Last year marked the beginning of a new era for customer service. During the stay-at-home orders, contact centers became the main way enterprises interacted with their customers. Contact centers stepped up to the challenge and gained executive visibility. While the industry made strides to respond to the exceptional conditions created by the pandemic, much remains to be accomplished to win the customer experience (CX) battle.
Below we look at five areas that contact center leaders should focus on in 2021 and look at issues that still need to be addressed.
1. Scrutinizing the Cloud
2020 ended the debate whether contact centers should move to the cloud. Customer service departments needed to support work-from-home (WFH) agents and operate remotely, which resulted in many contact centers transitioning to the cloud. Even the public sector, traditionally more conservative, pivoted swiftly to the cloud. For example, the Department of Employment and Social Development of Canada
provides a perfect example of the speed at which changes took place.
But 2020 also exposed the limitations of the first generations of cloud software. Some vendors scrambled to scale, and there were reports of repeated outages. Security remains a challenge. Businesses that made compromises are now expecting more robust solutions. They learned a lot. Large enterprises are also lifting the hood and reviewing cloud architectures. Scrutiny is (and should be) applied in three areas: the speed at which a new instance can be spun up and scaled, security, and open APIs (inside and outside the software).
2. Making the Most of Automation, Service Design
Customer service departments, overwhelmed with customers calling in, have turned to automation and self-service. They have always been high on their to-do list, but there is more to it. Most contact centers have remained under capacity. Customers are now doing many things remotely and requiring more assistance, which has created a systemic volume increase in addition to the surges induced by the pandemic.
Automation can be accomplished using a wide array of technologies. Robotic automation lets you create robots to assist agents with repetitive tasks and data entry. Low-code capabilities are now available, either by built-in contact center platforms software or add-on software. Conversational AI has blossomed in a bouquet of options, ranging from answer bots, virtual assistants, and conversational development platforms.
But here is the catch, these technologies excel at different tasks. The diversity of options to choose from has hindered an end-to-end approach. Organizations need to rethink their automation strategy and adopt a service design
discipline, which takes into account what the customer is trying to accomplish. Elements of service design include:
- Finding what to automate and what to push to self-service
- Picking the right technology based on the job to be done
- Guiding customers to the best option for the task at hand
- Making access to human assistance easier, better leveraging asynchronous messaging and managed callbacks.
3. Enabling Your Agents
In an adjacency, sales, the transition to digital drove the creation of sales enablement
. Sales enablement is both a function and a software category. Customer service needs something equivalent for its associates. Agent enablement starts first with supporting work from anywhere. Distributed operations require new tools for agents, supervisors, and experts to collaborate. This infrastructure is paving the way to better leverage knowledge workers for assisting customers. The concept isn’t new but has failed to materialize so far.
New solutions are needed for planning and scheduling work from anywhere. To that end, Salesforce introduced Service Cloud Workforce Engagement last month. Agent desktop modernization must go beyond integrating or reducing the number of applications. Customer service representatives need to be better equipped to deal with a more diverse and sophisticated set of interactions. New tools leverage AI to pull relevant knowledge, surface customer insights and sentiment, coach agents, or automate mundane tasks. As these elements get implemented, organizations need to adopt a holistic approach to agent enablement.
4. Investing in Data Engineering
The contact center is arguably the most measured department. However, they struggle to make sense of the abundant, available data. Furthermore, different applications produce different metrics, which are hard to connect. Eventually, these measures remain skewed towards tracking activities and agent productivity.
New, experience-centric analytics are available. Customer experience management gathers customer feedback beyond just customer service interactions and uses AI to better understand CX, its drivers, and the focus areas. Interaction and speech analytics leverage AI to transcribe conversations and analyze them at scale. They provide rich signals, such as sentiment or root causes of customer inquiries. These new applications play an essential role in measuring CX.
A data unification strategy is needed to prevent these new applications to become other silos. Unified data has two additional benefits: It addresses visibility gaps into the distributed workforce working from anywhere and creates the data foundation for AI to uncover correlations and new insights. If a single data repository is elusive, data lakes and customer data platforms (CDPs) offer structured ways to bring together data from different sources. To get the most out of CX data, contact centers need data engineering to be established as a function and staffed with the right expertise.
5. Engaging (and Reengaging) Customers
With a growing number of interactions shifting to self-service and automation, brands are looking for new ways to stay connected with customers. Several other trends are fueling this customer engagement imperative. Many industries are transitioning to a subscription business model that hinges on building strong customer loyalty. The rising prominence of marketplaces is commoditizing goods and pushing many companies to develop a direct-to-consumer strategy.
The pandemic has amplified all these trends. Challenging economic conditions have enterprises of all sizes focus on customer retention. Businesses must take proactive steps to re-engage their customers. Consumers made big changes to their habits that led them to try new things, increasing brand disloyalty.
Customer engagement is an activity spanning across all customer-facing departments. Non-customer service teams need to be better supported. Even if other functions such as sales or collections use different communication workflows, you want to enable them on top of your contact center platform. It will let you gather holistic engagement analytics. Customer outreach keeps getting harder, and these analytics are critical to finding the best moment to connect, from a time and context perspective. Best results are also achieved by combining all available channels. So, you want to make sure your platform supports omnichannel not just for inbound but for outbound as well.
After a year of challenges, now is the time to take a step back and build a strategy to address these five issues. This article just skimmed their surface, and you can expect deeper dives in the future.
This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.