The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed so many things in our lives. One of the areas of business impacted the most is the contact center.
Five9’s 2022 Customer Service Index
, a survey conducted in partnership with Zogby Analytics, lays out the current state of customer service and engagement most organizations. Zogby surveyed business decision makers (BDMs) from organizations with 250 or more employees in various industries across North America and Europe. Almost half of the organizations surveyed had revenue greater than $1 billion.
More than half of the survey respondents (53%) said agents need emotional intelligence and empathy as customer issues become increasingly complex, and 52% want the ability to support a variety of channels.
In fact, the majority of organizations today provide omnichannel options for contact centers. Data shows 37% provide fully integrated channels on a single platform, followed by multiple non-integrated channels (30%) and fully integrated channels from multiple vendors (28%). The demand for multi-channel versus omnichannel is certainly a surprise. The vendor community and most of us industry watchers tout omnichannel or nothing, but clearly, there's strong demand for multi-channel.
The digitization of the end-to-end customer experience combined with hybrid work has created new demands for agents and changed how customers interact with their favorite brands. Most organizations have experienced a substantial to moderate increase in the volume of contact center interactions over the past 24 months, while only a small percentage has seen no change.
In the past 24 months, organizations have observed an increase in email, chat, and messaging when it comes to customer interactions. Those with more than $1 billion in annual revenue (49%) and those with $250 million to $500 million in revenue (38%) reported the most substantial changes. Many have shifted from voice to digital, with approximately half of BDMs reporting that 40% of their customer interactions take place via non-voice digital channels. That isn’t to say voice isn’t important—it is. But it’s critical businesses can give best-in-class experiences across all channels.
An overwhelming majority (90%) said they’ve spent more time and attention focusing on agent/employee experience and engagement in the past year. According to the respondents, 61%of organizations are consolidating all apps under a unified agent desktop, 61% are providing access to subject matter experts outside of the contact center, and 47% are providing artificial intelligence (AI) for agent assistance.
The survey discovered AI is becoming an important contact center tool to help agents, customers, and contact center operations. Nearly three-fourths (73%) of contact centers currently use AI, with adoption higher in Europe than North America. Of those organizations not yet using AI, 39% plan to start in the next 12 months. Most organizations are adopting AI for different use cases to enhance self-service.
Despite making these enhancements to contact centers, organizations continue to face various challenges post-pandemic. A leading challenge for 47%of the respondents is employee retention. Organizations are having trouble moving agents back into the office full-time and finding talent due to agent turnover. The other challenges include keeping agents and employees productive in a remote work environment (46%) and keeping up with new technologies (43%).
A shift to remote work due to COVID-19 has affected agent turnover in the past two years. Overall, 33% of contact centers have reported agents returning to the office full-time; 31% have returned to the office part-time; 25% have chosen a hybrid schedule; 11% now work remotely full-time. While the survey did not ask about pre-pandemic workstyles, in my experience, less than 10% of agents were working remotely, indicating this is a massive shift.
The survey concluded with organizations in North America and Europe outlining several key focus areas over the next 12 months. The highest-ranking initiative is improving the customer experience (53%), followed by reducing agent/employee turnover (50%), implementing AI and automation to assist agents (44%), introducing conversational AI tools for self-service (44%), and decreasing operational costs (38%).
The data is certainly interesting, but what’s important to understand are the implications of what it’s telling us. All these trends point to one significant finding: the cloud must be the way forward for contact centers as the cloud enables new capabilities not possible with legacy systems. The data says businesses want more AI. Cloud based systems have larger data sets as they are able to aggregated information from a broad set of customers, but more importantly, the compute power required for machine learning.
The survey shows that omnichannel is the way forward, and the cloud makes the migration much faster versus upgrading an old system. Also, as requirements change, customers have access to new features when the cloud provider makes it available versus having to deploy, test and roll out capabilities. The study also found that about two-thirds of businesses will embrace hybrid work for agents. Cloud is ideally suited for remote agents and, equally important, has the data and dashboards to enable managers to manage agents that are working from home.
Typically, businesses adopt new technology but do a “like for like” replacement where they make the new thing operate like the old thing. That creates the comfort required to trust the new systems. Over time, features are created that are unique to the new technology, and can’t be done with the older systems and that’s when adoption accelerates. Cloud contact center has reached that tipping point where businesses need new capabilities to meet the demands that the pandemic created.