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2023 Benchmark Report: The Impact of Economic Uncertainty on Contact Centers

Economic uncertainty is impacting both businesses and customers.  Unpredictable month-to-month jobs reports reflect the hiring challenges facing every organization. Hot-and-cold inflation is constantly changing the way customers behave. And budget concerns are top-of-mind for everyone. 

No industry is more aware of the ongoing turbulence in the market than contact centers. After all, contact centers represent a key connection point between businesses and customers. As economic concerns persist, Replicant partnered with Demand Metric to explore how leaders in the contact center industry are responding:

  • What are contact centers prioritizing in their strategies?
  • How are contact center budgets being impacted?
  • How are leaders planning for potential staff reductions?
  • Why are technology investments a leading hedge against uncertainty?
  • What role will automation play in new investments?

The report summarizes the results and shares insights from over 150 contact center primary decision makers or those highly involved in contact center strategy. It provides hundreds of fresh data points for a deeper understanding of how contact centers are preparing for the unknown and remaining optimistic in the face of uncertainty. Below is a preview of some of the key findings.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Key Finding #1

Automating customer service is the top investment priority. Over two-thirds (68%) of contact centers in the study rank automating customer service as the first criterion they will use to evaluate investments.

While automation was a priority for nearly every contact center in 2022, persisting economic uncertainty has made it an urgent need. For every new technology investment, stakeholders across operations, customer service, and finance will evaluate solutions on their ability to offload customer requests. The reason why is simple. Hiring agents is no longer a sustainable way to meet demand and Contact Center Automation has proven to give customers end-to-end service for tier 1 calls without harming CSAT.

Key Finding #2

Almost every center in this study is prepping in some way for a downturn. 93% of study respondents are preparing in various ways for an economic downturn in 2023.

While no one can predict the future, contact centers are preparing for a downturn in the event the market doesn’t recover in 2023. This can mean investing in new solutions, prioritizing agents to reduce the risk of churn, and replacing legacy technologies that prevent efficiency. 

Key Finding #3

Technology investments are the leading hedge against economic uncertainty. Over half (61%) of primary decision makers or those highly involved in contact center strategy and planning are investing in technology to prepare for the possibility of an economic downturn.

Customer service solutions like Contact Center Automation have the ability to optimize business processes throughout the contact center, and even across organizations. But for leaders, the predictable ROI of an automation solution is the biggest benefit in an uncertain economy. Contact centers can deploy a proven solution in weeks and begin realizing cost savings in just months by reducing outsourcing, temporary hiring, and training costs.

Key Finding #4

Customer satisfaction is the most important KPI. 82% of contact center leaders and strategists in this study state customer satisfaction is the most important KPI. Average handle time is a distant second at 55%.

It’s no surprise that CSAT remains mission critical to contact centers despite the uncertainty. Many industries, like travel and hospitality, are still experiencing massive spikes in demand as customer behaviors rebound from the pandemic. The result is an added focus on lowering hold times and freeing up agents to be more available for complex customer requests.

Key Finding #5

For Contact Centers that will reduce staff this year, Agents will be the primary target for layoffs and hiring freezes. Despite uncertainty about the economy, half of contact centers expect to increase staffing levels in 2023, and another 23% expect levels to remain the same. However, for centers that anticipate layoffs, agents will bear the brunt of force reductions.

The consistent rise of customer demand means increasing staff will remain a priority throughout economic uncertainty for many contact centers. For others, a downturn would mean cuts to their staff will impact their service capacity. In either case, agents have borne the brunt of nationally decreasing customer satisfaction. Empowering agents to spend more time on quality calls – and less on the quantity of calls – will pay dividends for both customers and bottom lines. 

The full report can be downloaded here.

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