5 trends reshaping the contact centre industry
At the start of 2020, most businesses were able to predict with confidence what the outlook was for their respective industries over the next few years. However, the scale and rapid onset of the COVID-19 crisis upturned everything that was previously taken for granted.
In recent months, addressing operational and commercial imperatives created in the wake of the global pandemic has been the top priority. However, as everyone adjusts to the ‘new normal’, recognition is growing that the future for many industry sectors will look very different indeed.
As leaders prepare to reinvent contact centre models for enhanced agility and sustainability, addressing the top trends set to impact the traditional contact centre as we know it today will be key.
1. Less but more….
As we emerge from lockdown, the physical contact centre looks set to change irrevocably. Social distancing measures aside, contact centre leaders are reviewing how best to preserve the wellbeing of agents and maintain business continuity in the wake of possible subsequent waves of Coronavirus.
This will drive organisations to restructure their call centre operations. Expect fewer huge sites housing a large number of agents, as organisations implement multi-site and geographically dispersed locations to ensure critical business continuity can be maintained in the face of any form of future disruptions. These models will be powered by cloud-based contact centre technology which makes it possible to spin up sites rapidly and at speed through a single unified solution, without prohibitive cost or complexity.
2. Agile working practices will thrive
The immediate impact of the COVID-19 outbreak meant that contact centres had to pivot fast to execute compliant work-at-home models at scale. Previously viewed as a contingency option only to be triggered in the event of major incidents such as a fire or flood, initial evaluations of the recent massive homeworking ‘experiment’ highlight the potential of this now proven working approach going forward.
Enabling staff to safely set themselves up to thrive in a predictable home environment has had some unexpected results; agent productivity is up, while churn rates are significantly down. Building on this success, organisations will next initiate new agile working practices such as compressed hours, flexitime, and job-shares to give agents greater freedom over when, where and how they fulfil their roles. With workforce demands for flexible working options rising, expect cloud-powered flexible work-from-home models to proliferate and the traditional norm of a 9-to-5, five-day week structure to become less prevalent.
3. The rise of the knowledge worker
As organisations invest in building flexible ‘virtual’ workforces that can respond fast to evolving customer demand for 24x7 services, they are also taking advantage of smart technologies to enable teams of digital knowledge workers who can resolve customer issues fast. Today’s cloud-based solutions make it possible to create knowledge pools that can be easily accessed by connected specialist workers who can utilise curated content, collaborate, and apply analytical reasoning to address customer service issues and new situations. The contact centre’s traditional manpower boundaries are set to extend across the organisation, as a wider range of specialist personnel are harnessed to support customer interactions.
4. Self-service options will proliferate
The recent pandemic placed unprecedented strain on voice services, with customers facing long wait times on the phone to get answers to questions. Responding to the increased demand triggered a rise in the use of solutions that would enable organisations to offer a wider choice of channels for customers, including self-service options, web-chat, and social media.
Organisations will continue to diversify the channels they offer customers, using AI and automated chatbots to solve simple and routine questions, freeing up agents to handle more complex requests. For customers, voice will become the primary escalation channel when digital channels fail to deliver a resolution to their needs.
5. Agents will work in harmony with AI
Expect the lines between human and robot agents to become blurred as organisations integrate machine learning powered co-workers that can serve up information and suggested resolutions to human colleagues. Today’s NLP technologies are already enabling human-like customer-facing interactions and for the future, contact centre personnel will be working alongside machines, stepping in to undertake complex work that requires human thinking or decision-making.
Expect AI-driven automation to increasingly play a critical role in helping customer service agents complete repetitive manual tasks, and in some cases take over these tasks completely, streamlining the growing volume of interactions across multiple touchpoints. Get set for a fundamental rethink of the architecture of work as organisations find new ways for machines and humans to apply their unique strengths to tasks.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has proved a much-needed catalyst for the contact centre industry, propelling organisations to embrace new cloud-based technologies that enable the operational agility needed to navigate profoundly disruptive events. One thing is for sure: many of the initiatives triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic are set to accelerate rapid and fundamental change across the contact centre industry, as organisations shift working practices and prepare to future-proof their business models for the decade ahead.