The COVID-19 health crisis has reshaped the business landscape and the world of work. In contact centers, more employees than ever before now work remotely while customer expectations have risen to their highest levels since Internet connectivity and the smartphone revolution first transformed everything.
It’s been a difficult year and yet the challenges have made it a game-changer that has caused the industry to innovate at a precipitous rate – and there’s no going back. As 2020 draws to a close and we wave goodbye to a year of unexpected lessons and change, it is the perfect opportunity to take a step back and learn from the past, then move ahead with renewed confidence.
By far, my biggest takeaways from 2020 are:
1. Remote work is here to stay – the pandemic has finally ended the decades-long debate on remote or home-working. Recent Gallup poll stats report that nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers who have been working remotely during the pandemic would like to continue to do so. This is a trend that is likely to continue as several regions in the U.S. are already experiencing a second wave due to recent outbreaks.
2. If you weren’t in the cloud before, you are now – many of our own customers tell us that organizations with an on-premise infrastructure have often struggled to cope with the huge number of calls flooding their contact center over recent months. Agility is the name of the game and the ability to scale up and down flexibly with 99.9% guaranteed uptime and total security means there really is no better time to transition to the cloud.
3. Customer demands are greater and more complex – in a recent Calabrio survey, one of the key findings was that the pandemic has caused heightened customer expectations, with 3 in 4 respondents believing that this will remain long after the acute crisis subsides. The pandemic has also revealed how agents are typically the preferred option to self-service solutions. Going forward, the real challenge is to strike a balance between personalized customer experience (CX) and self-service, in order to drive down operational costs associated with high call volumes and meeting heightened expectations.
What’s in store for 2021?
With these takeaways in mind, next year promises to be a balancing act of motivating the workforce while delivering optimal operational processes and even better customer experiences. Here are my three predictions for 2021:
1. Agent wellbeing will take center stage – as more contact centers continue to work from home into 2021. Agent skillsets are set to change as frontline staff increasingly need to self-manage and problem solve independently. They will also have to overcome technical challenges and be adept at using cloud collaboration tools to become a new type of SuperAgent. Meanwhile, contact centers will have access to a wider talent pool as commuting or physical disabilities will no longer be a barrier to recruitment in 2021. However, this means increased employer competition for top talent meaning flexible scheduling and engagement tools will be key to recruiting and retaining the best agents, wherever they are.
2. Analytics adoption will continue its acceleration – for agents and for customers. 2020’s move to remote working and less in-person contact has made it clear that knowing, rather than guessing or ‘trusting gut instinct,’ is critical to anticipating employee and customer needs to keep both happy and loyal. The latest analytics tools will become pivotal to gathering the internal and external insights necessary to empower frontline staff and drive competitive advantage – whether through eye opening desktop analytics, employee sentiment analysis and stress predictors or sophisticated voice of the customer (VoC) innovations. By using analytics in all shapes and forms to quickly analyze the sentiment of customer interactions, contact centers will finally get the visibility they need to pre-empt and predict customer requirements and raise their own profile within organizations.
3. Changing customer journeys will keep everyone on their toes – as more contact centers use real-time metrics to manage CX as it happens, it will no longer be acceptable to look at old data to make decisions. Surges in e-commerce and speedy adoption of digital services have changed customer behavior. This move to digital channels is likely to continue for the medium to long term, making it more important than ever for companies to continually re-think how they engage with customers. Meanwhile, the continued reticence of customers to visit in-store will continue to drive demand for online shopping and the sharp increase in order volumes and delivery delays will inevitably cause more queries into contact centers.
Brands will need to prioritize the ability to predict future customer behavior with powerful predictive analytics. However, changes in behavior will not all stick, customers who do not find online shopping a satisfying experience will return to stores at some point. By leveraging valuable intelligence, customer journeys can be re-engineered for optimal CX delivery in a world where everything changes.
If 2020 was any indication, business priorities and strategies for 2021 must remain flexible. But by taking care of our customers and agents, understanding and using our data to improve operations, and keeping our eye on the ball, we can be ever-more confident as the world around us continues to evolve.