Today’s contact centers are under immense pressure from multiple angles, each with their own unique set of challenges.
The most immediate factor, though, is the the “Great Resignation.”
Contact centers are seeing their agents leave in droves and their hiring rates grind to a halt.
Coupled with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and continued unpredictability from logistic and weather-related events, staffing a call center has become more of an uphill battle than ever.
Contact centers regardless of size, industry, or location, are looking for answers.
The Great Resignation
The Great Resignation has caused stress on contact centers as employees reevaluate what meaningful work is. Many who would once have been prospective employees now don’t want boring, monotonous and repetitive jobs.
The labor pool is shrinking, taking even more of a toll on organizations and their customer support. This has caused new, unforeseen and unplanned workforce management issues and made retention that much harder.
According to the U.S. Labor Department, more than 4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs in November of last year. That was up from 4.2 million in October and was the most in the two decades that the government has been keeping track.
The Global Pandemic
The pandemic is upending every aspect of business. It has taxed organizations greatly, leading to agent shortages, higher stress for employees who are still working, and unhappy customers (which negatively impacts customer loyalty).
According to the Harvard Business Review, the pandemic has created 68% more call escalations, 50% more difficult calls and 34% longer hold times.
Unpredictable External Forces
Third, catastrophic weather events, cybersecurity threats, supply chain disruptions and other unpredictable crises are creating massive customer service challenges.
Companies can’t scale up and down quickly enough to meet customer demand in the face of these events.
No longer do the operations models of the past predict future forecasting needs as it relates to hiring and surges in customer service volumes.
With each passing storm, service outage, and supply chain disruption, contact centers are experiencing heightened call volumes and customers are becoming more on-edge about the status of their services and security of their information.
Why BPOs aren’t Enough
“Modern problems require modern solutions.” The old adage, cliche as it may be, could not be any truer than it is for today’s contact centers.
The WFM challenges of 2021 were unprecedented and have accelerated the need for innovation in the contact center. It’s imperative that every stakeholder in your organization’s customer service operation takes a step back in 2022 to reassess how they traditionally addressed WFM, and evaluate the limitations of those solutions.
Drawbacks of seasonal or temporary hiring
Record-setting resignation rates have increased the need for labor. But where seasonal or temporary hires would step in to fill the gaps in years past, today’s unprecedented resignation rates are exposing the risks of quick hires.
The drawbacks of seasonal or temporary hiring include:
- Relying on past KPIs that no longer hold to forecast future and immediate hiring needs
- Sunk training costs from hires that have joined in the last year and attrited
- No guarantee of lower AHTs, higher CSAT scores, or lower queue times
- Cost overruns, sometimes paying for agents to not be online
- Harm to your brand promise from lack of control and unpredictability
“Right now, our biggest concern within the call center space – specifically on reservations – is the lack of manpower. After the Great Resignation, we hired 2,500 people since May 1st of 2021. Of those, we have already lost 1,300. So all of that work just to end up with 1,200 people. Now we are facing a need to hire an additional 2,500 people before the start of the summer. Our biggest concern right now is how to get people through the pipeline as fast as possible and make them as productive as possible as soon as they start.” – CX Managing Director, Fortune 500 Airline
Legacy technologies can’t do enough
Traditional technologies like agent assist, IVRs, and self-service aim to ease the burden of agents and make them more productive.
They deflect callers to self-service, knowledge base resources, and FAQs. Or, they route callers to departments to cut down on agents’ need to make transfers.
But given the current strain on agents, and the hiring challenges in the market, squeezing every ounce of productivity from your agents is not a long term solution. In fact, it can lead to further employee burnout.
Additionally, IVRs and self-service voice and chat that doesn’t fully resolve issues often does more harm than good for the customer experience.
They can force customers to sit through rigid menus, stay on calls for minutes to hours only to be deflected elsewhere, and have to repeat themselves once transferred to an agent.
56% of consumers cite automated telephone systems as the most frustrating aspect of poor customer service.
BPOs are a linear solution to a dynamic problem
When the first two solutions aren’t enough, traditionally contact centers turn to third-party help. This often comes in the form of seasonal employees or Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) to solve staffing and technology gaps.
These solutions are typically the most expensive methods for adding talent. While they add staff, they don’t have unlimited capacities and often come with premiums once a certain number of live agents are on calls.
They require exorbitant training cycles that can take weeks to months, and they can require rigid contracts that don’t take into account seasonality or agent off-time.
A/B testing in a BPO environment is often not feasible and the ability to pivot when key metrics are lagging is extremely slow when compared to point-and-click AI solutions.
In addition, BPOs are experiencing resignation challenges, too, as employees flock to gig economy jobs.
Why Automation is Succeeding
The limits of traditional contact center WFM strategies become clearer when compared to the latest technology.
Contact centers need a solution that can scale up or down according to customer demand, while delivering effective customer service and keeping costs low.
The answer to this is contact center automation, beginning with the tier-1 level of customer service interactions.
Whereas temporary employees, agent assist solutions, and BPOs can excel in performing “damage control” in times of need, modern automation offers a long-term foundation that can completely transform the workforce optimization of a contact center.
Contact center automation comes in many forms. The most comprehensive solutions leverage conversational AI which has received rapid adoption rates in contact centers due to its proven ability to solve the problems of 2022.
It is the primary automation solution that directly partners with humans to create a seamless experience that benefits both customers and agents.
#1: It directly addresses pandemic-related challenges
Conversational AI can carry out natural, lifelike conversations that resolve customer issues with zero queue times and none of the frustration included with legacy solutions like IVRs.
Customers can use the channel of their choice, speak in the language of their choice, ask multiple questions at once, and never have to repeat themselves.
Since conversational AI makes automation available 24/7 – and scales when needed based on call volumes and customer interactions – it’s a cost effective way of adding a virtual staff that does the work of unlimited agents without sacrificing CSAT.
#2: It immediately eases staffing and WFM strain
Conversational AI only needs to be trained once. With out-of-the box solutions, conversational AI can be customized, integrated and deployed into contact centers in just weeks. This offers immediate relief to staffing issues and unpredictable call volumes.
Agents love the technology because it collaborates with human employees to automate repetitive conversations, resolve tier-1 cases, and allows agents to focus on more engaging work, while acting as a first line of defense and overflow safety net.
#3: It creates a safeguard against future unpredictability
Conversational AI provides a consistent customer experience that represents your brand the same way every time. It provides insights into unstructured caller data, which helps you easily enrich the customer experience and identify opportunities.
With deep analytics that go beyond traditional metrics, contact center leaders are able to discover new call flows to automate and find more information about their call types and call patterns.
From a customer’s perspective, this means they get what they need with zero wait, no matter how many calls or agents you have – in other words, it provides unlimited scale.