In 1969, Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell released a folkie-sounding album called Clouds. Featured on the album was a song called “Both Sides, Now” that was written by Joni Mitchell in 1967 and first recorded by Judy Collins in 1968. Judy’s version of the song reached number eight on the U.S. pop singles chart that same year and went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance in 1969.
Joni never really liked Judy’s version of her song, so she recorded it herself and put it on the Clouds album. In the meantime, Judy Collins’ version pretty much became Judy’s signature song and Joni Mitchell’s songwriting credit undoubtedly gave her a career boost, not to mention her bank account with the songwriting royalty dollars that the song generated.
You can still listen to the song on YouTube. I still remember listening to the words of the first refrain of the song:
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
I never could figure out what she was talking about here. Maybe she was studying to get a pilot’s license. Maybe it was one of those ’60s illegal substance illusions. How many sides could a cloud have? If she looked from up and down, did she miss from left to right? How about from inside out?
But now I know. She was talking about the contact center cloud and the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. She was just a little ahead of the curve, that’s all.
When the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued its safety guidelines on March 12th, the contact center industry was put on the spot, and in the spotlight. Contact center executives had to figure out how to quickly send their workforce safely home to work. All of a sudden, the work-from-home (WFH) workforce wasn’t such a novelty anymore. It became a matter of life and death.
WFH isn’t a particularly new or novel concept in the contact center. In fact, the 2020 survey of customer service professionals conducted by Saddletree Research in conjunction with the not-for-profit National Association of Call Centers (NACC) revealed that 52% of North American contact centers already have agents working from home. But, the percent of contact centers with all of their agents working from home as of January 2020, when the survey concluded, was less than 1%, which falls into the research’s margin of error. In fact, the majority of contact centers had fewer than 25% of their workforce working from home, as illustrated in Figure 1.
We can assume that those contact centers that already had WFH agents when the CDC issued its safety guidelines in March had an easier time of it getting the rest of their agents home to work than the 48% of the market that had no agents working from home at the time.
Many contact centers turned to private virtual networks (VPNs) to get their agents into a WFH configuration. The problem with the vintage 1990s VPN solution is that VPNs are still clumsy to use, they aren’t scalable, security is still an issue, and any changes to the network typically require an old-school major operation.
The contact centers that found themselves with the advantage when they had to quickly get their in-house workforce to WFH were contact centers that were in the cloud, or that quickly made a move to the cloud. For those contact centers in the cloud, they basically sent their workers home with a laptop or had the workers use their own computers. The workers then logged into the contact center from home and their workstation screen at home was identical to their workstation screen at the contact center.
The next challenge for all contact centers with WFH agents is to replicate the in-house workforce optimization (WFO) and customer engagement capabilities. Once again, the advantage went to the contact centers already in the cloud.
“The past six months have shown why moving to the cloud is so important,” explained Ryan Hollenbeck, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing at Verint. “The flexibility to pivot and transform work, processes and personnel quickly is accelerated in the cloud. How to deploy customer engagement and WFO technology is becoming a big decision as organizations look to modernize their customer engagement environments.
“Today’s employees expect the work environment to adapt to their personal lives. They need to evolve with mobile apps and built-in support for flex scheduling, open bids and shift bid access. And with cloud-based employee communities and gamification, their experiences become more interactive and meaningful.
“Further, to deliver exceptional experiences, employees need the right knowledge, context and guidance for each interaction. Cloud solutions should empower employees with the right information to make smarter, faster decisions, and support employees with real-time guidance for delivering personalized customer interactions.
“Automation is also key. Organizations want to increase their speed and efficiency, as well as free up employees at all levels for more meaningful work. They need solutions that enable employees to focus on more strategic and customer-facing activities, and less on repetitive tasks by automating routine functions, such as data entry and quality evaluations.
“Finally, just as customers expect more personalized service, employees want more personalized management support. Even the busiest of managers can rapidly understand each employee with quick views into their performance, enabling every employee to be seen as a unique person and not a number. As today’s workforce expects transparency and the ability to self-manage, cloud solutions make it easy for employees to see how they’re performing through personalized scorecards, automated assessments and training, so they can take active ownership in their development.”
It’s important to remember that there are plenty of contact centers that are in the cloud but which didn’t have a WFH workforce at the time of the CDC guideline announcements in March. The cloud proved to be a critical link for them in terms of meeting their customer experience goals while keeping their workforce safe.
“One of our customers—a major financial institution—had previously upgraded its on-premises workforce management capabilities to a Verint Cloud implementation,” Hollenbeck continued. “They migrated 1,200 agents from multiple global regions—to increase resiliency and scalability, reduce hardware and maintenance expenses and aid future expansions.”
When COVID hit, the company readily transitioned to a work-from-home environment. Since their applications were already in the cloud, they were able to have about 95% of their agents working from home in less than a week’s time. Since March, the company has added Verint’s call recording and quality management to their cloud, fully enabling the management of a WFH workforce.
“We’re the engine for more than 3 billion cloud customer interactions per year,” Hollenbeck concluded. “Conversational AI tools such as intelligent virtual assistants for customer self-service, ubiquitous knowledge management, data compliance, and tapping into customer feedback for actionable improvements are all in the playbooks of forward-thinking organizations. They are expanding the boundaries of customer experience while remaining mindful of operational efficiencies, and we’re proud to be supporting them with ongoing innovations.”
Take another look at the final line in the refrain of Joni’s song. It says, “I really don’t know clouds at all.” Nobody in the contact center industry should be able to say that in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven without a doubt the value of the cloud in the customer experience equation, and especially during times of disruption. This public health crisis has enabled the industry to see the cloud from both sides now—good times and bad. There are no more cloud illusions. The contact center cloud is the future of the industry.