Global Insights: how the Contact Center World Coped with COVID-19
On Tuesday 16th June, Content Guru hosted an Interactive Discussion Group with some of the contact center industry’s leading practitioners from around the globe, as part of CCW Europe 2020. Guests shared their experiences of having to react quickly to the Coronavirus crisis, the learnings they’ve extracted from the pandemic, and their plans for digital transformation following this period of upheaval.
Moving to a more flexible working model is something that many businesses were already looking into before the start of the pandemic. With the rise of the virus, these homeworking plans, intended to be carried out over the course of a year or more, had to be implemented within the space of a few weeks.
One of the biggest concerns businesses found when moving to a homeworking model was ensuring compliance. In order to be certain all payments remained fully protected and secure, some companies were forced to relocate all of their customer transactions to the digital sphere, and only take payments online. Without the use of a flexible Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) solution with compliance tools built in, it’s impossible to ensure that payments taken over the phone conform to industry standard regulation.
This is especially true in less-developed countries. For companies whose call center agents do not have access to WiFi or private spaces within their own homes, homeworking is simply not an option. Without the appropriate environments to facilitate effective, safe, and compliant remote working, the only option for continued call handling is to keep the contact center floor open, but operate with a reduced staff, and a decreased bandwidth. Implementing automation and self-service options to resolve simple enquiries reduces call center queues, a strategy which can be a saving grace for companies working with minimal resources.
Within companies where homeworking could be employed effectively, HR departments initially discovered that many employees enjoyed the new perks of reduced commute times and a better work-life balance. However, as lockdown measures stretch on, many colleagues have found themselves feeling lonely, and missing the daily contact they had with their co-workers in the office. Communication within teams is the key to tackling employee isolation. Regular daily calls offer the team a chance to check in with their colleagues and stay connected. A CCaaS solution that offers advanced supervisor tools can also be employed to ensure that agents are monitored in exactly the same way that they would be in the office, with features such as comprehensive call recording and whisper prompts. Many organizations have also introduced social coping strategies that range from quiz nights, to lunchtime sports challenges, and even virtual pubs.
Loss of face-to-face customer service
Global lockdown measures have had devastating effects on some companies in the retail, leisure and travel sectors. With a customer service focus on face-to-face interactions, these organisations have found themselves having to rapidly reinvent the ways in which they maintain their exceptional customer experience standards, and drive loyalty. Many businesses in the travel sector have also found themselves having to maintain these standards, whilst fielding thousands of complaints and enquiries about cancelled holidays, without the benefit of any form of income. In such situations, delivering a seamless, joined-up customer journey, where customer information is carried from touchpoint to touchpoint, is paramount to retaining business after lockdown measures are lifted.
Introducing new channels
Spikes in customer contact have forced many companies to introduce new channels into their contact centers, to deflect customers from calling in. One of these new channels is WhatsApp. WhatsApp is often considered to be a friend-to-friend channel, but this reputation makes it the perfect substitute for casual face-to-face interactions between customers and brand representatives. WhatsApp is also a much cheaper channel to run than email, and many companies have found integrating WhatsApp into their contact centers has put them at a major advantage over competitors who cannot offer this service to their customers. Similarly, in the Baltic region, Facebook Messenger has surpassed Twitter or email in popularity as a customer support channel. By allowing customers to use these new digital channels to resolve enquiries, companies have been able to reduce their contact center costs, and increase agent bandwidth.
Another way to reduce call queues and increase agent bandwidth is to implement self-service options, through which customers can resolve their queries independently. Having an online platform for customer self-service has been a godsend for some organizations, which have been able to field customer enquiries through automation. This allows contact centre agents to focus on resolving complaints, delivering exceptional experiences to priority customers, and making outbound sales. With added automation in the contact centre, agents can spend their time generating value for their company, rather than undertaking algorithmic tasks that could be done by machines. This strategy increases agent job satisfaction, and greatly reduces attrition rates, especially when coupled with upskilling, which can give agents a sense of job progression.
Intelligent Automation and AI
The Coronavirus crisis has led many industry professionals to begin thinking about implementing intelligent automation and AI into their contact centres. One of the most popular areas of interest within AI for industry leaders is speech-to-text transcription, as well as text and voice analysis. Text analysis has long been used by major organizations on channels such as email or messenger, for categorizing and routing contacts, and suggesting certain words or phrases to the agent typing up a response. With added speech-to-text functionality, contact centres can transcribe speech, and analyze these transcriptions in written format, using text analysis. The most exciting development in this area is Natural Language Processing, an emerging technology which allows speech to be analyzed in much the same way as text, with the addition of sentiment analysis for appropriate contact routing. Companies that innovate now, and introduce these new technologies into their customer experience estates before their competitors, will find themselves ahead of the curve in the oncoming recession-fuelled battle for customer loyalty.
A Greater Focus on Customer Experience
Causing dramatic increases in inbound traffic, the Coronavirus crisis has forced many companies to re-evaluate the role of their contact center. Businesses that had previously used their agents as an outbound sales team have now seen the value in customer retention, and the wisdom of a greater focus on customer experience delivery. Using their agents to build customer relationships and generate loyalty has paid off for several companies, who now see customer loyalty as the key to business survival in the coming recession.
At the end of the discussion, all guests agreed that their main takeaway from the crisis has been their new knowledge, gained by the rapid move to new working practices, with innovations that would have normally taken many months to implement being achieved in weeks. The crisis has highlighted for many, both the importance of customer experience as a business focus, and the need for digital transformation in the contact center.