Post-pandemic perspectives – how will contact centre culture change?Martin Taylor is Deputy CEO at Content Guru
One of the most common pieces of advice you hear being given to people is “never look back” but in the contact centre industry, far from being something to avoid, looking backwards can often give us a clear indicator of what lies ahead. After all, what is past – as Shakespeare wrote more than 400 years ago – is prologue.
The coronavirus crisis marked a clear turning point for the contact centre and will undoubtedly be seen as a point of revolution for the industry in the years ahead. As the pandemic hit, contact centres already using cloud technologies were able to ensure remote working models could be adopted quickly and successfully, allowing agents to work securely and compliantly from home. Those that were reliant on outdated on-premise technology were initially left unable to maintain service levels for customers.
The technology that made working from home possible is now essential to ensuring contact centre agents can complete their work efficiently, whether they’re working remotely or on site. These changes have also fundamentally overturned traditional contact centre culture.
Contact centres have never been regarded as advertisements for remote working. If anything, they were centres for what some might call ‘presenteeism’, with a large number of people sitting in front of computer screens at their desks in large offices. The pandemic has forced many organisations to trust their employees more and give them greater flexibility and agility.
As many businesses plot their return to the office, they will need to accommodate a significant increase in hybrid working for contact centre employees.
Flexible working is the new normal
If you want to see where things are going, start by looking back to a time when ‘call centre’ was the dominant term to describe customer interactions – an era when most of the work was done over the telephone. Over time, it has been replaced by ‘contact centre’ with the introduction of channels beyond telephony – email, instant message, social media etc – for customers to choose from.
Looking forward, as we move into a more virtual contact centre environment with agents dispersed across remote locations, would it be that surprising if the word ‘centre’ starts to be viewed as redundant?
Consider what will happen as businesses assimilate the benefits of remote working they have seen during the pandemic. Benefits which have resulted in a happier, healthier workforce. That trend won’t be reversed. Managers will use what they’ve learned during the pandemic to offer more flexible working arrangements for agents going forward.
What did they learn? That home working eliminated commuting time for their employees, that customer interactions could take place more quickly and teams were able to be more agile than ever when compared to the traditional call centre model.
They found it was possible to alter rota structures more easily than they might have expected. They could keep contact centres efficiently staffed during periods of peak demand while giving team members the opportunity to work around family commitments and set their own schedules.
Those lessons will be invaluable as organisations weigh up the benefits and potential disadvantages of returning to the office. Having successfully implemented remote working for contact centre employees during an emergency, business leaders are learning they already have some of the foundations in place to move to virtual contact centres in the decade ahead.
Better customer control and the power of data
Social media is becoming one of the predominant channels for customer service. Alongside this is the rise in the numbers of consumers trying to troubleshoot their own queries. To address these trends, contact centre employees will need to evolve to become experts in analysing data. By adopting new technologies and adapting their processes, agents will be able to pre-empt the needs of their customers rather than just addressing their concerns.
There is likely to be an increase in the use of granular controls. Customers will be able to log into a system, alter their account details, and resolve their own queries. If consumers with greater levels of technology confidence can make use of more self-serve elements, it will help contact centres better manage call volumes and adopt a more proactive approach to customer experience.
With the right permissions, data governance and analytics in place, companies could use customer data to develop a more proactive customer-centric strategy focused on engagement, loyalty and business longevity. It makes good business sense. It’s no surprise then that Gartner predicts that 40% of service organisations could become profit centres and de facto leaders in digital customer engagement by 2025.
Keeping CX human in the age of the bot
During the pandemic, people had to deal more with chatbot services and conversational AI tools. It’s fair to say familiarity helped breed content. Greater use of chatbot solutions benefited contact centre teams because it helped filter enquiries before they got to a physical agent. With more enquiries dealt with at an earlier stage by chatbot solutions, the wait time was reduced for customers that needed to engage with a real person.
Using chatbots does not mean customers will not want to deal with fellow human beings. Many people still want to retain the human touch when they are dealing with a business. Keeping a personal element in those interactions can build trust and strengthen loyalty.
The pandemic has also led to a big increase in video as a channel of communication for many customers. Contact centres can use video technologies in their interactions with customers to visualise and resolve queries in real-time, making the connection with the business or brand feel more authentic.
The future is bright
Looking back on the changes caused to the contact centre industry as a result of the pandemic, it’s clear there have been a number of positive moves in the face of unprecedented adversity.
The shift to a more flexible, agile approach to work and wellbeing is one very clear benefit. In tandem with much better technology, this puts contact centres in a strong position to keep employees happy and to tap into a much wider talent pool of specialists in the future.
With the move to virtual contact centre models and better self-serve capabilities, the contact centre is well-positioned to become the hub for customer insight and engagement in the future. The lessons learned during the pandemic have played a major role in positioning the contact centre for this move and precipitated a revolution in culture for an industry on the precipice of significant change.
Martin Taylor is Deputy CEO at Content Guru
One of the world’s largest suppliers of cloud contact centre infrastructure, Content Guru’s award-winning Customer Engagement and Experience solutions are used by hundreds of leading enterprise and government organisations across the globe.
Content Guru’s cloud-native omni-channel CCaaS solution, storm®, offers virtually limitless scalability, unmatched integration capabilities and industry-leading AI. Content Guru ensures contact centres and customer engagement hubs meet the needs of every user, seamlessly. storm is deployed in mission-critical applications across Europe, the US and Asia-Pacific, in sectors ranging from finance and healthcare through to government and utilities. Customers relying on storm include Sodexo, Chubb, Serco and NHS England.
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