Don't Mourn the Contact Center; Do Make These 4 Pivotal Changes


The easing of the COVID-19 pandemic may restore some certainty to the world of customer contact (and business at large), but it will not restore normalcy. The world of customer engagement has forever changed, and the savviest leaders will adapt to these changes instead of ignoring them. They will build a contact center operation that incorporates the lessons and answers the questions that went from back to front of mind in early 2020. They will consider the following four transformations.

The Future Of Work-From-Home

It is imperative to start thinking about what a hybrid in-office/WFH framework would entail. Along with deciding which tasks are objectively better-suited for the traditional contact center, companies will need to think about how to communicate their physical office requirements. “Of course you have to come back into the office - social distancing is over” may not fly for those agents who now see work-from-home as a necessity rather than a luxury.

Digital engagement, when done right, is simply a better option for customers, agents and the business. Whether to solve problems more conveniently or to capture predictive insights about customer intent, chatbots will play a pivotal role in making businesses more customer-centric. Agent-led digital channels, meanwhile, allow customers to receive complex, conversational and accountable support in an efficient (and sometimes asynchronous) manner. There is a reason why “omnichannel” and “digital transformation” were top buzzwords long prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Double Down on Digital

In order to meet their capacity gaps, companies have been urging, if not requiring, customers to engage via self-service or low-touch digital options. Even famously customer-centric, omnichannel brands are making it difficult, if not impossible, for customers to reach a live voice agent. Digital engagement, when done right, is simply a better option for customers, agents and the business.

Business Continuity Redefined

New platforms will change the way agents and companies think about outsourcing and distributed work, looking at these concepts less as agility and growth initiatives and more as risk management factors. Risk management will, moreover, become a crucial factor when sourcing outsourcing partners. Partners that do not prove adept at cloud technology, digital engagement and work-from-home will face difficulty making their case in today’s era. Echoing the earlier point about work-from-home, it is also important to view continuity as sustaining “business as usual” as opposed to “usual business.” It is not enough to ensure we can get our basic tasks done in times of crisis and uncertainty; we need to be able to operate (and innovate) as if there are no shackles.

New Normal for Agents

The agents contact centers employ will have to engage in more emotionally and intellectually complex conversations. Both realities require changes in hiring and coaching strategies. If companies do not want to lose many agents as a result of the capacity change, they will need to start cross-training them for other skill sets. Thought leaders often say that agents will “move into strategic analysis roles or even start designing our bots,” forgetting that there will be requisite learning curves and organizational shifts. The same goes for the complexity point. Typical contact center agents spend most of their time supporting basic transactions. They will require new training, new workflow strategies and new tools in order to make more emotional connections with customers. The emphasis on business continuity also impacts the role of the agent. It makes the idea of agility - one who can “roll with the punches” and “change on the fly” - a pivotal requirement for all hires.

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