2020 was already showing signs of being a transformative year for the call center industry—with growing interest in “all things cloud” due to the benefits of an OpEx model, zero-touch roadmap upgrades, and the beginning rumblings of moving away from the traditional brick-and-mortar facility to save on capital expenses and attract talent from a wider geographic area.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Call centers around the globe were faced with a significant challenge in maintaining service levels while rapidly moving their primarily on-site agents to ad hoc, widely dispersed work-from-home situations. While some organizations were able to make the change without catastrophically disrupting their business, it was a scramble for the majority of them who were not prepared.
During the progression of summer and fall, many lessons have been learned, and if anything, trends in call center transformation have been accelerated. As some work-from-home agents have started to transition back into the call center and others stay ensconced in their home offices, one thing has become crystal clear: for the foreseeable future—aka the “now normal”—a secure, flexibly deployable communication solution that works equally well for both in-office and at-home agents, and those that move between those options throughout the workweek, is an absolute requirement.
But how do call centers ensure that their communication solution is up to the tasks that the new year is presenting to them? What elements should call centers look for in software solutions to help ensure they will be able to navigate the changes that are sure to come, but are difficult to predict?
The Most Critical Software Requirements for Centers
Following is a list of the most critical software requirements that call centers will need for the “now normal,” and for ensuring success as we move forward—a bit uncertainly—into 2021.
1. Cloud-hosted flexibility
Deploying cloud-based solutions gives call centers the flexibility they will need to pivot quickly from in-office to work-from-home environments—and back again—as the situation dictates, without any disruption to customer service. Having an advanced solution that can be accessed and fully leveraged by all of your agents, no matter where they are based on any given day, will help to ensure consistency and the highest of standards in the customer experience. By using a cloud solution, agents will have access to all of the tools they need to best service customers, and callers should not be able to tell that they are speaking with agents not based at headquarters. One important element to consider in this area is that finding solutions that can also support overlay/hybrid models of both on-premise and cloud can be helpful as call centers make the transition over to cloud.
2. Virtual desktop infrastructure
To most cost-effectively accommodate your agents being able to work from multiple locations, desktop virtualization will be key. With a virtual desktop infrastructure, call centers can leverage affordable hardware that provides the same capabilities and quality that agents have in the physical call center, no matter where they are. Allowing agents to pull down lightweight versions of your communications software and receive superior voice quality and other functionality on less expensive endpoints provides call centers with more control and management, as well as cost savings.
3. Robust security protocols and privacy enhancing features
At the start of the pandemic, we all heard about the embarrassing privacy issues related to quickly implemented and not always vetted solutions. While customers extended some grace and understanding regarding those situations as they recognized the swift moves companies had to make in their call center operations, their expectations today have changed. Callers will no longer abide call centers using insecure or privacy-risking solutions—especially in sensitive markets such as finance and healthcare. To meet customers’ high expectations for security and privacy, call centers must look for solutions with built-in encryption and security protocols, as well as the ability to set additional privacy features such as requiring passwords to join meeting rooms and the ability to block users or video.
4. Customizable call control features to match your unique requirements
Every call center is different, and to help ensure your software can meet your distinctive needs, be sure to choose a solution that is flexible and highly customizable. For example, do you want to lock the app to the system tray so agents just answer calls? Or do you want to augment your solution with screen-sharing or collaboration tools to enable a wider range of actions? Do you want to limit distracting messaging pop-ups to help increase productivity or implement distinctive call routing so that customers are never kept waiting for someone to answer? Look for solutions that allow you to implement those features and capabilities you most need to deliver outstanding service to customers while streamlining operations and keeping agents happy.
5. Integration with business tools
You rely on many other systems in addition to your unified communications (UC) solution to get the job done. So, being able to seamlessly add your communication solution into your everyday workflows is critical. From automating call information and call recording into your CRM solution to adding video calling to healthcare or clinical apps to enable remote diagnoses, make sure the solution you choose can be made to fit into your existing processes. Don’t settle for a solution that makes you adjust your workflows to suit its structure, seek out one that can adapt via customization, application programming interfaces (APIs) or even a software development kit (SDK).
6. Proactive performance and productivity analytics
By capturing metrics on voice quality, average handling time, agent idle time, etc., managers can derive insight into agent productivity and gain meaningful feedback on call center performance. With more of these tools becoming commonplace, and statistical dashboards becoming prevalent in user interfaces for managers, having a solution that can provide these features or integrate with your data system is key—no matter where your agents are working.
7. Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Autonomous AI agents remain a concept for future development, but there are plenty of instances where human agents are using AI as an aid to optimize productivity. Examples include AI proposing next steps and sources of knowledge to support undocumented workflows and queries. AI helps enterprises surface unstructured knowledge faster and more accurately, while the role of unified communications and collaboration (UCC) is crucial to enabling distributed teams to collaborate seamlessly with this knowledge.
An Opportunity to Innovate
Given 2020’s global turmoil, it’s easy to forget that contact centers already had a long list of compelling reasons to change, with long-term evolution of user behavior, shifting agent working preferences and renewed cost pressures all playing their part. By implementing even one or two of the proposed “now normal” requirements, organizations can realize immediate benefits and feel more secure in a world that seems to be filled with insecurity.
Contact centers have a golden opportunity to innovate—to add value to the customer experience, optimize digital transformation strategies, achieve greater productivity, and stand out in the market—no matter what happens next.