The pandemic has changed our views and experiences of so much it’s almost difficult to remember what “normal” was. As the pandemic stretched from weeks into months and beyond, it’s pertinent to question what the future looks like – certainly for the contact centre arena anyway.
Physically the contact centre has changed a huge amount taking home-working to both a necessity and a reality. Many firms have also seen a shift in communication channels. Some are taking more voice calls, others are finding their customer contact is now predominantly across social channels. But regardless of customers choice of contact channel, one thing is certain, demand is growing and businesses need to react.
As COVID is likely to be around long term and with the message from the government that we should work from home if possible it is clear that contact centres will need to make several environmental and operational changes. As businesses are required to provide a COVID-Secure workplace this presents challenges for contact centre businesses, meaning that full capacity working is no longer an option – close-quarter pods and busy offices simply cannot happen. This will necessitate the move to either a fully remote working solution or the adoption of a hybrid-working approach.
Furthermore, technologies to support these models will need to be introduced to support both agents and supervisors in this shift. Whilst short term, tactical solutions will have been adopted by many businesses, it would now be advisable for these businesses to consider the longer-term requirements.
Introducing robust technologies will be fundamental to the survival of those working in the contact centre arena. Not only is an integrated CRM system critical for providing exceptional customer service levels, but it’s also a necessity for managing agent performance. The combination of agent performance analytics and AI solutions such as automation for simple functions like bill payments can ensure that customer service levels are maintained.
AI has a huge role to play in supporting Contact Centres during these challenging times; taking simple tasks away from agents such as the aforementioned bill payments, general queries, shipment tracking and more can free agents up for more important tasks. AI is also a constantly evolving technology, and the AI employed in the contact centre will become smarter over time with the more data it has, quickly routing calls to the correct team members when escalation is required and also more efficiently completing tasks.
Whilst AI undoubtedly has benefits in supporting a call centres workload it’s important to remember that as AI “learns” it’s essential that AI is implemented into an established contact centre environment running at peak efficiency. If processes or data is flawed this will be reflected in how machine learning interprets the data.
Agents to Account Managers
As we look towards the future it’s obvious that remote working or a hybrid working model is here to stay. Agents will start to resemble Account Managers more and companies will want to provide a customised service, where possible routing customers back to the same point of contact, particularly where more complex enquiries have taken place. Necessitating the need for smart routing and in turn, this establishes rapport, builds familiarity with a brand and cements a relationship between customer and business. Agents will increasingly become brand ambassadors and the shift towards this will require a greater level of training and focus on skill development.
As companies expect more from their agents in that journey to becoming account managers and as AI starts to automate more basic enquiries, they will need to trust those agents to step up to the challenge. There is trust required from both sides. The technology is there for the leadership to embrace, deploy and optimise that technology if businesses are to survive.
Whilst contact centre home working has not previously been seen as a viable option, the pandemic has forced many contact centres hands in this move to remote working. Whilst it is not without logistical challenges, home working should continue to be a consideration for contact centres as they look to enjoy the benefits of increased productivity and reductions in attrition and absenteeism. Even as we look towards to end of the pandemic it is hard to ignore this as a long-term option, particularly as a foundation for true business continuity.
Questions will always remain around engagement, performance and development of remote agents. With the plethora of integrated CRMs and collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams, it is possible to achieve this.
With technology at our fingertips, it’s easy to report on key metrics, analyse and train from these. What these reports can’t tell you is how an agent is feeling and this is where you cannot underestimate the need for actually speaking to someone. Schedule in 1:1, team calls and even a virtual Friday afternoon pub quiz. Looking after your employee wellbeing will pay dividends in their performance and engagement.
Collaboration tools have now become lifelines, keeping businesses connected to their people and offering the much-needed human interaction. Tools that provide feature rich and most importantly, uncomplicated, intuitive communication from simple instant messaging to voice and video calls. These communication channels are vital for keeping businesses and employees healthy. Whether you need to communicate an important business document to your entire workforce or it’s a wellbeing call with a team member, robust communication tools are essential.
In these times of uncertainty, one thing is certain, remote agents are the future. In order for businesses to thrive, they must adapt and embrace the new workplace.