The New Year’s message has as its core, promises of better things ahead. And yes, that did happen to some extent in 2022.
The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic appears hopefully behind us. The economy—and spending and consequent demand for service for items and services that need contact centers for—has bounced back. And customers have made it known loud and clear that they expect an excellent customer experience (CX).
Consumers’ acceptance of eCommerce and employees’ (including agents’) preference for work-from-home (WFH) firmed up in 2022, creating the “hybrid economy” of both in-person and remote modes.
The positives and promises have, however, been constrained by the negatives of inflation, conflict, and a worsening ecological and political climate.
The ghastly Russian invasion of Ukraine has helped drive up prices while reintroducing, through sabre-rattling, the Cold War specter of nuclear annihilation.
Meanwhile unhampered climate change continues to wreak havoc on lives, communities, and supporting infrastructure through wildfires and wild weather. Unfortunately, domestic political instability threatens policy and action paralysis to these and other crises and critical issues, like crime.
One cannot turn back the clock to 2019. Employers that tried to force employees back into offices quickly found that out, adding more gas to the Great Resignation that is accelerating as Baby Boomers retire, individuals seek out better jobs, and employers, and as population growth slows.
Consumers’ acceptance of eCommerce and employees’ (including agents’) preference for work-from-home… creating the “hybrid economy”…
To provide advice and guidance for contact centers, we reached out to our Advisory Board to find out what contact center trends do they foresee in 2023? Are they the same, changed, or new as compared to 2022?
Contact centers will continue to face a tight labor market and in response reach out and accommodate workforces, such as with WFH, that they have overlooked in the past.
- Those living in communities located outside of affordable commuting distance. For example, a round trip from the suburbs to downtown Toronto, Canada, a popular contact center location, can take two-three hours on public transit and can cost up to $300/month. So, it is not worthwhile in time/expenses to take an entry level agent role.
- However, WFH allows contact centers to recruit from outlying areas. It also helps agents on evening or overnight shifts who no longer need to risk commuting after midnight or during bad weather.
- Rural residents. I grew up in a rural area. There are lots of hard-working folks living too far away to commute to an onsite contact center. However, expanding rural broadband means WFH– which needs high bandwidth – can work for them. So, contact center recruiters can tap into that labor pool.
- People with disabilities. While they have contributed to onsite roles for years, WFH offers a new group of job candidates who may have found commuting to an office to be a dissuading factor. The National Telecommuting Institute is a leader in placing Americans with disabilities into WFH jobs across the U.S.
- Disadvantaged youth. Thankfully, programs such as NPower Canada offer free training to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. So, they have a solid foundation for either an IT or contact center job. Several Toronto contact centers have had success hiring from those graduating classes.
At the same time contact centers may be setting their recruitment bars higher than what the jobs require, that they are inflexible on qualifications, experience, education, and certifications. Doing so does not account for candidates’ potential: which denies opportunities for them and employers alike.
While “perfect” candidates are great, today’s hot job market means competition for good ones is tougher than ever.
The key is deciding which skills are teachable and which skills are innate. So, measuring for potential, what a high school guidance counsellor would have called “aptitude” is crucial. Emotional intelligence, work ethic, adaptability, and the potential to learn product/process knowledge are important.
2022 was a tumultuous year for the contact center space, and we should expect more of the same for 2023.
Two trends in particular will continue transforming a sector that has been ripe for change for some time. First is the continued evolution and maturity of the underlying technologies, namely the cloud and artificial intelligence (AI).
There are good reasons why contact centers have been late to the cloud, but now that it’s emerging as the deployment model of choice, many cannot migrate fast enough. Not only are the vendors all-in with cloud, but as businesses make CX a strategic priority, contact centers are facing C-suite pressure to modernize, and they’re buying what the vendors are selling.
Never before have contact center leaders had so many offerings to choose from, making this a great time to rethink everything about how businesses invest in technology to support their customers.
Contact center as a service (CCaaS) is certainly the starting point for this journey, but AI is another technology for driving transformational change. Customer service has long been a strong use case for AI, and every vendor now has an AI story.
For 2023, AI is set to shift from early adopter to mainstream status, especially as no code/low code has made the development of bespoke applications accessible to contact centers of all sizes. Contact center leaders now see the value of AI, especially for automating operations, and enabling more personalized forms of service, so expect to see a lot of innovation on both fronts.
“We will likely see one or possibly more familiar [vendor] names taken off the table…” —Jon Arnold
The second trend transforming this space is the state of the vendor landscape. Traditional technology strengths that have allowed the incumbents to dominate for so long are no longer the drivers of disruption and innovation, and with that, many non-traditional players have entered the contact center space.
The status quo has never looked so shaky, and many vendors are trending the wrong way for sales, profits, and headcount.
Outsiders like Zoom, Amazon, and Twilio bring new options to the market, and it remains to be seen what path Microsoft will take in this space. With economic weakness expected for 2023, more consolidation lies ahead, especially if those performance trends stay negative.
We will likely see one or possibly more familiar names taken off the table, either through acquisition, breakup, or Chapter 11. While the upside for CCaaS adoption remains promising, 2023 should provide a clearer picture of who the long-term winners will be.
Happy New Year, 2023.
I spoke with many of my peers on the trends for 2023 and consistently uncovered that the 2023 focus will be a continuance from 2022 initiatives.
“…2023 strategies include revising coaching tools and measuring their effectiveness, enhanced teammate engagement, and technology transformations.”
Teammate engagement and staffing retention and technology ranked as top initiatives. During 2022, leaders spent a significant amount of time on teammate engagement and staffing retention as well as understanding best practices for hiring, training in virtual or hybrid environments.
Exploration of efficiency gains with new technology solutions was top of mind with several deployments during 2022.
Based on conversations, 2023 strategies include revising coaching tools and measuring their effectiveness, enhanced teammate engagement, and technology transformations.
The trends I will focus on will be around the “people” part of the industry.
The first point I will touch on is Recruitment. The speed and length of the Recruitment cycle will be faster with a quicker turnaround time from the point of application to interview and then feedback. The length of this cycle will be shorter than in recent years. In 2022 many companies have needed to shorten their turnaround times to avoid losing candidates in the process and I expect this to continue into 2023.
The second point of focus are measures that organizations have implemented such as using various tools and incentives for Talent Retention. Candidate expectations have changed, and we are witnessing a drastic adjustment in the labor market. Candidates have a choice and are constantly looking at which organizations deliver a better employee experience. It is important to note that employee experience starts at the time of the job posting; it is that first connection regardless of which channel or method of interview you choose (traditional email/phone interview, face-to-face, or AI-assisted speed interview styles).
The increased awareness within HR and Operations teams did start in 2022 as many organizations saw increased attrition during all levels of onboarding and with tenured staff. I expect this trend to continue into 2023.
To retain talent, organizations must have a commitment to creating an employee-centric environment with a culture of inclusion, social responsibility, and most importantly, alignment with purpose.
Finally, Training and Development will continue to be more interactive, and engaging, with gamification and micro-learnings along with some learner-led modules.
Simply delivering content with just a presentation deck and a talking head is not acceptable (never should have been). With a fully remote or hybrid environment, learners need and demand to be fully engaged in the process. I remember when I taught in a local college, we were told that the learners of today need “Edu–tainment”!
2023 will have similar aspects to 2022 and there will be an increased adjustment to the overall mindset towards recruitment, retention, and development.
As an industry we have had to pivot so much and so quickly. Now companies are more settled in their chosen structure (fully remote, hybrid, or on-site). To continue attracting and retaining the best talent, companies will need to look at their processes and how they can deliver the best employee experience starting with the first point of contact right through training and development.
Here are my three trends for 2023.
- 1. Unified service delivery
- As organizations seek to improve the CX, they are looking at the customer journey with an eye for finding chokepoints that impede first contact resolution.
- Problems often occur where more than one business function is involved. Common examples are insurance claims, credit applications, and new service applications.
- Using robotic process automation (RPA) and other advanced technologies major vendors have incorporated back office functionality into their customer engagement suites.
- Most of the early impetus came from established contact center solution vendors such as Verint and NICE. The aim is to provide a fluid 360-degree service from initial point of contact to problem resolution or product/service delivery. I would expect to see more of this in the future.
- 2. Return to personal service
- Our industry has had some success in replacing agents with automation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of customer service representatives has declined by 132,000 from 2019 to 2021. However, so has customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction for U.S. products and services has dropped to a level not seen since 2015.
- Self-service is ideally suited for basic interactions, but when things get complicated (and they are) you need a well-trained, empathetic, and knowledgeable person to listen to and help solve your problem. That is the key to customer engagement. We all know a favorite check-out clerk at the grocery store, but no one has a favorite self-service lane.
- 3. Emergence of the chief customer officer
- According to the Chief Customer Officer Council, there were roughly 20 individuals with the title of chief customer officer (CCO) in 2003. What has changed is the speed with which organizations are appointing CCOs. Gartner’s 2019 Customer Experience Management Survey revealed that in 2019 about 90% of businesses surveyed had a CCO on staff.
The CCO is charged with becoming the change agent that helps the organization establish and maintain a customer-centric culture and develops tools and processes for achieving stated goals.
Because customer care crosses many boundaries, most notably marketing, it is not always clear where budgetary and staffing responsibilities lie.
The positive for our industry is that the CCO will have the ear of senior management and the influence, if not always the responsibility, on delivering the 360-degree customer service that customers crave. This will facilitate the adoption of technology that addresses the complete customer journey.
I attended the very fun (and free!) virtual conference “Best Practices in WFO” (Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2022) hosted by Sheri Greenhaus (CrmXchange) and Vicki Herrell (SWPP).
Starting with Juanita Coley’s fabulous keynote, she shared her vision for the Future of WFM. The first trend was the evolution of gig scheduling, using more agent self-service features, a great fit for our growing remote workforce.
Next came “Where WFM is Headed” which included industry experts Jessica Harris (EPIQ), Sandra McFatridge (Nissan), and Dave Hoekstra (Calabrio). Like most WFMers, when they talk about the future, they support those ideas with tangible plans that spell success for our contact centers.
The subject of remote employees came up again, plus the problems behind hiring and retention.
I talked with Dave afterward about his point of view as a vendor. He told me channel fragmentation is a huge issue (too many reporting systems and insufficient integration to WFM). But the other trend is still employee engagement, meaning empowering agents to control their schedules.
The next day was Hybrid Work Environments by Andrea Matsuda (NICE). She shared her 2021 global survey with 42% attrition rates! Talking with her later, she stressed to me the importance of flexible schedules with autonomy surrounding breaks and giving the WFM treatment to the Back Office. She echoed others’ concerns about accurately planning for digital support.
Andrea also gave us the most challenging WFM Trivia question: “How should you measure AHT for digital channels?” Only 18% of us got it right.
My last session was on Extending WFM Support to Back Office,” by two WFM pros: Kirwyn Adderley (Walgreens) and Spencer O’Leary (ActiveOps). The #1 challenge is and remains, data collection. Back Office rarely has a “single source of truth” for data.
I was surprised to see how many new things are showing up in Back Office work types. Some centers now forecast and schedule for things like investigations, IT tickets, in-person queues, and data analysis. Spencer had great insight about a Front-Back Office hybrid, or “Middle Office.” This approach lets teams utilize pockets of extra capacity from phones and slices of unoccupied time from the Back Office to support each other. Kirwyn generously shared a hard lesson learned: count Back Office work based on its arrival time, not completed time, to avoid understaffing.
New to me (and this might be more fad than trend): a WFM subreddit exists (r/workforcemanagement).
The trend I hope never ends: Virtual conferences – I love them!
The 2020 pandemic caused enormous disruption that inspired some exciting opportunities and changes for Contact Centers. As we head into the new year we all hope for a calmer time. I believe that 2023 is going to be the year of stabilization. It is a good time to consider where your Contact Center sits in regard to emerging trends.
Here is what I see…
Agent Experience Awareness – This trend is emerging largely due to the incredible turnover that Contact Centers have experienced over these past couple of years. A significant number of organizations have begun to focus on attraction and retention of staff. The Agent/Employee Experience has gained traction. Compensation, flexibility, and improved tools and technology are all on the rise. Time will tell if this will serve only to close the gaps in the current Employee Experience or elevate it sufficiently to impact positivity, morale, and retention. Either way it is a good start!
Digital Readiness – As in sports teams or hobbies, there is a readiness requirement for ultimate success. Readiness ranges from having the requisite talent and interest to having the funds to acquire what is required to participate. Digital readiness is on the minds of every leader looking to improve customer self-service and support agents in using new technology. Self-service is very much dependent on technology and technology is dependent on clean and flowing processes. Transactions and interactions with lots of work arounds, band-aids, handoffs, and transfers do not qualify for digital service. While folks may not be labelling their efforts to upgrade, integrate, and use new technologies as “digital readiness”, it is time they did. It plays much better to the executive suite than asking for budget dollars to buy a “thing.”
“…2023 is going to be the year of stabilization. It is a good time to consider where your Contact Center sits in regard to emerging trends.” —Kathleen M. Peterson
Massive Technology Seduction – Please beware of promises! Technology has always had a kind of seduction to its claims. The promises hit consumer pain points … improved Customer Experience, lower costs, improved productivity, etc., etc. Be cautious of promises made by vendors that know nothing about you. Carefully prepare a set of business and functional requirements before seeking new technology to assure that your investment pays off.
Contact Centers are changing the way work is performed and how the Contact Center is perceived. The time is now to address the stabilization necessary to ride into the future!
We are not done with change
Poet and philosopher David Bowie said it best:
“Turn and face the strange…” (Changes)
That’s the situation we have found ourselves in for the past two years. Almost three.
Today we are still normalizing, stabilizing, and adapting from the shift from pandemic-driven agility to new post-pandemic operational realities.
Fortunately, most contact centers were involved, if not fully bought into, remote work. But now we find ourselves adapting to new all-remote or hybrid strategies that have strained organizational norms.
The rules of this game continue to shift and evolve as we pursue the normalization of new strategies while striving to maintain corporate culture.
So, we focus on identifying new ways to effectively engage our staff in their work, helping them see the value of providing high-value experiences, while keeping the impact on the consumer journey front and center. We continue to focus on giving agents the tools, workflows, and knowledge necessary to create repeatable, reliable, high-quality experiences for our patients, members, and their families. Supported by a focus on transparency and accountability.
“The contact center remains a hub of communication and is a vital partner in developing plans to address the high -friction, often fractured journeys of consumers.”
Further, sometimes it feels like some organizations or industries are playing catch up in the world of consumer-centered design. In healthcare, it seems that new features and functions frequently are focused on improvements for the plan or provider, with the impact on consumer experience relegated to an afterthought.
The contact center remains a hub of communication and is a vital partner in developing plans to address the high -friction, often fractured journeys of consumers. Our data and familiarity with the voice of the customer can highlight the opportunities for Change. Because, as Bowie also said in Changes, we can’t expect them to “grow up and out of it”. We might be sliding into a post-pandemic world… but now the real work begins.