Over the past few months, the customer service industry has had to brace for large volumes of callers in need of information, direction and comfort. Contact center leaders needed to rewrite the rulebook to launch customer experience (CX) innovations to weather the storms.
With the future still uncertain, organizations need to renew their focus on gaining efficiency and cost-savings momentum while also improving customer and employee experiences. Traditional contact center labor models won’t be enough to recoup what’s been lost. Instead, double-down on the innovations that got us through the crisis -- like remote workforces, intelligent automation, and cloud technology.
To help, here are 7 key strategies to help build resilient, future-proof contact center operations:
Strategy #1: Distribute your workforce
Digital transformation skyrocketed during quarantine. This sudden and rampant change in how we communicate with agents and customers shook businesses operating only in siloed locations. Those who weren’t flexible enough to adjust faced agent shortages and operational challenges.
Meanwhile, organizations with distributed operations and at-home infrastructure fared better than those with centralized brick-and-mortar locations during the crisis. Contact centers with resources across the map were ready to disperse and deploy at-home resources or move operations elsewhere.
The days of the mega-centers are waning—the future is fast, nimble and spread out. Use a physical and remote hybrid model of work to maximize diversification in skills, resources, and locations. This flexibility will be needed to deploy agents for various volumes and support needs.
Strategy #2: Continue remote operations
Disasters, natural or man-made, drew large volumes of support and exceeded capacity, leaving customers on hold during stressful times. Based on Harvard Business Review research during the crisis, some companies saw hold times increase by 34% and escalations go up by 68%. Expected or unexpected, leaders will want to be prepared for the next crisis. Remote options and flexible staffing models help contact centers stay prepared at scale.
The beauty of remote work lies in the ability to go well beyond the means of a traditional brick-and-mortar center. Utilize the service capabilities enabled by remote work to give your organization a flexible avenue to deploy emergency staff in times of distress. In times of uncertainty, the power of contact centers lies in pivoting and scaling support capacity quickly.
Strategy #3: Prioritize digital-first
Digital transformation tools surrounding automation, AI-enabled learning, messaging, and cloud based-systems now a necessity. Customer-facing organizations realized the mission-critical benefits of a digital-first when they had to deploy solutions quickly during the crisis.
The ability for artificial intelligence to analyze caller sentiment and provide relevant, real-time, suggestions to agents enabled them to deliver immediate results backed with human empathy.
Make automation, AI-enabled learning, messaging and cloud-based systems a mainstay for your contact center operations. Organizations have already seen costs decrease while contact resolution, employee productivity and customer satisfaction increase through a mix of agents and technology.
This is particularly invaluable for government and healthcare industries that tackle high volumes of mix of low and high tier questions that requires human and AI effort.
Strategy #4: Expand CX self-service
Massive effort was needed to support urgent needs in every industry when the pandemic hit. The triaging of labor resources to emergency issues made self-service essential. Smart IVRs, online FAQs, automated chatbots and enhanced knowledgebases became key call deflection solutions.
These deflection solutions freed up agents for invaluable work that required more attention, thoughtfulness and empathy.
The push for self-service will enable organizations to get more service capacity with the same units of labor. These advancements will be useful for providing customers with relevant information quickly without having to force everyone into the voice channel.
Going forward, contact centers must provide digital omnichannel support with human back-up. When deploying self-service options, make it accessible for customers to move across channels and reach an agent promptly.
Strategy #5: Rethink security policies
Technology innovations are securely enabling remote work in areas including virtual private networks (VPNs), private cloud systems, "dummy" workstation machines, and more. As remote work becomes more common, security policies are evolving to allow these technologies to be applied in a contact center environment.
The future of work has changed, but security measures cannot. Now that a hybrid model of work is cementing itself, security should be better defined. For example, consider how video monitoring will allow for more flexible work arrangements without higher costs. Security leaders will have to rethink what works best and not be limited by what has been done in the past.
This may mean retraining individuals on what is expected of them when working from home. Introducing agents to refresher courses in security and compliance can help them understand what is acceptable in their new home workplaces going forward.
Leaders will also want to consider deploying VPN multi-factor authentication. Utilizing two-factor authentication is safer than relying only on a password for protection. Two-factor setups are incredibly important for tracking who has access to cloud systems hosting sensitive data.
Strategy #6: Restart your sales engine
In-person sales visits will be greatly minimized for the foreseeable future. And broad, untargeted sales strategies will not be sufficient with tight budgets. Leaders will have to consider how their digital tools fit into the ‘new-normal’ and enable their sales team to do their job.
Use advanced analytics to help target the most likely sales leads and retention opportunities, paired with an optimized inside sales team to help sales organizations be more effective and improve speed-to-close. From a tactical perspective, an at-home inside sales model also allows for greater flexibility and more personalized meetings. Remote sales agents will also be essential to connect with customers for renewals, replacements, and upselling/cross-selling activity as physical locations remain shuttered.
Strategy #7: Build a new training program
Agent training is a critical piece of great CX delivery. Organizations will have to rethink what the classroom environment will look like in a hybrid remote and physical future. Now more than ever, agents separated by unforeseen circumstances will want to be connected to an organization that is strong and held together.
Your organizations can leverage asynchronous, digital tools such as gamified learning, AI-driven training practice scenarios and immediate feedback on individual strengths and weaknesses to tailor training that produces the highest performers. Leverage the potential of secure, non-classroom formats to personalize learning styles for different learners and offer self-paced, ongoing assessments.
Be ready for what comes next
As both private and public sectors move past uncertainty and plan their contact center operations for 2021, make temporary innovations made during the recent crises permanent to carry them resiliently into the future.