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At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, call centers around the world saw inbound call volumes spike dramatically. And those high volumes have remained high. According to Dialogtech, all industries saw a year-over-year call volume increase from December 2019 to December 2020, with the retail industry seeing the highest increase at over 34%.
At the same time, hiring new contact center agents to handle this dramatic increase in call volumes has been difficult. According to reports from Customer Contact Central, “several call center outsourcing vendors have disclosed that training class show rates are down to 40%-50%, some as low as 20%.” Many modern contact centers have turned to automated self-service platforms to meet these demands.
Hiring more agents to handle more calls means more contact center costs. And those costs are increasing exponentially. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the fully loaded cost per call for agent-handled interactions (including labor costs, occupancy, benefits and telecom) was around $2.70 to $5.60 per call.
In 2021, hourly wages around the US are rising in every industry, driving up competition for contact centers that are looking to hire staff. Larger companies like Amazon are offering hire wages and recently announced a $100 signing bonus for vaccinated new hires. As a result, many US employees are changing careers.
According to a Pew Research study, 66% of unemployed adults seriously considered changing their field of work, and one-third of unemployed adults say they’ve already taken steps to retool their skills by pursuing job retraining programs or educational opportunities. For contact center and BPO (business process outsourcing) providers; however, most clients still expect outdated compensation and pricing models. And that’s putting the squeeze on BPOs.
Contact centers must balance raising wages and costs to stay competitive in the hiring market — while keeping prices low to remain competitive in the industry.
As more customers call contact centers — and fewer agents are around to answer those calls — the gap between contact center capacity and inbound call volume grows. To alleviate this problem, many BPOs are opting for self-service solutions to automate their most common call types.
It’s been reported that moving contact center volume from assisted-service to self-service channels was one of the most important priorities for 80% of customer service leaders in 2021, followed closely by automating customer service processes. It makes sense. Automated solutions are cost effective, and they reduce average handle time of inbound calls — critical advantages in the modern market.
Sitting on top of traditional voice IVR systems, visual IVR self-service solutions are mobile, on demand, and deliver engaging customer service to callers with common use cases, leaving contact center agents available to handle more complex, empathy-driven interactions where their human skills and expertise provide the most value. And 25%-40% of callers opt in to a visual IVR self-service solution when they’re are presented with the option.
Contact center leaders aren’t the only ones who’ve come to enjoy self-service solutions during the pandemic. Customers want digital automation as well.
According to McKinsey, 75% of people who use digital channels for the first time indicate they’ll continue to use them when things return to ”normal.” Much of that sustained digital adoption likely stems from the benefits digital self-service brings to the speed of calls.
Because of the sharp increase in calls during the pandemic, average handle time (AHT) has grown from up to six minutes to more than 10 minutes. Abandonment rates have also risen, from 2% to 5% up to over 10%. For straightforward, easily automated call types, such as checking the status of an order or account management, self-service solutions can deliver results to callers in less than a minute or two on average — much faster than a traditional IVR and live agent interaction.
In most contact centers, 80% of calls and interactions come from the same 20% of query types. By innovating these critical use cases, executives can accelerate their path toward digital customer experience. And both customers and agents benefit when you automate where it’s needed — and allow live agents handle the rest.
By shifting common calls to modern self-service solutions, such as Visual IVR, contact center managers can alleviate the pressure of onboarding new agents, answer the surge of inbound calls and improve customer experience by reducing average handle time.
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