Contact centre
Contact centre. Photo by Olha Ruskykh from Pexels

When the Coronavirus pandemic struck, contact centres across the world could no longer work like they used to. The initial emergency to handle – as quickly as possible – making sure they could continue customer service and engagement. But most contact centres weren’t set up to support home working, and certainly not at scale.

Broadly speaking, these organisations fell into two camps:

  • Those who’d been thinking about moving to the cloud and then accelerated their plans so they could enable homeworking, and
  • Those who went from being reticent about even considering homeworking to then suddenly needing to move all their agents from the contact centre to a home environment.

For some organisations, employees didn’t have work laptops and so needed to turn to their own desktops, laptops and headsets to keep working. And many were experiencing – for the first time – working with loved ones and pets in the background.

Organisations had to think about having the infrastructure to support their agents and supervisors – at lightning speed – and making sure they could securely access the right applications.

The first, most time-efficient move for most contact centres was to migrate to the cloud – specifically the public cloud. This is because it quickly became clear that contact-centre-as-a-service was the quickest and most cost-effective way to ensure business and service continuity while staying secure.

And this choice was accelerated by most cloud contact centre providers offering their platforms for free – to help organisations and create customer loyalty.

Customers have high expectations of the service and experience they receive, and loyalties will be switched if organisations fall short. In many ways, the pandemic didn’t reduce these expectations; in many cases, it increased them. Additionally, the phone has often been the preferred choice of communication as people want that personal touch in times of crisis.

Just over a year later, what does the future hold?

Now organisations are lifting their heads from that immediate surge in remote working and trying to consolidate the solutions they urgently put in place and make the most of the loyalty they’ve hopefully acquired during the lockdown.

They’re also trying to understand what their future operating model could look like.

Organisations know they need to be prepared. Who knows whether this is a one-off? It may be a case of making working from home the new norm or at least making sure you have a very well-tested business continuity plan.

With the use of chat and voice having shot up, organisations need a different way of managing and monitoring their agents, they need to equip their supervisors and they need detailed and insightful management reports.

Some of the ideas being discussed for handling future peaks in contact centre demand include call deflection to chat, use of chatbots for simple questions, and proactive notification to customers for any changes they need to be aware of. Every penny invested in customer experience will have a big impact on customer loyalty, because in a crisis, people are particularly interested in help and good customer service.

The agent’s perspective

Traditionally, the contact centre has been a tough place to work, lacking an agent-friendly attitude and involving lots of monitoring. But because of this new way of working, agents can’t be watched anymore. Now it’s relying on them being happy and willing to work.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is helping with this by providing real-time insight and knowledge-sharing, as well as dealing with more simple transactions, so the agents can focus on the more complex ones. This gives them more time to support their customers, get creative in their solutions and show empathy. It also makes their work more interesting and easier – especially in remote working situations. This is a win-win for both agents and customers alike, as happy agents make happy customers – especially when crises make customers more demanding.

As AI adoption accelerates and further supports and empowers agents, we expect to see a shift where the role of the customer service representative becomes more respected; where more and more skilled employees will be attracted into the contact centre environment.

Building on shared experience

We’ve faced many different contact centre challenges with our customers since lockdown. On the other hand, through constant interactions with our customers, we’ve learned a lot about how to set up a remote contact centre in a super quick time – and our top three recommendations include:

  • Basic infrastructure: Agents need to be equipped with the right devices (PCs, headsets, etc.), the right bandwidth upgrade and an IT helpdesk to support them when if they’re struggling
  • Security: There’s no point enabling agents to take calls if they can’t access their application securely through a modern VPN
  • Cloud: A pure OPEX model can help to flex resources up and down as needed, and for as long as needed.

Karine Palacios is global product director for cloud contact centres, BT

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