2024 State of the Contact Center


2024 State of the Contact Center

A State of State article typically provides a look back and provides a potential glimpse into the future based on trends and events. Today, we’ll take a look at the State of the Contact Center from someone who is in the trenches with you in an ever-changing customer service and contact center environment.

Let’s start with the premise that every contact center inherently looks to balance the results of the Quality of Experience, Cost and Scale, People, and overall Operational Excellence. These four strategic imperatives are supported by five foundational blocks of having a Strong, Internalized Culture, Best Talent, Process Management, Technology, and Data Insights. The sum of the foundational blocks supporting your strategic imperatives leads to a Great Customer Experience.

Great Customer Experience

Let’s dive into each imperative and discuss how our landscape has changed and what the future could look/feel like.

Quality of Experience Typical Results

  • Customer satisfaction/NPS
  • Renewals/Sales/Repeat customers
  • Internal quality assurance
  • Speed of response or turn-around time
  • Service levels and abandon rate, etc.

State of Quality of Experience: For the past near decade, to the pleasure of many leaders reading this article, the customer’s experience has become a more important priority over the costs of a contact center. The customer’s experience has been viewed as a key differentiator in customers’ decisions to do business with an organization. While this view remains true, the culture’s pendulum is beginning to swing back to cost of service and scalability.

On a macro level, more organizations are becoming more focused on some short-term value due to quarterly stock market expectations, focus on EBITDA, leverage buyouts from Private Equity, and the rise of technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), and its impact on the experience. If you have felt that you have been hearing more recent questions from the C-Suite and leaders that sound like “How do we do even more with less?”, the priority of focus is moving from experience to cost. I don’t foresee a complete pendulum swing, but short-term value pressure looks like it will bring a material change in how you will need to operate. Your cultural gains in prioritizing the experience over the next several years will need to be articulated and protected.

Every contact center inherently looks to balance the results of the Quality of Experience, Cost and Scale, People, and overall Operational Excellence.

The possibilities of AI have CFOs licking their lips at the potential cost savings of a post-COVID wage growth. Rising minimum wages and difficulties in finding great help have boosted entry-level contact center wages by 15% or more over the past couple of years, both domestically and internationally. Finding strong talent at under $20/hour is almost impossible for most centers today. AI, properly designed and deployed, can intercept or contain high percentages of contacts while providing a better than basic experience. Combined with consumer expectations of the frequency of interacting with AI, the possibility of doing more with less is real.

So now what? Bucking the inevitable is not wise, so start with embracing the change and getting crisp on the value your organization provides. AI is potentially the most powerful customer service tool since the creation of websites and the internet. And at the same time, most center leaders will tell you even with the internet, contact volume still comes in. Like the internet, embrace the probable, and learn how it can improve the Quality of Experience. Many people are looking for value and efficiency in their interactions (let me get in, get my answer, and get out), and some will need that extra attention. Your role in the quality of experience will be to leverage strong process management and understanding of the toolset to distinguish when and which experience will provide the consumer the easy interaction.

Cost and Scale Typical Results

  • Cost per customer/contact/member
  • Contact to order/customer/member rate
  • Budget and scale metrics
  • Volumes
  • AHT/Schedule adherence/Calls (or emails/chat) per productive hour
  • Self-service usage
  • Workforce management efficiency

State of Cost and Scale: Are you being asked “to do more with less?” As mentioned earlier, whether due to larger macro environment changes or the needs of your specific organization, Cost and Scale is set to take center stage in contact centers for the foreseeable future. While it might sound disturbing and less “in the spirit” of a great customer service environment, it is happening. And it is part of operating a great center. In customer service, where experience metrics are “squishy” or value is hard to articulate with defined specificity, Cost and Scale metrics can be a quantifiable way of demonstrating the significance of a well-run center. Being able to demonstrate how the center has scaled over time shows Senior Leadership how you are providing hard dollars back to the budget, profit, or EBITDA. A quick example is if you can service more customers (hopefully from company growth) at the same cost as the environment before the growth, you have just added to the bottom line.

Understanding your key Cost and Scale metrics will help contact center leaders support their management and drive savings, cost avoidance, and scale.

Why is this important to the state of the contact center, and what should leaders be doing in 2024 besides just adding to the bottom line? Most contact center leaders, specifically more junior inexperienced leaders, tend to focus on and manage Quality of Experience and People-related strategies and tactics. Contact Center leader career advancement requires equal attention and study of the Cost and Scale and Operational Excellence strategies and tactics. Competencies and skills related to driving down cost and creating scale become even more magnified in an environment where they become the lead priority. Contact Center leaders of 2024 and beyond, ask yourself the following questions. If you don’t know the answers related to your business, this is a great opportunity to learn.

  • Do you know the cost to run your department each month or year?
  • What is your cost per contact? Cost per call, cost per chat, or cost per email?
  • What is your most important variable efficiency metric? For retail/ecommerce, it might be contact to order. In other industries, it might be cost per customer or contact to customer rate.
  • Are you leveraging outsourcing to minimize the cost of seasonality?
  • How much of your volume is mitigated by self-service?

Understanding your key Cost and Scale metrics will help contact center leaders support their management and drive savings, cost avoidance, and scale.

People Typical Results

  • Employee engagement or morale scores
  • Attrition rates
  • Promotion and transfers
  • Training graduation rates
  • Training timelines
  • Internal and outsourcer headcount
  • Recognition program updates

If People are your more important asset, you need to be able to manage and monitor your key performance indicators related to People. I believe the most important driver of customer experience (CX) is the employee experience (EX). In other words, your best service is delivered by employees who are most satisfied with their overall work environment. But to get there, you need to remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. Associates need to feel physically and emotionally safe (levels 1 and 2), secure both in their role and financially, a sense of belonging (level 3), and high levels of recognition and growth (levels 4 and 5). Why am I discussing Psychology 101 in a State of the Contact Center article? Because the trends of 2024 and beyond will require leaders to understand how the macro trends will impact every level of their hierarchy of needs.

Again, let’s look at the macro trends:

  • Renewed prioritization on Cost and Scale
  • AI
  • Wage growth
  • Work from home instead of the office

All four of these broader trends can impact contact center associates, particularly physically and emotionally safe environments. Focus on Cost and Scale and AI may lead to their roles changing or being dissolved. Wage growth and the ability to work from home sound like winners for employees, but when connected to reprioritizing for Cost and Scale, this could lead to more roles outsourced or hired in less expensive locations (domestically or internationally). Also, if your agents can now work from home and many other organizations are offering work from home options, your associates are no longer bound to be hired by geographic location. If they live on the West Coast, they can easily find employment for an East Coast company looking to bolster their later hours. Finally, as leaders, you will be pushed to identify ways “to do more with less” and mechanisms like AI and hiring in lower-cost locations are very viable options.

The most important driver of customer experience (CX) is the employee experience (EX).

How does your organization need to adjust and change to meet the macro trends? There are four skills I see to ride the wave of change:

  • Knowledge Management – AI and self-service need to learn and be fed from somewhere, and your knowledge base is usually one of the best locations. FAQs can be a great many-to-one self-service tool and they need constant updates and new product changes.
  • AI Development and Configuration – If you are going down the AI path, and you should, contact center teams will need to configure and adjust their AI tools to learn. By understanding AI and fine tuning the system, more self-service can be achieved.
  • Process Management – Whether it is AI or just the need to be more efficient, no skill is more valuable to a contact center than Process Management. Workflows will need to be optimized, they always will regardless of the trends.
  • Community Management – In the age of work from home, engaging associates is more difficult than ever. Why not take a page from other environments who have mastered engaging their customer online – community managers. Community managers are able to engage wide populations to support a common topic. It is really not so different in the contact center. Many leaders will have support staff located all over the world, with common goals of supporting the customer and employee experience.

Of course, even with all the advanced technology, people will still want to reach out and interact with a person, so traditional phone, email, and chat skills will still be the core priority for the foreseeable future.

Operational Excellence Typical Results

  • Project Management meets quality, cost, and time expectations
  • Operational playbooks in place
  • Processes are well documented
  • Business Continuity
  • Reporting quality, accuracy, and timeliness

Whether you are moving from an on-premise phone system to CCaaS, reengineering your systems and workflow, adding AI, or just running business as usual next year, you need to be operationally excellent. The broader trends described above will require contact centers to operate and execute with less defects in both the projects and their everyday processes. An Operational Excellence core priority is to make sure project, process, and change management are done efficiently and effectively. Smaller contact centers may not be able to afford or support operational leaders who specialize in these areas. Their margin for error is also higher and needs to be safeguarded with at least oversight. Establishing discipline, whether you are small or large, is essential in providing the infrastructure (people, processes, and technology) for the future of your center.

Here is some guidance and tips to navigate the future:

  • Publish a monthly dashboard (and not just Excel or like results). Have a full dashboard with context and send to every influential person in the company each and every month. This puts eyes on your work; recognition when things are well and support for when things are trending downward.
  • Create project status boards with project status, milestones, and risks/issues.
  • Have a playbook for every core operational process or function. When Subject Matter Experts (SME) leave, you need to have documentation on how to proceed.
  • Make sure your information is in a repository that can be accessed by multiple people. Having playbooks and process documentation doesn’t help if nobody can find them.

An Operational Excellence core priority is to make sure project, process, and change management are done efficiently and effectively.

The State of the Contact Center is constantly evolving. Whether it is a shift in priorities, technology that disrupts business as usual, or worldwide pandemics, the contact center needs to understand the potential future trends and make strategic course corrections throughout its lifecycle. For 2024, and the foreseeable future, the broader trends of the focus on Cost and Scale, AI, work from home, and all of their impacts on the culture are the key challenges that contact center leaders will face. All that being said, a contact center’s strategic imperatives and foundational blocks will remain the same for some time to come. Review the macro trends to see how they may impact your Quality of Experience, Cost and Scale, People, and overall Operational Excellence. By doing so the future will be bright.

Michael Pace

Michael is the Vice President of Global Member Services and Operations for Virgin Pulse. He is also the President of the NorthEast Contact Center Forum (NECCF). He was the 2022 CCW Leader of the Year and the Virgin Pulse contact center was the 2022 CCW Best Culture winner and Runner Up Best-in-Class Contact Center (100+ seats). Connect with Michael on LinkedIn, Twitter, or his blog.