10 Ways COVID-19 Has Changed the Contact Center for Good

Guest blog by Craig Robinson, Director of StableLogic

It’s fair to say that 2020 has probably been the most dramatic year any of us have ever experienced. Thousands of deaths, national lockdowns, a halt in travel, the largest global recession in history and a fear of worse to come….

Since March, when most of the world entered some form of lockdown, the demand for online services, support and products has soared. As a result, the need for highly efficient contact centers has become even more critical to an organization’s success.

At the same time, contact centers must adapt and change — often at great speed.

At StableLogic, we believe that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on contact centers has resulted in these 10 benefits (the good) or permanent changes (for good).

  1. Forget the Office

Working from home, for many agents, is here to stay. It’s expensive to run a contact center; there are major pressures on keeping costs low, removing the cost of the physical office delivers significant savings.

  1. It Doesn’t Matter Where You Live

Contact centers often compete for agents in the local area, pushing up salaries and benefits. But if agents work from home, they can be located almost anywhere. This drives down hourly rates but provides more flexibility for agents.

  1. Radically Cut Costs

One of the effects of COVID-19 is a deep global recession. It has a major impact on organizations’ finances and the need to radically reduce costs. Demands to reduce cost by 20% – 30% aren’t unusual. So, expect cost pressures on the number of agents, the number of agents per supervisor, the need to use technology to reduce staffing and pressures on the IT budget.

  1. Move to Powerful Platforms

Organizations are being pushed to upgrade their contact center platforms ahead of their intended schedule. As the need for online services continues to grow, and recent global restrictions have pushed people online, organizations are moving to more powerful platforms that offer control and let them report on the satisfaction and retention of their customers.

  1. A New Role for Contact Centers

COVID-19 has made face-to-face sales interactions not just difficult but often impossible. With the pressure on costs, a complete return to expensive sales processes, travel costs and quite as many retail stores, is unlikely.  As a result, customer engagement processes throughout the organization need to be supported by contact center digital technology. The contact center is no longer “just in the contact center” but is the whole organization and needs to be viewed as such.

  1. Security and Compliance

With the move to home working, storing data in the cloud, and managing agents and workflows via online platforms, makes it more difficult — and more critical — to manage security and compliance. A contact center agent’s home isn’t as secure as an office environment (PCI-DSS, GDPR, etc.), so expect new forms of agent surveillance and compliance control within contact center systems.

  1. The Decline of IVR and the Rise of AI

Let’s admit it: IVR has always provided a poor customer experience and the first-generation of scripted chatbots were terrible. The move to online sales and service, led by the contact center, has placed a new emphasis on customer experience. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI), specifically around Natural Language Processing, is leading  companies to focus on improving their systems and expediting changes to ensure that customer retention and satisfaction remain high — all while reducing operational costs. AI plays a central role in this process.

  1. Move to Outsourcing and an Acceleration to Cloud

In recent years, we’ve seen a move to outsourced contact centers. The pressure to reduce costs has many new organizations looking to outsourcing. With COVID, we’re seeing more drive to outsourcing but also an acceleration of customers adopting cloud-based technology; this acceleration will continue.

  1. Voice Is Here to Stay

There’s been a major move to chat, email and other channels. But COVID-19 has shown the importance of voice as a channel; and for most organizations, voice it isn’t going away. COVID has highlighted a new need for contact centers to be resilient. And nothing is more resilient — or faster to respond to changing problems — than an agent on the phone.

  1. Moving Away from Legacy Platforms

Organizations are implementing myriad changes at pace: cloud-based platforms, soft phones, flexible working, more granular monitoring, managing individuals against metrics, setting objectives based of an expanse of customer feedback. At the same time, there’s a rapid move away from old, on-premises servers, PBX systems and rigid work styles. It’s becoming increasingly common for the contact center team to lead the change from legacy equipment and tools to modern cloud based digital tech and approaches.

Many of these trends were in motion before COVID-19, but the pandemic rapidly accelerated them. And some changes, such as increased pressures to reduce costs and a new focus on working from home, are here to stay. The contact center likely will become an even more important part of organizations for both sales and service. As a result, the contact center can expect even more senior management attention as it becomes more critical to the business.

The winners of these shifts will be those involved in cloud contact center technology, customer experience and engagement design, and contact center management. Outsourcers are also in a good position, the acceleration toward cloud will drive a need for more intuitive contact center technology and the need to elevate agents to a higher level. AI, chatbots and predictive engagement will all come to the fore. The coming year is going to be a very interesting time for the future of contact centers.

Do you agree with this list? Contact us to share your views.

And learn how to design your contact center to meet — and exceed — your goals for the future.

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