A year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, only 50% of organizations report they are well prepared to support customer engagement priorities moving forward, while more than four in five (82%) say the challenges of managing customer engagement will only increase in 2021.
These stats and other key findings from our survey of more than 2,000 global business leaders, conducted in November and December 2020, point to a widening Engagement Capacity Gap driven by workforce dynamics, ever-expanding customer engagement channels and exponentially more consumer interactions—all of which must be managed with limited budget and resources.
The survey was designed to get a pulse on key priorities, trends and challenges associated with customer engagement, COVID-19 pandemic impacts, perceived organizational preparedness and future plans.
Prior to the pandemic, organizations were struggling to handle the increasing complexity of customer engagement. Engagement channels and customer journeys have doubled and even tripled in the last 10 years; customer interactions have grown into the millions with increasing complexity; and organizations have fewer teams or resources to manage these growing and increasingly challenging dynamics.
However, the pandemic served to further impact companies’ preparedness levels and derail planned investments, putting them in a more vulnerable state or leaving them even further behind.
AI, Cloud and Analytics Show Promise
Artificial intelligence (AI) is starting to shape the future customer engagement for over three in four organizations, with 78% of business leaders reporting that they had moderate to high investment in AI, though only 18% said that the technology to date has been helpful in managing customer shifts in channel usage and transaction volumes. As business leaders become more skilled with deploying the technology, it is expected to deliver many benefits, including differentiated and more personalized experiences for customers, lower costs and optimized human touch at scale.
Eighty-five percent (85%) of respondents said cloud-based solutions helped them successfully manage shifts in channel usage and interaction volumes. As a result, 88% of respondents expect to invest to a high or moderate degree in cloud-based customer engagement and experience solutions moving forward—including workforce management and chatbots or intelligent virtual assistants, as well as those to support compliance—to close the Engagement Capacity Gap.
Although 86% of organizations say they are investing in analytics, yet just over one-third (38%) say analytics has helped them handle increases in interaction volume. Respondents point to organizational and departmental data silos as standing in the way of progress in this area.
The Pandemic Workforce Impact
The pandemic upturned the world of work as we know it overnight. We wondered how business leaders were handling this shift. Just over half (54%) of the leaders responding to our survey said they consider their organizations well prepared to enable a remote workforce to effectively serve customers, while 76% said that engaging with customers using a work-from home workforce and improving engagement for work-from-home employees were among their top concerns.
The study found that nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents were forced to put off hiring in 2020 due to COVID-19 and related economic considerations, and only 51% say they intend to increase staffing in 2021.
Companies aren’t able to close the Engagement Capacity Gap by simply hiring more people because hiring more people isn’t scalable, so adding staff alone won’t solve the issue. However, cuts in planned technology expenditures haven’t helped the cause. Thirty percent (30%) of organizations reduced or eliminated planned investments in 2020 designated for new systems/technologies associated with workforce management, customer communities and speech/text analytics.
Managers and decision-makers are exhausted and stretched thin. When we asked survey respondents for their list of top concerns, 83% reported being concerned about five or more things. Top priorities by respondents were:
- Increasing revenues (54%)
- Increasing operational efficiencies (53%)
- Acquiring new customers (53%)
- Increasing the skills and knowledge of customer support professionals (51%)
- Evolving customer experience and customer engagement strategies to recognize new challenges (51%)
Most (94%) respondents said they were concerned about their ability to respond to changing customer behaviors, particularly in the wake of declining resources. Nearly nine in 10 (88%) business leaders said among their top concerns was managing the growth of customer interactions.
Closing the Gap
The data from our research shows that 2021 is a critical rebuilding year. Organizations are playing catch-up. Companies must work to close the Engagement Capacity Gap in 2021 and beyond. The situation is urgent as it threatens top business initiatives.
Solving any problem starts with understanding it. Verint’s research in this area helps organizations understand the scope of the problem. We can then define the requirements for closing the gap and identify the criteria for a workable solution.
Closing the gap will require connecting work, data and experiences across the enterprise. The primary focus will be on workforce management as companies try to maximize their human resources, having the right staffing levels at the right times to efficiently handle those interactions that need human intervention.
Respondents said they have several goals for workforce development in 2021, with the most important being empowering employees on the customer front lines via the ability to quickly find information to better serve customers.
In an e-book that speaks to strategies for closing the Engagement Capacity Gap, experts at industry analyst firm Ventana Research say that AI and machine learning will be critical to speed the necessary insights to agents. Customer engagement has evolved into a science that draws conclusions from analytics, data and testing, relying on technology to leverage human skills and enhance, not replace, the person-to-person touch.
By capturing data from various resources, an organization can gain a complete view of customers and their various journeys and use it to better automate workflows for more efficient and relevant customer interactions. Businesses that maximize their use of the available technology will gain a competitive advantage.
Ventana Research analysts recommend developing an infrastructure that balances individual customer interactions with historical data from a company’s comprehensive customer database to help develop lifelong customer relationships.
They go on to say that closing the Engagement Capacity Gap will require combining modern automation and analytic technology with the efforts of the human workforce. Forward-thinking business leaders can use this opportunity to rethink the way they deliver service and relate to customers, putting the customer at the center of the interactions.