As I write this at the end of December 2021, the world is dealing with the rapid explosion of the COVID omicron variant. Proof points that we may be facing a repeat of March 2020’s global shutdown are appearing daily. On December 15, JPMorgan
moved its annual health-care conference - scheduled for January 10, 2022, in New York City - to a virtual event after sponsors and attendees began dropping out of the in-person event in an effort to reduce their risk of exposure to the new variant. On December 18th, 2021, the Rockettes
of Radio City cancelled their performances for the rest of the year. Also on December 18th, NBC’s Saturday Night Live cancelled
its live show and sent the majority of its cast and crew home “in an abundance of caution.”
As we begin 2022, it is clear that the coronavirus will continue to have enormous ongoing impacts on the world. To those who manage or work in contact centers, the challenges faced in 2020 and 2021 will not only continue but be exacerbated.
Hiring, Onboarding and Training Agents During the Great Resignation
The latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
show that over four million Americans have quit their jobs each month since July 2021. Whether the reason people leave their job is the result of a lack of daycare, early retirement, wanting more work flexibility and/or wanting a higher-paying job, the result is the same. Companies are faced with the constant challenge of hiring, onboarding, and training new employees.
The contact center industry has historically suffered from high turnover – on average, 30 to 40% per year but often up to 100%. What has been different since the beginning of the pandemic is the need to recruit, onboard and train an increasingly remote work force.
In a post in November 2021, “Contact Centers: Succeeding Amidst The Great Resignation
,” I wrote about how three different contact centers were coping with increased agent attrition. Hiring remotely is relatively simple to accomplish. However, onboarding and continuous training have required re-evaluation of training strategies. For example, if you hire workers committed to a 20-hour work remote schedule per week, it may be an issue for that new agent to attend two weeks of 40-hour in-person training. Consequently, companies are finding they need to offer more flexible onboarding options.
Contact center and customer experience vendors have added or expanded e-learning options to support their customers in this process. Genesys BeyondCX
, Salesforce Trailhead
, and Talkdesk Academy
are examples of training programs that have been announced or expanded to support the re-imagining of initial and continuing agent and supervisor training for a remote and hybrid workforce model.
Adding AI to the Mix
Many companies that were blindsided by events when the pandemic began in 2020 are more prepared in 2022 to implement future government or company-initiated work-from-home directives. Why? Because there has been a dramatic shift to cloud-based contact center solutions.
Leaders in the contact center space, specifically NICE CXone and Genesys, report 100% year-over-year growth in the number of cloud agent seats sold and deployed. Growth rates from other CCaaS vendors of 20 – 35% per year are typical. I estimate that more than one million seats of contact center shifted from premises to the cloud since the pandemic began, doubling the healthy growth rate seen in the five years leading up to 2020.
Cloud was important in the early days of the pandemic to enable home working. As we enter 2022, the importance of the cloud shifts from being an enabler of remote work-friendly technologies to being an enabler of AI solutions. Because of the dynamic nature of AI, most vendors rely on the cloud to deliver AI-enhanced solutions. Those who have moved their core contact center routing applications to the cloud are nicely positioned to add intelligent virtual agents (IVAs) and agent assist applications to their contact centers because the CCaaS vendors were busy, especially in 2021, expanding their AI portfolios.
I’d like to highlight intention mining , one of the enhancements that is increasingly available from CCaaS/IVA providers. Deciding what interactions to automate is often difficult for businesses. This is especially true after the most obvious interactions have been enabled with AI-assisted self-service, e.g., “I need to change my address.”
Genesys Cloud Intent Miner is an example of a capability that analyzes chat and voice transcripts, or recordings, to determine customer intents. An example would be discovering that “my television is showing error code 2999,” – which has a simple self-service fix – happens hundreds of times a day. Intent Miner extracts the top set of intents and the analytics that surround those intents. It also returns a list of utterances that the system associates with that intent. Intents can be refined and customized by the customer and then imported into Genesys Cloud to create a new bot. NICE, Talkdesk, Verint and others have similar intent discovery solutions.
For companies that have not yet made the move to cloud-based contact center solutions, AI is still possible, typically in a hybrid mode.
For example, companies using a premises-based contact center solution can add a cloud IVA “in front” of their existing solution. Five9’s Inference Studio 7.0 is just one example of a cloud-based self-service solution that easily works in conjunction with premises contact center solutions. For companies with in-house developers (or a developer partner), options include deploying elements of Twilio Flex or Amazon Connect.
You’ll notice that one section above centers on agent experience, the other on customer experience. There is no greater lesson from the pandemic and the Great Resignation that companies must make each one a priority. As you look to your own plans and priorities for customer experience in 2022, look to ensure you balance the two priorities.