Contact Centers’ Road Map to Success in the New Normal
It’s been a difficult but in some ways awe-inspiring 15 months, a period in which the world has experienced extraordinary difficulties and upheaval. When faced with a global pandemic, companies worldwide demonstrated flexibility, making changes on the fly to keep their businesses open and employees safe. Contact centers and service organizations have responded with amazing agility, professionalism, and grace in the face of great adversity, evidenced by the speed and success of contact center leaders’ efforts to move thousands of employees out of the office to work at home, in a matter of days. The massive workforce migration required a great deal of grit and ingenuity, as many companies lacked business continuity plans in the event of a prolonged pandemic.
Contact Centers Moving Forward at an Accelerated Pace
The companies that will be best positioned to thrive post-pandemic are those that used this time to reset strategies, reimagine opportunities, and redesign their futures. The playbook for the "new normal" will likely follow three major trends: the migration to the cloud, digital transformation, and the adoption of smart technologies (artificial intelligence and automation). The pandemic has altered the global business environment in a lasting way, though most of the changes would have occurred eventually, albeit slower.
Enterprises need to review and update their digital transformation strategies and plans to incorporate new approaches driven by the pandemic. These include modifications to fundamental business activities—how products and services are distributed, and how and by whom customer service is delivered. Companies must continue to prioritize the customer experience (CX) as they reimagine customer journeys. The pandemic has helped companies discover previously unforeseen and valuable possibilities and appreciate what really matters to their customers. It’s bizarre that it took a highly contagious virus to drive so much innovation in the world of service, but this is one of the positive outcomes of this challenging situation.
The pandemic has also accelerated the attitudinal shift of consumers toward self-service and digital channels as their preferred modes for service. Consumers have been moving in this direction for the past five years, but companies have been slow to respond, due to the cost of new servicing infrastructure. Adding digital channels is a step in the right direction and a necessity for contact centers of all sizes in all verticals, but it is just the beginning. Companies need to modify their policies and practices, along with their customer-facing systems, to make it easy for customers to interact with them and to deliver an outstanding customer experience at every touchpoint and throughout the customer journey.
Work-From-Home Is Essential for the Future
Companies also need to rethink workplace requirements, specifically which functions must be performed by office staff and which can be done by at-home employees. The pandemic proved that contact center employees—agents, supervisors, managers, quality management specialists. workforce management administrators, business analysts, and reporting specialists—can generally work as productively from their homes. The issue for the contact center industry is that many executives and managers still believe it is easier to have employees in the office than to allow them to work remotely.
The world has changed and so must contact centers. DMG recommends that contact centers allow at least 25 to 35 percent of employees to work from home (and more, if feasible), as long as security, regulatory, and compliance concerns can be properly addressed. The work-from-home model is beneficial for disaster recovery and business continuity, reducing real estate costs and decreasing agent shrinkage, in addition to accommodating the needs of employees who are reluctant to return to the office or simply prefer to work remotely. DMG expects contact centers to operate hybrid models that include at-home and in-office workers, and policies and practices must be modified to accommodate this approach.
What’s Next for Contact Centers
Contact center leaders must draft plans that include how they want their departments to operate when the new normal is established, whether that’s during the summer/fall of 2021 or starting in 2022, and these plans should identify the operational, systemic, and people-related changes that have to be made in the interim. To assist with these efforts, DMG recently released a report, “Contact Centers in a Post-Pandemic World: A Strategic and Tactical Guide to the Future,” and encourages all contact center and enterprise executives to use it to help build their own plans.
Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting, is highly regarded as one of the foremost experts on contact centers and the back office, and specializes in digital transformation, artificial intelligence and automation. With 30 years of experience helping organizations build highly effective operating environments and assisting vendors to deliver competitive solutions, Fluss created DMG Consulting to deliver unparalleled and unbiased research, analysis, and consulting services. Fluss is a renowned speaker, author, and source for industry and business publications. She can be reached at Donna.Fluss@dmgconsult.com.