Attempting to predict the future has always been a risky proposition, and right now it’s harder than ever. In a world full of uncertainty we can only look at the way specific trends are converging and use that insight to project the factors which can impact on business success.
For example, the devastation of the global health crisis has left the world with some permanent engagement shifts — such as the explosion of e-commerce. Contact centers are now the main touchpoint between customers and businesses, and this has transformed the way we shop. Even while the retail outlets and malls unlock unevenly around the world, changed expectations and the relationship between ‘bricks and clicks’ show permanent alteration, and every consumer-facing business needs to respond to this meaningfully.
Fortunately, the technology underpinning the contact center has transformed too, and the emergence of 100% cloud-native CX-as-a-service optionality has enabled nimble businesses to respond to shifting needs and circumstances in ways which were never before possible.
A cloud-native contact center does not require setting up banks of cubicles, phone line installations, and juggling shift-worker allocations. When you can spin up a virtual seat with a couple of taps in a dashboard, your colleagues can be anywhere — and you can offer flexible, home-based opportunities to a global workforce of gig workers who embrace that elastic lifestyle and get to live and work where they choose.
The Flexible Expert Agent
Yes, this requires a rethinking of traditional employment models and management.
The agile contact centers of the 2020s will need to find new ways of recruiting, training, and incentivizing virtual agents, who may work on a retained basis from anywhere on earth, ready to log in fast and absorb surge demand. The much-criticized gig-work apps for unskilled drivers and delivery workers may offer models to build upon here — such as automatically alerting agents of demand and even temporarily elevating reward levels to encourage responsiveness.
We predict these agents will develop niche expertise and work across multiple enterprises in deep specialisms, as the more boring and routine aspects of customer service are increasingly automated away to self-service portals, and their human-to-human role becomes more fulfilling and nuanced. They’ll work in harmony with the smart tools that augment their expertise, serving up the right knowledge-base article or background information from the CRM, and going the extra mile for customers with unique challenges, needs, or distress.
For the enterprise, attracting these super-agents will mean offering them great employee experiences, and the right software is a vital part of this. Intuitive, fast, and accessible, with no delays — spinning up their ‘virtual seat’ will happen in less time than it takes to allocate them an email address and without the need for lengthy onboarding.
They’ll want easy access to the whole customer conversation too, via an omnichannel infrastructure which doesn’t operate in silos and is completely user-centered. Using a cloud-native contact center software makes this the default (and is rapidly becoming the expectation). When the best agents can work for any contact center on the planet, you’ll have to offer them tools which make their work fulfilling, engaging, and rewarding.
Win-Win-Win for Customers, Agents, and Business
For the enterprise, a strategy of agile and user-centered customer service is a win as well. Not only do customers receive great responses from motivated and engaged agents, but satisfaction metrics are enhanced and, ultimately, the bottom line is impacted.
Measuring what matters is key. Cloud-native contact center software makes it easy to monitor the work of at-home agents all over the world, but more qualitative factors need to come to the forefront. First-call resolution (FCR) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) will need to take priority over measuring speed and throughput. Machine learning-driven functionality like natural language processing (NLP) will parse emotional factors like stress and frustration, enabling agents to respond to unexpressed customer needs appropriately. It will also enable managers to effectively support those agents and supervise meaningfully, whatever the physical distance between them may be.
An omnichannel approach that puts the customer at the heart of the response means it’s easy to roll with changes in demand: for example, rapidly spinning up more lines to address a surge in contacts over a product recall, or to head off anticipated inquiries coinciding with a complex upgrade.
And because every business has had to learn to cope with unforeseen challenges, from local weather emergencies to global economic disaster, the scalability works both ways.
When everything is cloud-based and virtualized, temporarily reducing CX coverage does not mean turning off the lights at physical facilities and permanently laying off staff. Those remote agents are free to take shifts elsewhere when you need to restrict response supply due to a drop in demand, and you can immediately reengage and incentivize them to return when things pick up again.
Resilience Means Responsiveness
The technological changes wrought by the pandemic have altered the way customers use and relate to technology and have thus forever changed their expectations of what a good brand response should be. Video calling, for example, once a niche channel, is now table stakes. Every business needs to be ready to show rather than tell, without missing a beat (or dropping a call).
New apps and networks mean responding fast to changes in customer behavior too, as many manufacturers quickly learned when they had to start engaging with video reviews of their products on TikTok. Those who were operating a siloed multichannel strategy failed to get behind this fast and lost valuable ground. Will we all be holding customer service AMAs on Clubhouse soon? Who can say! But a cloud-based omnichannel CXaaS solution will be the first to enable that functionality as soon as it is demanded.
So, yes, predicting the future is a dangerous game in 2021.
We can, however, combine insight about trends ranging from customer expectation and enablement, with everything the cloud-based SaaS model makes possible, to create amazing and responsive contact center experiences. And it doesn’t require a crystal ball to predict that the businesses who get this right will be the ones to retain customer loyalty, market share, and even experience growth despite economic uncertainty and whatever the future holds.