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The Future of Contact Centers Starts with Elastic Customer Service

Massive shifts in contact center operations over the last year exposed issues that have long plagued customer service departments — on-premise, inflexible, disconnected software; an inability to easily work remotely; difficulty scheduling to scale during volume spikes; long hold times for customers. These traditional onsite models were required to transition to cloud systems to enable a remote workforce, and many contact centers experienced unprecedented volume spikes only to later go silent. Economic flux and restrictions on travel and mobility continue to impact every industry in different ways — while contact centers still remain tasked with ensuring customer experience remains positive, brands remain attentive, and service goes uninterrupted. 

Predictability for customer service no longer exists; at least, not for any foreseeable future. What is true is that disruption happens at a moment’s notice and can come from reasons no business continuity plan would ever imagine. Resilience has been proven by contact centers that have risen to the challenge. With crisis comes the eventual emergence of mastery, as such new ways of working become the new normal.

What happens next is where contact centers have the opportunity to embrace the gifts of adaptation to reshape how contact centers operate now and in the future. Contact centers have learned what really matters: being present to meet customer needs, wherever and whenever customers need support. Empathy, responsiveness, and helping people attain resolution as fast, accurately, and efficiently as possible — remain essentials. In fact, Forrester recently published a report detailing where they see contact center priorities headed in 2021: “The purpose of customer service is no longer just to alleviate run-of-the-mill inconveniences; it is to provide fundamental and necessary services for consumers devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These consumers, already emotional and anxious over pandemic uncertainties, are dealing with unexpected hardships (financial or otherwise) and need a new type of empathy-heavy support. In 2021, customer service must reduce the frustrations of, and advocate for, these devastated consumers.”

With a renewed mandate to put the customer first, and a bit more breathing space to survey this new landscape, it’s time to look at how the lessons learned in 2020 can and should shape the future of the contact center in 2021. 

No one can guarantee anything other than this: unpredictability is the new foundation to build from and this new reality requires a paradigm shift that embraces: elastic customer service. 

Elasticity Customer Service is the New Scalability

Businesses have been striving for scalability for years now. It often denotes the ability to meet higher call volumes during peak seasons. This concept worked for business models built on predictability with a fair dose of “what ifs” added in for good measure. It no longer is a strong enough business model to ensure continuity. 

The concept of elastic customer service — the ability to expand and contract as normal operating procedures and customer demand fluctuates — creates a more fluid, flexible business model that empowers contact centers to meet the needs of customers and the business no matter what is happening. 

While scaling often equates to expansion, the ability to contract is equally necessary. With reduced budget but unpredictable spikes in volume, creating an elastic infrastructure that can lets you pay for what you use without committing to costly data centers or BPO contracts up front creates a foundation to flex the contact center as needed. 

Elastic Customer Service enables a contact center to do so. 

3 Core Implications of Elastic Customer Service

Shifting to an elastic customer service approach requires rethinking how the contact center operates, which software supports it, what integrations need to be made among applications, and how agents need to be trained. It is worth the investment in time and resources to remodel the contact center for the future; the good news is that contact centers can benefit from applying elastic customer service to their current models today. 

There are three core areas where contact centers can immediately see the impact of taking an elastic customer service-first approach.

  • How elasticity impacts product. Is there a way to reduce the need for customer service? Rethinking when and why customers reach out may reveal areas in your product, service or customer communication that can be changed to eliminate or reduce the need for high-touch customer service. Go beyond offering self-service or knowledge base assistance. Instead, look at the issues underlying the reasons why customers reach out, and plan your customer service strategy from there. Automation can alleviate much of the communication customers need about refunds, rebookings, rescheduling, renewals, and returns. Designing customer experiences that proactively engage customers before they need support not only delights customers, but reduces spikes in call volumes and requires low to no cost per interaction when customers no longer need to make an initial contact to resolve common issues. 
  • How elasticity impacts technology. Many contact centers have turned to chatbots to handle initial call responses and routing, but these bots are often little more than a more sophisticated IVR, offering customers an array of contact selections depending on their issue.Today, artificial intelligence (AI) has matured to the point that leading conversational AI products are able to take Tier-1 phone or chat conversations and handle them end-to-end as an autonomous contact center. Far beyond simple chatbots, autonomous contact centers are capable of comprehending multiple-intent questions, responding to nuanced emotional states, and conversing via natural language processing in a very realistic manner. Deploying an autonomous contact center platform with your cloud contact center as a first line of defense creates a truly elastic layer. It protects the core agent team from spikes by taking on repetitive calls and escalating only the most complex and emotional calls to human agents. Customers have zero hold time, shorter calls, and their issues are easily and accurately resolved, often up to 90% of the time for Tier-1 issues. This frees agents to handle Tier 2 customer service issues, if needed.
  • How elasticity impacts the workplace. Many contact centers are planning to continue with a remote workforce via cloud contact center platforms. Agents that work from home offer elasticity with more flexible scheduling, more/less frequent shifts, the ability to work early or late, and the capacity to have “standy by” agents ready to assist for spikes. Rethinking how to make workforce planning elastic and reevaluating the need for central or hub locations can create the flexibility needed to save the business money, improve efficiency, and drive higher employee satisfaction. 

These three types of elasticity can very quickly reposition the contact center to be more agile, lower costs, improve efficiency, and ensure that customer experience remains highly positive. Meanwhile, a more broad-sweeping shift to prioritize an elastic customer service model can be planned and implemented. Contact centers that become elastic, i.e. can scale up or down according to customer demand, will have the resilience and agility to meet an unpredictable future with confidence in 2021 and beyond. Learn more about handling unpredictable demand with elastic customer service here.

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