Remember being in school? I don’t remember much either, actually. But I do remember how classes were designated. The 101 class was always the introductory or beginner class, and it was usually more theory than practice. Next up in complexity were the 200 series classes, which were more about practical applications and designed for students majoring in whatever subject preceded the 200 classification. Things got even more academically challenging in the 300 series classes and so on.
I thought this was a fairly common class numbering system, developed in order to make transfers between colleges and universities, like transferring from a community college to a university, easier. Turns out that isn’t the case at all. Course numbering patterns from different schools are all over the map. In some schools, the middle digit is the most important. In others, a 102 class might be easier than a 101. No standards whatsoever.
Kind of reminds me of the communications industry trying to standardize on something. It takes forever. Most of you won’t remember this, but when cell phones first hit the market in the 1990s, different mobile providers used different phone standards. Europe, for example, pretty much standardized on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) for their cell phones. Just about all European countries agreed that this was a pretty good standard for mobile communications, and it allowed users to roam all over Europe and still receive phone calls.
But here in the U.S., someone decided that we had to have our own standard. Some cell phone companies settled on Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) while others decided their standard would be Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). Both of these standards had their limitations, too, including the fact that they weren’t compatible with GSM, so if you went on a trip to Europe, your cell phone would be useless. In fact, cell phone rental was a pretty big business for travelers 20 years ago. When you arrived at whatever European airport was your destination, you went to the cell phone rental agency and rented a phone and a phone number. Your calls were then forwarded to this number while you were in Europe. When you left that country, you turned your phone back in at the airport and got your deposit back.
Today, the world has pretty much settled on the GSM standard for mobile communications. That’s why your phone works just about anywhere in the world that there is cell service. And there’s your history lesson for today, boys and girls.
More recently, as our history lesson continues, the contact center industry seemed to become enamored with the word “agile.” All of a sudden companies became agile, products were described as agile, software was agile, everything was agile. I recall seeing a press release describing the hiring of a new marketing executive. In the press release, the newly hired executive was referred to as being “agile.” Really? Made it sound like they hired a gymnast.
According to Dictionary.com, agile means quick and well-coordinated in movement, or marked by an ability to think quickly. In the realm of agile customer experience (CX) or customer service, we’re talking about a contact center having the ability to react quickly to changing market conditions and/or opportunities. Until now, most of the talk in the industry about agile CX was all theory, and it all came from vendors. Enthusiastic marketing materials touted the advantages of the agile contact center, ready to quickly take on any market change that came its way. Most contact centers gave these marketing pitches a cursory glance before yawning, then firing up their vintage 1998 Blue Pumpkin scheduling software, which still works so why replace it? Then everything in the industry changed overnight.
When the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued its guidelines for safety in the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic this past March, agile CX quickly shifted gears from theory to practical application. From Agile CX 101 to Agile CX 201. Every contact center suddenly found itself having to find a way to get its workforce home to work, and fast. The agility advantage here went to contact centers that were already in the cloud. Agents and others were sent home with a laptop, or they used their own home computer, and once home they logged into their company profile and continued to work as if they had never left the office.
Speaking of vintage 1998 solutions, those contact centers in the non-agile category had to deal mostly with virtual private networks (VPNs) in order to quickly get their agents to a safe work environment. Compared to today’s cloud, VPNs are notoriously unreliable, do not scale and have security issues. There are still plenty of businesses today that rely on VPNs for remote workers, but I believe that will change rapidly as a result of the experiences of the pandemic. In fact, I revised Saddletree Research’s five-year forecast for cloud contact centers upward to reflect market penetration of 81% by 2024.
And then there were those contact centers that flunked Agile CX 101 entirely and just kept working as if nothing was wrong except a little bacteria on the shared workstations and headsets. To read more about these flunkers, read my April Contact Center Pipeline column entitled, COVID-19 and the Contact Center: Horror, Heartache, Humanity and Hope.
So, now we’ve got all these agents and supervisors working from home. How do we conduct quality management as we always have? The answer is found in the Agile CX 201 syllabus under the heading “Analytics.”
Contact center analytics allow the user to capture and analyze 100% of customer contacts across all channels, regardless of whether these contacts are structured, as in a completed form or questionnaire, or unstructured as in a voice contact or a text conversation. This is possible regardless of the location of the agent, supervisor or customer. Quality monitoring continues uninterrupted and unaffected.
According to the results of Saddletree Research’s 2020 survey of contact center professionals, about 40% of the industry was using already using analytics prior to the issuance of the CDC guidelines in March. This includes the nearly 6% of the market that had already decided to upgrade or replace their analytics solution at the beginning of the year, as illustrated in Figure 1, below.
Just to see how attitudes in the industry may be changing toward “majoring in Analytics” after the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, we conducted a quick, one-question survey among those respondents who were not using analytics as of January 2020. In a nutshell, we asked if attitudes toward analytics and AI in general had changed since the pandemic. The results are shown in Figure 2.
As the data shows, nearly 60% of those not using or interested in analytics in January 2020 will definitely or probably implement analytics in the next 18 months. That’s a significant shift in attitude toward analytics and AI in general in a period of six months.
With new or renewed interest in solutions and strategies that will truly enable agility in the contact center, I believe the industry is poised to enter a new phase of productivity. There’s nothing like a global crisis to enlighten the masses. Even though, like schools around the world, we can’t have a graduation ceremony either, we can be proud of learning what we needed to know to graduate from Agile CX 101 to Agile CX 201.
The National Association of Call Centers
Did you know columnist Paul Stockford is also the editor of In-Queue, the monthly newsletter of the National Association of Call Centers? Get your free subscription and read more of his provocative commentary every month!