Contact centres in the new normal
The onset of the national lockdown in the UK resulted in a large-scale, unprecedented move to remote working. This shift was a test for organisations across all sectors, even those who already had some form of working from home policy plan in place.
For contact centres in particular, remote working proved to be a significant challenge as they traditionally operate a largely on-premise working model, with some employing hundreds of staff members operating from the same workspace. And for the majority, remote working in any form was not commonplace before the pandemic.
As a result of these challenges, COVID-19 has revealed inconsistencies in the preparedness of companies who rely on contact centres to provide a service or assistance to their customers.
Some companies were not prepared
Some large, legacy companies were simply not prepared for such an unprecedented shift and struggled to update or upgrade their infrastructure to adapt to the new circumstances. Some contact centres use older telephony that does not have the flexibility to be used by employees working from home. Other companies struggle because they don’t have the necessary remote access to customer data needed to be able to operate off-premise. For companies who outsource much of their work abroad, they were also left exposed to the impact of the lockdown in other countries, where different rules applied, or remote working wasn’t viable.
To name but one example, back in March, Three Mobile announced that it would be shutting all of its UK call centres and furloughing many staff as it didn’t have the capabilities to implement a remote working policy. Customers were advised to use online chat facilities, but these were overwhelmed as they were not prepared to deal with such a high volume of enquiries.
Meanwhile, others flourished
Whilst it is true that many contact centres struggled to adapt to a remote working model, others were well prepared and managed to flourish, despite the challenges posed by the lockdown. This was particularly true for those born in the cloud companies who were able to maintain services as usual whilst their employees worked from home.
Adapting to the new normal
As we slowly begin to come out of lockdown and look at more long-term solutions, it is clear that things will not be returning to traditional practices for contact centres. Certainly, large volumes of staff will not be working from shared workspaces, as it is no longer safe under new social distancing guidelines. As a result, contact centres will need to look to adopt a model where some staff continue to work remotely, whilst others return to the office at reduced capacity. Alternatively, some may choose to keep a number of staff on furlough, resulting in an overall reduced workforce.
Organisations are going to have to adapt if they are to succeed in the new normal. With the prospect of a reduced workforce highly likely, one way to do this is by adopting technology solutions that help to ease the flow of customer calls.
Even with a reduced number of call agents, customers are still going to expect quick and simple options to engage with companies and resolve their enquiries. Voice-driven IVR (conversational interactive voice response) technology is a sophisticated system that recognises call reasons and steers customer calls to the right agents automatically. This replaces older, outdated telephony solutions such as touch-tone and directed dialogue-based IVR systems with complicated menu trees.
With this enhanced IVR, agents are provided with all the relevant information on screen regarding the customer and the reason(s) for their call before they are connected with the customer. As a result, processing time is reduced by an average of 20%. Customer satisfaction is also improved because an agent does not have to get the information that a client has already provided to the automated system
AI-based omnichannel self-service
Another solution that can help call centres to meet increasing volume with limited capacity is AI-based omnichannel self-service, which has the capability to maintain dialogue with customers in real voice-to-voice mode and follow up on the context. There are omnichannel solutions that support voice-to-voice conversations in a contact centre, voice-to-text conversations on mobile apps and text-to-text conversations on social networks and mobile messengers.
Self-service systems make it easy for customers to ask detailed questions and get fast and accurate answers, while deflecting queries from more expensive or overstretched channels such as telephone calls with agents. There’s a clear link between strong self-service capabilities and award-winning customer experience – brands such as Amazon that consistently rank at the top of satisfaction indexes rely heavily on self-service.
These are just two examples of technology-based solutions which can help to reduce call time, free up agent time, and keep customers happy, even when working with a reduced workforce. As the lockdown eases further, how well businesses embrace and adopt new technology solutions will be the make or break of their contact centres whilst operating in the ‘new normal.’