Having been one of the sectors hardest hit by the chaos of COVID-19, contact centres are now grappling with what the future will look like, and how to adapt operations to ensure they not only avoid similar disruptions but thrive in the face of the next crisis.

Call volumes exploded at the onset of the crisis, as customers scrambled for information on how their lives would be affected over the coming months. At the same time, companies grappled with how to rapidly transition their agents to working-from-home environments and migrated much of their call-centre capability back onshore.

But more than six months into the pandemic, many contact centres are still facing high call volumes and long wait times. The stress of global shutdowns, coupled with the mass migration of staff, has demonstrated that many companies’ technology and workflow capabilities are inadequate.

That’s the subject of an ebook published by Deloitte entitled The Contact Centre Of 2030 Can’t Wait, It’s Now…which identifies nine key areas that every organisation should focus on to future-proof customer interaction.

To begin with, organisations must revise their perspectives on what is possible when it comes to workflows, staff, how they interact with customers, and the workplace itself.

The authors predict that the COVID-19 crisis will create a new era of digitisation; organisations must be ready for rapid transformation. Contact centres must be open to scaling up and developing new ways of working across both digital and physical channels that preserve the human element of all customer interactions. During times of great stress and financial and physical insecurity, customers often want to talk to real people. Organisations must ensure that customers can get support in the manner that they prefer. Not everyone has or wants access to digital channels. This might involve multiple channels of communication during a single interaction.

Everything in the organisation must be both flexible and scalable, focusing on need rather than capacity. Replacing legacy systems with Cloud-based technologies, platforms and solutions increase the pace of innovation, as well as the size of the talent pool from which to recruit developers who can build systems and processes that suit the needs of your business and its customers. Of course, data must be at the heart of interactions, ensuring a smooth and positive customer experience while adhering to privacy protocols and procedures.

Kate Huggins, Partner at Monitor Deloitte Telco, Media, Technology

According to Kate Huggins, Partner at Deloitte, companies with more mature and sophisticated data integration will be better placed to build more compelling and personalised customer experiences, utilising technologies like automation and chatbots.

Applying AI to a chatbot will also deliver better experiences. Otherwise, the bot can only ever answer what it has been coded for — which can create frustration.

“Getting that handover to a human right, given the kind of maturity of your digital channels is really important. Go too late and you risk frustrating the customer, go too early and you maybe lose the benefit of the automation and load up the agent with menial work,” she said.

The ability for bots to handle more complex inquiries is increasing gradually over time, she said. “But that also means that the bots are working while the humans are left dealing with more complex issues. That suggests that in future organisations will need specialisation in their contact centre teams, and smarter programming around which types of exceptions go to which types of agents,” said Huggins.

New Normal

Importantly, the new normal means meeting customers when and where they want to be served — not when and where you want to serve them. That means organisations must become proactive at anticipating their needs.

As organisations begin planning for future capabilities, it is essential to balance the lessons of this crisis. Take stock of the rapid-response decisions made to meet short-term needs and how they panned out, and identify what can be done to future-proof customer interactions. Decisions made today can have significant consequences tomorrow, and the authors warn against following the swinging pendulum of pre-COVID extremes (offshoring) to current extremes (rapid on-shoring and remote work), only to have it swing back again. Flexibility, adaptability, and scalability will be key to thriving in the next normal. 

Learn more about how organisations responded, recovered, and thrived;  Contact Centre Lessons Learned From The COVID-19 Shutdown

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