Verint Execs and Customers Discuss What's Next After the Pandemic on Day 2 of Engage
At the height of the pandemic, companies sent their workers home for their own health and safety. Now, as businesses reopen, they must grapple with a workforce that would sooner stay home, Verint executives and customers said during the second day of the virtual Verint engage21 conference yesterday
"Our lives and our jobs were already changing before the pandemic started," Nancy Porte, Verint's vice president of customer experience, said during a panel discussion on the return to work. "The events of 2020 added fuel," she added. "We changed the way that we work and engage with customers. We also met new expectations, not only from customers, but also from employees. From moving work to home and now, potentially, moving work back to the office, there were a lot of challenges that we faced."
Laurence Levin, senior director of customer relationship services and sales for Sleep Number, said that like customer service agents for many other companies, his team quickly shifted to working remotely last spring, and most of his team is still working remotely today.
Michael McKinney, manager of workforce planning for Holland America Line and Seabourn Cruise Line, said his U.S. workers were already working remotely before the pandemic, but those in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands shifted from in-office to remote work when the pandemic hit. They are still working remotely today.
McKinney added that his company has a different strategy for each location for returning workers to the office. The company has started transitioning some of its people back in the office, while offices in other foreign countries are still locked down. No change is expected for U.S. operations.
"Once we get back to sailing, which we are just starting to now, we will have a host of new regulations that we will have to adhere to, which will require training for our people to understand them and explain them to our customers," McKinney added.
The pandemic accelerated Sleep Number’s plans to have its agents work virtually, Levin said. "The future of work has shifted over this past year. Companies that aren't running full speed ahead will play from behind in talent acquisition. More companies are enabling jobs that will be able to be done from home. We've just seen the first wave in the technological/virtual evolution."
Most of Sleep Number’s agents want to continue to work virtually, Levin added.
But work environments weren't the only significant change that companies and their agents faced.
Everyone has felt the need to be super-human at some point with all of the challenges of the past year, said Daniel Ziv, Verint's vice president of speech and text analytics global product strategy.
Contact center agents were particularly challenged, Ziv added. First, they shifted from office to remote working, all while volume and the variety of interactions with customers were accelerating.
"The agent needed to understand where the customer was coming from," Ziv said. "It wasn't just answering the customer's question, it was about the emotional state of that customer, whether they're a vulnerable customer, whether this is a life-or-death situation, there were financial issues. You had to apply empathy. That's challenging."
On top of the emotional considerations, agents still needed to focus on policy and compliance, Ziv added. "They have to be consistent with the organization's policy and compliance regulations."
Also, though agents needed to be empathetic, contact volumes exploded, so they couldn't spend too much time on a single interaction, or other customers would be waiting too long to connect with a live agent.
Agents also had to be more sensitive in upsell and cross-sell attempts, Ziv added.
Additionally, an increase in fraud, especially fraud targeting contact centers, meant agents had to be on guard against social engineering attempts and take the proper steps to correctly authenticate every customer, Ziv said.
"Agents also needed to be knowledgeable, not everything was changing," Ziv said. "You had to make sure that you had the right knowledge and executed on that with the right applications. In many cases, you had to deal with multiple applications.
"There was a lot on the agent’s mind, and the bottom line is that you had to be super-human," he stated.
Particularly hard hit during the pandemic were contact centers for government agencies, many of which also are among Verint's client roster.
While many of Verint’s solutions are used by companies in the private sector, public-sector entities are also using Verint tools to better serve their constituencies, said Iain Daws, Verint's director of content marketing, during a session on citizen engagement.
Though the services that government entities provide are very diverse, such as park and highway services, they often come from different departments within the same governmental body, such as a municipality, Daws said. "Though the different departments have different focuses, they do have a common objective to provide the best service that they can efficiently and cost-effectively."
Daws pointed out that the public sector must also be able to react to rapid policy changes, external issues such as the pandemic, compliance requirements, all while being able to ethically use a huge amount of personal data.
Like the private sector, public-sector agencies have quickly accelerated their move to digital communications, Daws added. "Organizations need to manage a growing number of interactions with an increasing expectation that these can be conducted digitally. They need to manage a workforce that may now be working from anywhere, and they need to figure out the right balance between automation and human assistance. It's no longer enough to respond after the interaction is complieted. You need to understand and act on them in real time, which means providing employees with the tools that they need to do so."
The pace of change will continue to accelerate, Daws added. "Open technology platforms will be needed to keep pace with the speed of innovation."