For contact centers, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle. While the development and distribution of effective COVID-19 vaccines has put the global economy on track toward normalcy, the way contact centers operate—and the art of the possible—has been altered permanently. For example, agents, having been sent home at the start of the pandemic for safety purposes, have largely adapted the mindset and routines for long-term remote work success. Soon, they’ll be able to return to the office en masse. But as technology has allowed supervisors to adapt to managing a fully distributed workforce with adaptive tools for scheduling, forecasting and agent coaching, will they even want to go back to the way things were?
While the end of the pandemic may be in sight, one of the most important lessons of this experience—how to adapt quickly in the face of disruption—is one contact center leaders cannot afford to forget. Remaining flexible as customer and agent preferences continue to change can be a powerful asset to your organization. Rather than reset for “back to normal,” embracing today’s operational cornerstones can lay a strong foundation for future success.
But can contact center leaders apply these lessons, and give their organizations an edge, while avoiding many of the stressful conditions that underpinned 2020? If you’re looking to keep the benefits of rapid adaptability and flexibility, while steering clear of burnout, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Be Ready for Change
Throughout the pandemic, contact centers experienced near-constant shifts in customer preferences. As more people went on lockdown, they began to rely more and more on digital channels such as chat, text and social media, requiring agents to pivot their focus and skills accordingly. In fact, in November 2020 alone, digital interactions increased 60% compared to the previous year. With so much turbulence happening at once, customers began to see the inherent value in digital’s ability to quickly resolve issues without much headache.
But with vaccine distribution and “normalcy” on the way, don’t expect customers to revert completely to their pre-COVID behaviors. Rather, they are more comfortable with self-service, digital messaging and social media as a way to connect with brands. As a result, contact centers need to be ready for continued shifts in customer communication preferences—a hybrid of what they’ve learned and what they traditionally rely on. As such, ensure that your omnichannel strategy accounts for a dynamic mix of self-service and agent-assisted models, ready to adjust to the needs of your customers.
The New Agent Environment
Contact center agents are resilient. They’ve learned to adapt to incredible circumstances, buoying contact centers through periods of unprecedented turbulence. The lessons they’ve learned and the preferences they’ve developed, however, remain. For contact center leaders who think the next step for their business is to bring everyone back together, think twice. While some agents may be eager to rejoin their colleagues, others may find it easier to operate from home, maintaining productivity while managing a wide range of personal responsibilities.
Rather than buck against work-from-anywhere, there’s a tremendous opportunity for contact center agents to integrate it permanently into their hiring, HR and management practices. For example, remote work enables a more micro-level of control over staffing needs, leveraging the gig economy to bring in part-time agents who can even come in just a few hours a day. Or take a more blended approach, leaning on remote-enabled technology to build cohesive teams and training programs. This way, contact center leaders can turn work-from-anywhere into an unmatched advantage.
Amid nonstop disruption, consistency and reliability is now a premium asset—particularly in customer experiences. After a period of unprecedented change, contact centers will be very well-served to implement analytics and AI as an early warning system to never again be caught off-guard on the levels of upheaval seen during the pandemic. In fact, 42% of businesses cite improving contact center technology as a key investment area for 2021.
By building upon and improving their data and analytics capabilities, things like customer satisfaction, changing customer preferences, root-cause issue detection and competitive movements can all be monitored and adjusted for. However, it isn’t enough to simply have the infrastructure to understand these trends—your organization needs to be prepared to act as quickly as possible. Developing a culture of flexibility helps agents and leaders alike move in real-time, so opportunity does not go to waste.
Hybrid Tactics for a New Landscape
Success in the contact center takes many shapes and forms. But as we have collectively learned, the ground can quickly shift under our feet. Built-in adaptability prepares you and your team to be ready for optimizing performance, workforce strategy or even your service model. Disruption won’t stop, but contact centers have the power to transform what it means for their business.