The New Normal: Navigating Change, Disruption


The New Normal: Navigating Change, Disruption

The events of 2020 have shown us how everything can change practically overnight. Most people are now accepting that change will continue to happen. The ability to navigate and execute in an era of sustained change and disruption will then be the overarching contact center objective in 2022.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to digital channels. Organizations also had to quickly embrace the move to the virtualized contact center and the shift to work-from-home (WFH): an employee experience imperative.

Today, 15%-20% of agents say they want to work virtual, another 15%-20% want to be in the office, and the rest desire a mix. Which means most contact center operations are not going back to brick-and-mortar anytime soon.

In 2022, it will be imperative to think strategically about customer and employee engagement strategies to align the customer experience (CX) with the employee experience. Fortunately, new technologies will help contact centers be more agile in the New Year. Spoiler alert: artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and real-time analytics will all play leading roles.

Here’s what the future holds.

Understanding Shifts in Customer Channel Preferences

The future of contact center work continues to evolve to meet customer expectations stemming from the growth and shift in digital channels.

Contact centers traditionally add digital channels to offload work. But today, as digital and social channels continue to grow, the total volume of customer interactions is also increasing to fill them.

To illustrate the growing popularity of these channels, Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® shows that “42% of U.S. online adults said that it was important for retailers to offer live online chat on their websites, up significantly from 27% in 2019” (Forrester Blog, “Three Key Findings From Our State of Chat in Retail Research,” May 12, 2021).

Digital engagement will play an increasingly important role in purchases. Organizations must understand and act on this resulting growth in customer data to drive improvements in the CX.

With customers engaging in different ways and differently in each channel, organizations need support from workforce engagement tools to handle and recognize these distinctions, as we will see in the next section. This is critical to support accurate forecasting and scheduling, and even quality management (QM) programs to support optimal CXs.

Social Messaging Remakes the Contact Center

In 2022, customer engagement through new social channels, such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, will become the preferred method of contacting customer service over traditional phone, email, and live chat.

Unlike previous new customer engagement channels that contact centers have adopted, such as chat, whose conversations occur mostly in real-time i.e., synchronously, engagements through these social messaging channels take place asynchronously.

With asynchronous messaging, a customer can continue an engagement with a contact center agent over a more extended period: sometimes hours or days. The nature, then, of these interactions requires organizations to revamp their performance and QM approaches.

So, when is the right time to assess the quality of an interaction? In 2022, organizations will begin to shift to conduct performance management and coaching in the time spaces in between asynchronous interactions to improve customer service.

Strategies for Next-Gen Talent Management

The pandemic disruption and the Great Resignation that followed hit contact centers hard. As a result, hiring practices have had to shift to address the need to source and retain quality talent.

Contact centers initially hired massive amounts of agents to help respond to the explosion in interaction volume. But these agents also had to adapt quickly to WFH: and some of them are more suited for that environment than others.

With the work-from-anywhere model not changing any time soon, companies need to be able to attract and interview candidates from a broader geography and potentially without ever meeting in-person. Candidates are far more selective today, and employers must work harder to attract, nurture, and retain quality talent.

Intelligent interviewing solutions using voice, advanced AI, and analytics are coming to the aid of contact centers in helping pre-assess candidates’ job-related performance: including their suitability to WFH in a remote worker role.

These applications enable virtual pre-interviews, job simulation, language assessment, usage of knowledge management systems, and more. Providing a richer employee experience right from the start is a winning strategy that can provide a competitive advantage in the tight labor market.

Supporting “Gig Economy” Flexible Work Schedules

With the shift to digital, gone are the days of “9 to 5” work. Now, employees can divide the workdays into two or more parts during the hours that best fit their needs and maximize their earnings. In 2022, offering flexible scheduling to promote “anywhere, anytime” work models is a perk that will help employers win the talent war.

As companies worldwide accommodate a remote workforce, embracing flexible work models such as micro shifts and shift splits is crucial.

As companies worldwide accommodate a remote workforce, embracing flexible work models such as micro shifts and shift splits is crucial. Advanced workforce management tools can help organizations meet these new flexible staffing requirements and promote work/life balance.

Supporting Agent Coaching and Empowerment

Saddletree Research Chief Analyst Paul Stockford finds, “employee engagement has been an industry concern for many years, and it has come to be generally recognized as a valid strategy to combat poor worker morale and the bane of the contact center industry – personnel turnover.”

In the year ahead, we anticipate increased deployment of technology solutions to support agent coaching and support to promote a remote workplace that empowers employees to be successful on the customer front lines.

Traditionally a manual and ad hoc process, automated quality management (AQM) now provides automated scoring to analyze agent performance, customer satisfaction, agent compliance, and more with every customer interaction.

AQM has become increasingly important in particular in the remote workforce, as new agents are onboarded virtually. These solutions ensure new agents, regardless of their location, receive the coaching, training, and support needed to avoid struggling, or worse, quitting. It also ensures that good work never goes unrecognized.

Saddletree Research’s 2021 survey of contact center professionals, conducted with the not-for-profit National Association of Call Centers (NACC), asked participants about what technologies they will be purchasing over the next year.

The study uncovered those technologies more apropos to pandemic work conditions are in demand.

Not surprisingly, real-time agent assist (RTAA) and intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) solutions dominate the list of the top contact center technology solutions organizations invested in in 2021.

When customer service interactions involve negative sentiments, customer complaints, escalations, long silences, or multiple interruptions, real-time assistance can be the difference between a satisfied customer or one lost to the competition. The WFH dynamic increased the need for in-the-moment guidance to help agents who no longer have onsite supervisors or peers for consultation.

Connecting with Customers with Empathy

There’s a significant competitive advantage for contact centers that equip their agents appropriately to gather customer insights to address customer needs with immediacy and empathy.

In 2022, we will see widespread adoption of sentiment analysis tools to help organizations understand and engage with customers on an empathic level versus a transactional level.

To support this dynamic, real-time speech analytics automatically senses and detects customer intent and emotional state to help guide agents as to the next-best actions.

This technology now analyzes 100% of every interaction, providing a consistent and objective voice of the customer evaluation by agent, category, and call topic. Now organizations can fully understand the sentiment a brand generates—what sentiment your employees are providing—and what sentiment your customers are feeling.

The Front and Back Office Become Blurred

In 2021, we saw the realization of the vision of “everyone serves” within the organization as the edges of the contact center blurred, as bank and retail brick-and-mortar locations closed, and employees took to the phones to help address the Engagement Capacity Gap.

In this migration, organizations that had cloud-based solutions in place, such as knowledge management, RTAA, and IVA technologies, were well-positioned to support this shift, as these tools ensure that anyone is empowered with the knowledge and support to engage with customers.

We have the technology today to route customer interactions to any department in the organization, making manifest the “everyone serves” mantra.

Caution Curves Ahead: Building a More Agile, Responsive Contact Center

The pandemic forced organizations to rethink and radically change how they support customers and employees. The contact center industry has experienced 10 years of evolution in a relatively short period.

Adopting advanced technology solutions that help support customer and employee engagement and improve business agility will be unmistakably in vogue in 2022 to navigate and execute in an era of sustained change and disruption.

David Singer

With more than 25 years’ experience in the Customer Engagement and Customer Experience sector, David Singer is Vice President of Product Strategy for Verint.
Twitter: @verint