By Brian Atkinson, GM and VP EMEA, Five9
2020 has been a year of huge change for the contact centre space, with remote working accelerating digitisation in ways no one could have anticipated twelve months ago. In the rush to get up and running quickly, new communication platforms were installed, desktops with customer history couriered to agents’ homes – all against the backdrop of lockdown and sharing the same working space with other family members.
It’s no doubt been a stressful time, but technologies such as cloud-based contact centre solutions, AI and automation have made business continuity possible. At the same time, these technologies have been chipping away at legacy systems in the contact centre.
Even so, there’s still a long way to go until the industry becomes fully digitised. To achieve this, businesses must have a frictionless communications experience in place where agents can respond to customer queries quickly and effectively. Tech has to sink seamlessly into the background.
Will 2021 achieve this? Here are my predictions for the contact centre industry…
Greater uptake of cloud
Customer demand is changing, fuelled by economic pressures of the pandemic. More than ever, businesses need to be there for their customers by maximising responsiveness at any point in time, regardless of location.
In 2021, we will see a greater shift to the cloud away from on-premise, as more organisations look to create efficiencies and free-up agents’ time to focus on more complex customer needs. As well as providing an easy work-from-home set up, it will also offer more omnichannel options, scalable staffing, intelligent routing, easily accessible data and AI-assisted capabilities. The cloud will provide the foundation on which executives can quickly and easily deploy new technologies without having to install them in their own organisations – further enhancing the customer experience and helping to future-proof the contact centre against similar adverse events as the pandemic.
Empathy in every decision
The pandemic has shown the importance of empathy between brands and customers. Messages of comfort and positive support have provided assurance to consumers, as well as employees, that they are cared for during so much uncertainty.
In 2021, organisations will continue to strive for human connection with customers by responding to their needs – from setting the right expectations, to being respectful of their time and proactively meeting their requests. Empathy will be a deciding factor in every decision – from hiring people who are naturally empathetic, to training initiatives that encourage employees to communicate more empathetically. This will also be factored into decisions over what technology to invest in – using software, applications or processes to allow the agent to focus on truly listening and engaging with the customer.
Disruption to IVR
Once deemed the most exciting development in customer service technology, interactive voice response (IVR) has become a challenging part of the call centre experience for customers and agents alike. Customers have grown tired of getting lost in an IVR tree which fails to provide options truly reflective of their needs, meanwhile agents all too often end up on the receiving end of their anguish.
Forward-looking companies have already begun integrating UC, CRM and cloud contact centre solutions, enabling seamless communications between agents, customers and, if needed, subject matter experts within the business, making information available at their fingertips to deliver excellent customer experiences. In 2021, more leaders will embrace this technology to gain a competitive advantage with improved customer experience, all while lowering costs when it’s needed the most.
An end to hold
While phone lines won’t be going anywhere in 2021, being put on hold will. Phone support provides that all important personal connection valued most by customers, but making them wait an average of up to 20 minutes causes frustrations and shows little respect for their time.
In the year ahead, we expect to see a wider uptake in technologies that can help alleviate the irritation customers feel when they are tied to their phone. In particular, we’ll see greater investment in comprehensive workforce management systems to reduce hold times. These can automatically and accurately forecast call volumes, allowing organisations to deploy the right number of agents available to handle calls, while also leveraging flexible agent scheduling to address volume spikes.
Call-back technologies will also be used more widely to manage customer service expectations. Immediate, instant, or scheduled call backs can allow customers to keep the same spot in line and receive a call the moment an agent is free, or select a time to be called later in the day. These technologies will considerably help to improve the customer experience.
The front door to your customer
The pandemic isn’t over, and the UK could potentially face more lockdowns in 2021. Consumers likely won’t be out and about at the shops like usual, leaving the contact centre as the front door to communication between a brand and its customer. At a time when human connection is so limited, offering exceptional customer service is a sure way to break the mould. We expect to see brands continue to build on the human connection, investing in technology to enhance the consumer and agent experience.