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What the Pandemic Revealed About Contact Centers

Customer Service Has Changed For Good

For years, contact centers have operated on multi-year plans, contemplating evolving changes to their workforce, technology, and customer satisfaction goals. 

But in the two years since Covid-19 reared its head in 2020, their entire world has been thrown for a loop.

It’s safe to say that moving forward, the multi-year plan will be replaced by more nimble, flexible planning, as technology, work-from-home strategies, and fluctuation in customer demands have catapulted us forward.

The pandemic has radically changed how companies operate and respond to customer inquiries or concerns.

According to a one survey, 64% of companies reported downsizing their contact center operations in response to the pandemic, creating new challenges with increased customer service demands and fewer on-site agents. 

Hold times have increased, as well as frustration and anxiety for customers, human agents, and businesses alike. Hearing “we’re experiencing unexpectedly high call volumes” is not comforting for those needing immediate assistance.

There’s an old saying that if you want to fix something, you need to drag it out into the sunlight. Well, Covid-19 has done just that.  

It’s exposed where we need to revamp our businesses to keep up with the “next normal.” 

Here are some ways that the pandemic has highlighted the need to revamp contact centers around the globe. 

There’s No Planning For Unpredictability

Prior to 2020, contact centers had a pretty good grasp on spikes in customer demand, such as those occurring during natural disasters or around seasonal events, like summer vacations or the holidays. However, traditional spikes in demand and service are typically short-lived and often predictable, unlike the new (and continuing) changes in demands created by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Rising request volumes have coincided with unprecedented labor shortages. Contact centers are left in a place where they can’t predict daily demand or agent headcounts – let alone both. 

Keeping this in mind, contact centers must realize that Covid-19 will have a lasting impact on contact centers, no matter their size or industry. With increased volumes in requests and fewer human reps to handle them because of furloughing or downsizing, companies should begin implementing changes now to stay on pace with their competition.

Hybrid Models Are Here to Stay

Dynamic challenges. Dynamic workforces. Dynamic models. Change and flexibility will continue to be themes within every contact center. Entire departments have been moved to remote work locations, and are continuing to do so even as employees are allowed back on-site. This is no easy task. Companies like T-Mobile have moved large numbers of contact center employees off-campus to remote, home-based locations. 

Within 20 days, T-Mobile moved 12,000 customer care employees out of 17 call centers to work-from-home platforms. To make sure these skilled employees didn’t miss a beat, T-Mobile rolled out VPN access to these employees along with a larger capacity server and remote collaboration tools, like Slack and Skype, allowing their employees to continue connecting with each other while tapping into the knowledge and skills of their teammates. 

But there’s another hybrid model coming to the rescue for agents. Contact Center Automation, which is an emerging category in which companies automate tier 1 customer service while empowering agents to focus on more complex and nuanced customer challenges. 

Agents Need More Than Just Moral Support 

Additionally, companies that move some or all of their contact center employees to remote work must make sure that they don’t just have access to company infrastructure and technology platforms, but they also need to provide these employees with continual knowledge and tools to perform their jobs remotely, ultimately delivering continued customer satisfaction. 

The need for new skills is not a new topic in the workplace, but it may become a top priority in a world that has seemingly changed overnight. According to the Harvard Business Journal, opportunities for continued development is the second most important factor for employees’ happiness, just behind the nature of the work itself.

For example, according to a recent study, 56.7% of companies reported that they “needed to find ways to provide remote call center staff with knowledge they need to remotely answer questions.” 

Additionally, companies need to consider updating pre-Covid scripts and procedures in light of new challenges, allowing employees to step out from behind policies and offer effective resolutions in this new day. With customer service calls becoming more complex in light of the pandemic, companies need to prioritize their employees, reducing these pandemic-related challenges experienced in the customer service industry.

How to Navigate the Road to Automation

Not only do contact center agents need access to internal infrastructures, collaboration tools, and updated procedures and scripts, but they also need an effective way to increase productivity by removing repetitive tasks. 

Implementing or upgrading your contact center with artificial intelligence and automation via is one way to not only elevate agent productivity but also shorten hold time and resolve issues faster to increase customer satisfaction.

However, the implementation of automation doesn’t occur in a silo. To be truly effective and flexible, the collaboration between human agents and technology is critical, as it elevates your productivity and scale. 

For example, virtual agents are an efficient way to handle repetitive calls, such as placing orders, entering payment information, or changing an address for an order. Further, a virtual agent is “on” all day, every day, allowing you to handle higher request levels quickly and efficiently, while scaling up or down to meet demand.

By removing these mundane, repetitive, tier 1 customer service cases from the task sheet of your human agents, you allow them to focus on more complex issues, needing human interaction or creative problem solving. 

Additionally, with fewer human agents currently working because of the pandemic, virtual agents, AI, and automation can beneficially step into that gap, filling it with fast, efficient responses while reducing inefficiencies around repetitive work.

Companies can tackle the personal and business challenges of their customers by focusing on meaningful investments in customer service call centers, such as moving the center to a cloud-based platform, allowing their agents to work from home. 

Additionally, with AI-tools, contact centers can triage calls, giving customers immediate relief, while sending the conversations requiring complex, creative analysis to live agents. 

By elevating your employees to a more satisfying, challenging job, you’ll not only increase your employees’ satisfaction, but you’ll see your retention numbers rise. 

In a matter of days, Covid forced us to reexamine how we do business, and the time to make changes is now. By focusing on the right skills, the right support, and the right technology, contact centers can navigate these unknown waters successfully, creating a new and better customer service model.

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