Digitisation & agility take centre stage in 2021
It’s clear that 2020 has been a year of continuous and unprecedented upheaval for contact centres of all sizes. Customer expectations and employee experiences – along with many operational models – have been irreversibly changed by the Covid-19 pandemic. So what will the new year look like?
Lockdowns and social distancing measures have accelerated several key customer service trends. For example, the digital revolution has jumped forward several years in the space of just a few months, while new remote working requirements have forced the contact centre industry to adapt to a distributed workforce.
This has all presented new challenges for businesses to overcome, as well as new opportunities and priorities as we look ahead to the new year. Here’s what we expect to see in 2021.
1. Digital will dominate
Digital and self-service channels have taken on a newfound importance in 2020, and this will certainly continue. Over the next 12 months, we’ll see a continued emphasis on digital (e.g. social media messaging) as the preferred option among customers and more experimentation and deployment of self-service options (e.g. chatbots) to gain efficiencies.
While businesses have traditionally struggled to engage customers where they want to be engaged, in part due to the deficiencies of legacy technologies, this will change over the coming year. Driven by necessity, more contact centres will start to offer truly digital-first, omnichannel services that improve the customer experience by supporting customers anytime, anywhere and providing the personalised service they now demand.
This will see digital teams become an integral part of customer service going forward, removing the internal silos that have historically been present in many businesses.
However, it’s important to note that voice won’t go away. The most complex issues still require voice interactions, and many customers want the connection that comes from talking to another person. So, while businesses should accelerate their move towards digital and self-service, they shouldn’t abandon voice just yet. Instead, they must think about how technologies can work seamlessly with voice to deliver the best and most efficient service to their customers.
2. AI will come of age
Although the industry has been talking about AI for some time, it will become a meaningful part of the CX equation in 2021. AI is finally hitting its stride, making the transition from an aspiration to a solution that can deliver tangible value.
As a result, market adoption will continue to accelerate over the next 12 months. More businesses will understand and accept the potential impact of AI throughout the contact centre – from supporting agents and ensuring more efficient workforce scheduling, to automated insight analysis and increasingly sophisticated routing.
They will also gain the experience needed to get deployments right in 2021, instead of attempting to do too much with the technology and failing to deliver the experience customers now demand.
The key will be to remove the operational barriers that remain, as the technological hurdles aren’t proving to be as daunting as many expected. As we look forwards, those platforms that seamlessly integrate AI into existing processes will have the biggest influence on business objectives.
3. Agility takes centre stage
If there’s one lesson businesses have learnt from 2020, it’s that agility must become part of their DNA. Success in 2021 will depend on organisations’ ability to make themselves as agile as possible so that they are able to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances and customer needs.
This is where cloud technologies have a key role to play. Cloud adoption will accelerate significantly in 2021 as businesses look to solve the unique challenges that Covid-19 has introduced and be creative in how they respond to customers regardless of what is happening in the world.
Over the coming months, cloud native solutions will empower businesses by acting as an enabler for digital transformation. This will help them address customer issues in new ways, as well as providing a vital brand differentiator.
Ultimately, agility has become an essential component of modern business – particularly from a customer experience perspective. Building agility by embracing cloud technologies will put contact centres in the best position to delight customers and drive growth in 2021 and beyond.
4. WFH isn’t going anywhere
The latter half of 2020 has shown that we’re going to be dealing with a remote workforce for longer than expected. As such, a key requirement for businesses in 2021 will be to optimise their analytics, workforce engagement and contact centre infrastructure to help agents excel regardless of where they are.
There will continue to be high demand for an at-home workforce, meaning businesses must empower their agents with technologies that enable them to be productive from remote locations.
This will require adaptation of both the infrastructure layer and workforce engagement management applications. Infrastructure will have to be reliable and available, but also come with a small and cost-effective footprint. Applications will need to take the flexible work environment into account as they develop schedules and monitor performance.
Businesses must give agents the guidance and support needed to navigate the sometimes-complex digital environment. Deep integrations across the technology ecosystem to modernise the contact centre will ensure agents have the tools that enable them to focus on customers, not the technology.
After a turbulent 12 months, contact centres have plenty to think about as the new year approaches. But there are certainly opportunities on the horizon. Those businesses that are prepared to adapt and modernise in 2021 will be able to keep pace with rapidly changing customer expectations, future-proofing their operations no matter what comes their way.
Paul Jarman holds the position of NICE inContact CEO. Mr. Jarman is responsible for the industry leading cloud customer experience platform, CXone, used by enterprise, midmarket, government organizations and business process outsourcers (BPOs) who operate in multiple divisions, locations and global regions.
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