Gary Williams Spitch
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How COVID-19 has impacted contact centres

6th Oct 2020
Gary Williams Spitch
Blogger
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Before the age of landing pages, online forms, and pop-up chatbots, contact centres were the only way we could engage with brands and services. They were the cornerstone of the service industry, and in many ways they still are. According to HubSpot, 90% of consumers argue that one channel alone is not enough in terms of customer service, instead preferring an omnichannel experience consisting of email, live chat, social media and contact centres.

Contact centres have been at the forefront of advancements in customer-facing communication technology. They were the playground for breakthrough legacy technologies such as call routing and interactive voice response (IVR), always in the interest of providing a better, more streamlined customer service model.

In 2020, that customer-centric approach is more vital than ever. As we navigate the so-called ‘new normal’ brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing businesses rise to the challenge and adapt in unique ways. At a time when lockdowns and social distancing are part of day-to-day life, we are all leaning on the internet and contact centres a little bit more. In some ways, the pandemic has provided an ideal lens through which to assess the relevance and effectiveness of contact centres, particularly in terms of customer satisfaction and preferences.

Keeping customers front of mind

Far from being the end of contact centres, the pandemic is acting as a catalyst for an evolution that was already taking place, with many embracing artificial intelligence and natural language processing (NPL) to help reduce overheads without compromising on service and in some cases, enhancing it. The key question then becomes, do these automation technologies hurt the customer experience or enhance it and what impact, if any, has the pandemic had on people’s interactions with contact centres?

In a recent survey, we asked respondents across Europe about their interactions with contact centres since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those who took part, only 48% of said they would rather find answers on the internet than phone a contact centre, which is surprisingly low given we all carry the internet around in our pockets. It demonstrates a very real need for contact centres in the omnichannel mix. However, 47% of those asked said they had noticed a decrease in service and efficiency during the pandemic, with 29% finding the contact centre experience “totally disappointing.”

While the demand for contact centres is there, customers’ needs are not being met. So, where are businesses going wrong, and what can be done differently?

Make the most of automation

First, we need to dispel the preconception that automation is bad. In the same survey, 48% of respondents had at some point interacted with a contact centre during the COVID-19 pandemic, and almost all had a “satisfactory” experience. This was attributed primarily to the increased speed and accuracy of the service, and not needing to be placed on hold. The technology is clearly there and working, and it is becoming more available and affordable for businesses of all sizes, creating a relatively easy-win in the field of phone-based customer service. However, automation is not designed to replace contact centre staff, but rather support them. Of those respondents that used contact centres, 72% said it was “essential” to have their call transferred to a human operator when things got complicated.

What this tells us that customers are surprisingly satisfied with, and in favour of, automated contact centre technology. But by the same token, it also tells us that there is no replacement for the human touch when things get complex, and human input is likely to be needed for the foreseeable future. The mission for contact centre operators will be to get the balance between AI and human input just right, optimising their cost-efficiency without compromising on levels of service.

The contact centres of the future may look very different, but they will always be present in a customer-centric world.

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