Four best practices for the future contact centre
The coronavirus crisis means a renewed focus on employee engagement and performance management.
If there are any positives to be drawn from the coronavirus crisis, one must be the speed and precision at which companies have been able to shift their customer service operations to a work-from-home setting.
According to ContactBabel, 47% of all UK contact centre agents will be working from home in June 2020, versus 14% at the end of 2019.
However, whilst this is an admirable and necessary achievement, the initial process of moving operations to a remote-working environment is for many, long overdue, and only the beginning of what is largely expected to be a transformation of how most contact centres operate.
“We'd describe the coronavirus response as a "back to basics" approach, almost like Maslow's hierarchy of needs,” says Kris McKenzie, SVP of international sales for customer service technology provider, Calabrio.
“Contact centres needed to address their most basic needs before they were able to reach the higher levels of performance we were experiencing before Covid-19 hit.
“Once these basics were met, they needed to react to changing workloads, adapt their shift patterns to remote workers' challenges, and develop new communication approaches for remote teams. It's not surprising that the issues we've been focusing on in contact centre transformation projects prior to coronavirus – such as customer experience, cost reduction and security – weren't on the radar to start with: only 5% of customers had concerns about these issues when initially asked at the start of the pandemic.”
Now, over three months into the global lockdowns that ensued as a result of coronavirus, many contact centres are starting to discover an entirely new pattern of working. As a result, numerous best practices come to the fore, as McKenzie explains.
Analytics for everyone
Contact centre leaders are no longer able to ‘walk the floor’ to assess the performance of their teams, meaning an increased reliance on specialist analytics from multiple data sources – quality, workforce management, contact metrics, customer feedback, sales and more.
Whilst analytics was hot on the agenda before COVID-19, the need for performance dashboards for agents as well as leaders has become much greater.
“By sharing performance with agents every morning on their desktops, contact centres can provide visibility of their performance,” says McKenzie.
“They can see their metrics that are important to them and important to the business, what their performance is over time and how they compare to their team. It’s a great way to engage remote agents. It is important to be sensitive on KPIs and not use the assumptions from a pre-Covid 19 world. Both the targets and the way we monitor KPIs will need to be sensitively handled.
“Once these contacts are automatically identified with analytics, they can then be used for agent coaching, proactive outreach to distressed customers and for insight. Desktop analytics is proving highly valuable in seeing the desktop challenges faced by agents handling contacts at home. Contact centres can see the systems that agents are spending their most time in, and then work with their IT teams to optimise issues, such as latency.”
Contact centres needed to address their most basic needs before they were able to reach the higher levels of performance we were experiencing before Covid-19 hit
One of the biggest concerns for contact centres, pre-coronavirus, was how working from home environments would affect their agents’ capacity to receive the regular training and coaching they required to undertake their role.
However, with the situation thrust upon many, leaders have found techniques such as self-assessment and peer coaching come to the fore.
“For peer coaching, contact centres should identify particularly experienced or empathetic agents who are dealing well with new demand and forward these contacts to agents that need help,” says McKenzie. “These agents can then review these techniques remotely and implement the techniques learned.
“Self-assessment is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to coach. We’ve seen contact centres provide the same contact to the agent and the team manager (or the quality assurance team), both carry an evaluation and have a video coaching session to review. Quality Management automation tools help significantly with this process, as does analytics which can help you select contacts that are the most relevant.”
For many customer service professionals, one of the greatest challenges created by the lockdown environment is balancing home and work life. As a result, this has put scheduling at the forefront of employee engagement.
“Contact centres need to redesign their schedules to allow for micro shifts, split shifts and respite shifts,” says McKenzie. “Micro shifts will allow agents who perhaps have 1-2 hours free between home schooling to take contacts. Split shifts will allow agents to manage home schooling, or their spouses’ work constraints, around the demands to support customers. Respite shifts will also be important if agents are consistently taking contacts from distressed customers.
“As the lockdown rules evolve, we anticipate that shifts will continue to change. We will see staggered commuting rules, selected days for shopping and partial opening of schools. Contact centres will need to give agents the ability to influence their shifts in advance, and to self-serve during the day if there are childcare issues.”
One key issue for many contact centres has been the recent fluctuation in demand. As data from Invoca highlights, the coronavirus crisis wasn’t a guarantee of increased call volume in every industry. Whilst some sectors, such as financial services and travel, saw initial surges in volume when the pandemic first hit, other sectors, such as automotive, saw huge declines, before slowly bouncing back.
As demand and call volume continues to fluctuate as lockdowns ease around the globe, contact centres will need to identify how to react to new demand curves where their historical or seasonal forecasts simply aren’t relevant.
“Intraday management tools, where you can review actual contacts and handle times versus the forecast, will help planners react to changes in demand,” adds McKenzie.
“Planners also need to review and potentially change their service level requirements, as there will be changes in contact volumes, interaction lengths and after contact work.
“Channel shift may not be possible if certain channels couldn’t be migrated home. Planners should also review their KPIs - for example, is forecast accuracy even relevant right now? Are Service Levels realistic? What does Occupancy look like in the remote world and what is the skills mix required? There are many new questions being asked of contact centres now, but it is important to continue asking them as the coronavirus situation evolves.”
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.