We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it has us all reflecting on what the post-Covid future may bring. This is certainly true for contact centers and anyone tasked with meeting customer needs in the coming months and years.
The contact center took center stage when the pandemic hit, with call volumes spiking over 800% from normal levels, according to research from Pindrop. Unprecedented volumes of customers suddenly needed to defer payments, access government services, cancel travel plans, and check on shopping orders—all while agents (and most everyone else) went under stay-at-home orders. Without question, the pandemic fueled the need for customer service organizations to adapt and change at a breakneck pace. But the customer experience evolution was already in progress long before the first lockdown.
Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen the traditional voice-only call center become the contact center—expanding engagement across multiple communication channels, including messaging, apps, text, email, social media, and web. Technology advanced to provide an omnichannel experience that allowed customers to easily shift between channels throughout their journeys. Then the pandemic hit.
Just as anxious customers tried to get critical assistance, organizations worked feverishly to stand up support for staff in the work-from-home environment. Weaknesses were definitely revealed, shining a light on the need for faster, more efficient service, deeper, more personal, and empathetic connections, and greater agility to adapt to unexpected crises and opportunities.
Contact centers now must not only address these weaknesses; they also need to be agile and scalable while continuously improving the customer experience. This requires new capabilities that are shaping the future of customer support.
Bridging front and back offices
Along with enabling family, friends, and classrooms to stay connected during social distancing, video conferencing also became a mainstay to sustain contact center operations throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately, these online interactions were often siloed—limiting collaboration and even hindering customer experiences at times.
With the pivot from in-person service and engagement to digital models, organizations now require a more collaborative, seamless customer service approach that breaks down the divide between front and back office, as well as between engagement channels. Getting this right requires moving from a “factory floor” contact center to a model that leverages workstream collaboration, using activity and team-based working as a default.
A workstream collaboration model replaces standalone conferencing tools and applications with configurable workspaces built on top of workflows. Customer service teams can communicate in context across channels, integrated with business workflows and external applications. They can share files, and conversations can be picked up and left off over any length of time. Moments can be tagged and referenced as digital artifacts, so agents can provide a more contextual, personalized experience.
With all the possibilities that workstream collaboration unleashes, it’s no surprise that Gartner now predicts that by next year, 70% of teams will be relying on workstream collaboration as their primary mode of communicating, coordinating, and sharing information. And with the addition of artificial intelligence (AI), even greater insights can be added to support actionable activities, driving experiences that not just matter but also delight, satisfy, and profoundly help the customer.
By 2022, Gartner predicts that 85% of customer service interactions will start with self-service, up from 48% today. Why the shift? We all learned over the past year that physical channels can disappear overnight. Digital channels are the sole remains, and many customers now prefer going it alone when it comes to obtaining service. Continuing to improve upon these interactions means enabling them to get the answers to their questions, on the device they want, in the channel of their choice, and in other words, delivering automation with a human touch.
Customers prefer self-service for its speed and efficiency, but it also needs to be effective. Using AI-enabled bots, voice and facial biometrics, and other emerging technologies, self-service can be elevated to create a fast personal connection for common and repetitive tasks while freeing agents to address more complex and strategic issues.
Quickly adding new capabilities
As we progress to the next normal, organizations are being challenged to deploy an ever-changing mix of applications. New capabilities are emerging from sources far and wide, from AI to speech analytics, to smart routing and beyond, to provide effortless self-service, interaction insights, speed responsiveness, and more. It’s nearly impossible for organizations on their own to identify those that can best solve their unique challenges, much less engage with each vendor and integrate the technologies. It takes a technology village.
Many companies are trying to anticipate this paradigm shift by expanding their cloud application ecosystems and customizable features in order to smooth the path for customers to access exactly what they need.
Integrating AI across the enterprise
By being able to identify customer issues faster than traditional approaches, AI-based customer service is gaining ground quickly. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2022, 70% of customer interactions will involve emerging technologies, such as machine learning, virtual assistants, and chatbots.
It’s clear that AI-driven applications are here to stay and will continue to push the boundaries of customer experience and drive business outcomes. But their value is only realized when they can be effectively infused into the overall experience. Companies must combine this AI technology with real customer experience expertise – fueled by domain-specific data – in order to deliver on the promise of an intelligent contact center.
Continuing to raise the CX bar
Looking to the future, customer experience will continue to be the key to business success. But this will require new capabilities, ongoing innovation, and new levels of scale, performance, and flexibility. Contact centers must continue to adapt to changing times by integrating open cloud platforms, agile solutions to customer needs, and a relentless focus on innovation in order to deliver the highest quality experience.
Anthony Bartolo is EVP / Chief Product Officer at Avaya.