly explain why we are seeing customer experience standards slip. They also suggest that something has to change if brands are to deliver on their priorities and promises.

Now, before we go any further, I should say that I know that customer service only plays a part in a customer’s experience. However, I am sure we can all acknowledge that the service a customer receives is a significant contributing factor to how a customer feels about their experience with an organization.

And, a bad customer service experience can make or break a customer’s overall experience.

So, with that in mind, let me share with you some highlights from the research that I discovered, what I think they mean, and what brands should be thinking about when it comes to reversing the seemingly inexorable slide in customer experience standards.

The first piece of research comes from Deloitte Digital, who recently released the latest edition of their biennial Global Contact Center Survey.

The survey, which has been conducted every two years since 2013, aims to better understand the current state of contact centers and what their plans and priorities are for the coming two years.

It’s an interesting study as respondents come from a range of different service and sales organizations from around the world that span both B2B and B2C industries as well as internal service functions such as IT and HR help desks.

The following are some of the highlights that stood out for me:

  • The top strategic priorities for contact center leaders were: #1 – Customer experience and #2 – Cost control.
  • Meanwhile, their top investment priorities over the coming two years were: #1 – New self-service capabilities, #2 – Modernizing infrastructure and #3 – Agent-enablement technologies.
  • 63% of contact center leaders are facing staffing shortages and are having to get more creative and proactive when it comes to finding, hiring and retaining agents;
  • 58% of organizations report that they are outsourcing at least some of their service capacity, and that is forecast to grow to 64% in the next two years.
  • 86% of leaders said they expect to have to start increasing starting salaries in the next two years to help recruit new employees;
  • 69% report that they plan to expand the number of channels they are servicing customers over in the coming two years; and
  • Only 7% of the contact centers offering service over multiple channels are able to seamlessly transition customers between channels preserving interaction data, history and context for the next agent or system.

I am sure that you will agree that those headline findings from this year’s survey paint both a challenging and frustrating picture.

The picture becomes even more challenging and frustrating when you layer in findings from other recent contact center research, this time from Invoca via their 2023 State of the Contact Center Report.

Invoca’s research surveyed 500 contact center agents and managers in the U.S. and the U.K. to find out more about how they work, how satisfied they are with their jobs, and what they need to be successful.

Here are some of the highlights from their research:

  • The average yearly contact center turnover rate, as reported by contact center agents and managers, has now reached 60%, with contact center agents citing better wages, lack of advancement opportunities and poor work-life balance as the main reasons driving their decision to leave rather than other often cited reasons for attrition like being treated poorly by customers, stress or the repetitive nature of the job.
  • Interestingly, they also found that 64% of contact center employees say that their role involves both customer acquisition and customer service and that of the calls that come into their contact centers 35% are hot leads, with 33% of those calls converting into new sales, according to data from Invoca’s platform. For comparison, according to Invoca, that’s 5x the rate that typical shoppers convert online.

Not great, right?

Here’s my take on these findings.

From my own soundings, these research findings are pretty accurate. So, it’s no wonder two-thirds of contact center leaders are facing talent shortages when you combine that with such a high staff turnover rate.

If customer experience is the number one priority for contact center leaders, then the lack of connected channels is not acceptable, and contact center and customer experience leaders need to do better.

Yes, you should be investing in self-service capabilities, but the lack of connectedness across channels is a perennial concern and introduces unnecessary effort and frustration into the experience for both agents and customers.

In addition, why would you be adding more channels when the existing channels are not connected? That feels like adding fuel to an already raging fire.

Yes, BPOs and other outsourcers, like Gig CX platforms, may be able to help with capacity and capability challenges, but really valuing the contribution of the contact center and specifically customer agents, particularly through higher and more competitive wages, is a clear route to addressing these supply and demand issues.

These are big problems, and things aren’t sustainable as they stand.

Contact center and customer experience leaders have to realise that there is a reformation coming to the contact center space.

These numbers are not sustainable, are, arguably, showing up in slipping CX standards across the board and something must be done.

The quicker contact center leaders and senior executives in organizations start reframing the role of the contact center, and its importance to the customer experience overall, from one of a cost center to a place where they manage it as a value center and one that is worth investing in through higher and more competitive wages and better connected and integrated technology the quicker they will be able to navigate their way out this current malaise.

This post was originally published on Forbes.com.

Credit: Image by Pixource from Pixabay

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.

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