Building a contact center for the future

Eight productivity-rooted principles to ensure a successful contact center for next-level CX

With the help of an unprecedented, worldwide pandemic, customer experience has been thrust into the spotlight of transformation over the past 2.5 years. Companies are finally beginning to embrace the human-plus-digital-experience and are investing in opportunities to support their customers in a way that eliminates frustration and delivers human touch in when it counts.

While contact centers have been around for ages, organizations are now hyper-focused on providing a seamless customer experience – one that relies on efficiency, engagement and strengthened performance. Here we offer eight guiding principles for ensuring a future-proof contact center for both agent and customer.

Executive Summary

Fundamentally, a contact center is designed to handle inbound and outbound communications from prospective and current customers. As a prospective customer, one would expect their interaction and experience with an agent be above par, rising above the competition to ensure that their business is won. As a current client, the same sentiment applies, yearning for an experience that leaves you satisfied and pleased with the experience. As an organization though, much more is questioned behind the scenes. Are we reaching as many customers as possible? Do we have adequate training to help in all scenarios? Are we effective?

These questions are worth exploring and, in most cases, they are being asked. But not enough emphasis is being placed on them or their answers—and the competition is taking note.

The reality is contact centers have a preceding reputation as places of frustration – a means of communication that you use when it’s the absolute last choice. We’ve all experienced the long wait times, incomplete answers, a disparate experience between the brand and the customer experience itself. Yet, 44% of people still prefer phone or voice as their primary customer service channel. Despite the frustration, or the anxiety of a gilded experience, nothing beats human interaction.

With a deep expertise in contact center technologies and the overall human-plus-digital-experience, we have first-hand knowledge on what it takes to run a successful contact center. The underlying denominator is organizations that put in time and effort to ensure that the experience they are crafting is efficient, knowledgeable and productive are the ones that come out on top. While 73% of companies are increasing their customer experience efforts, there are other organizations just offering a contact center as an option for communication, without a quality experience; subsequently they are the ones seeing their customers join the ranks of the 32% of consumers that will jump ship if they have a bad experience.

To have a contact center be future-proofed, it emphatically depends on the quality of the customer experience. Without productive agents, no contact center will withstand the hardships of the future. Organizations should actively embrace and fully submerse their organizations in delivering an optimized customer experience that starts and ends with a productive customer service agent. Customer engagement and revenue can project upward as a result of a contact center, but only if the productivity of its call center agents is made a top priority.

As with many employees and organizations, the onset of COVID-19 exacerbated long-standing issues, like long wait times and delayed technology adoption, which ultimately caused more stress on an agent than ever before. But, there is growth happening as 80% of contact centers plan to hire new agents, reinforcing a quality experience and ultimately easing the burdens many agents face today. This white paper presents eight principles to help guide organizations into building a contact center for the future, one that can withstand the hardships of a pandemic – starting with improving agent productivity.

Principle 1

Deploy multichannel contact center agents

The pandemic the world faced in 2019 brought about a “digital deluge” motivating every company to go digital. Face-to-face interactions were out of the question and because of challenges with quarantining, contact centers closed, forcing agents to work from home or worse yet, be furloughed until next steps were devised. The importance of communicating via email, apps and other forms of communication channels became heavily important, but many agents weren’t prepared for that.

With the knowledge that 90% of customers expect a consistent brand experience across all channels and 89% of customers will leave if they have to repeat themselves over and over, diversification is key. Diversifying an agent’s work scope across different communication channels, such as email, messaging apps, chats, etc. ensures the highest quality of service leading to a boost in customer satisfaction. It also has a positive impact on the employees’ sense of job fulfillment, leading to higher retention.

Principle 2

Invest in adequate agent training and technical onboarding

Imagine flying a plane with new gear or becoming CEO of a company without any knowledge as to what that company does. Both are feats no one would be thrilled to take on. It can *hopefully* get done but emphasize hopefully and add on ten times the amount of time it would take a fully trained employee.

On average, less than 10% of contact center agents reach proficiency in less than two months. Yet, they are given the opportunity to heavily influence a customer’s experience. Contact center agents are essentially the face to the brand, the gatekeeper between a good review or a bad one, so investing in their knowledge base means investing in the company. If an agent has no idea how to handle a particular situation/technology or answer a critical question that has long been a point of frustration for a customer, churn happens. Customers don’t have time for agents to find the answers or figure out how to have difficult conversations.

Preparing and empowering agents for all kinds of customer issues and onboarding them with the latest technologies is critical. With smart knowledge management capabilities, it is possible to distribute business-critical information among agents in real-time, which facilitates quick agent training and onboarding. Furthermore, AI-powered capabilities and task automation make the job much easier for agents.

Contact center agents are essentially the face to the brand, the gatekeeper between a good review or a bad one, so investing in their knowledge base means investing in the company.

Principle 3

Embrace self-service in a digital world

While video may have killed the radio star, repetition is what kills the contact center. At its core, a contact center may seem redundant. You’re spending all day helping customer after customer. But an agent’s involvement can be minimal, if you have the self-service toolkit that allows it to be.

Chatbots and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) are effective and efficient methods to deliver self-service to customers; a strategically built customer knowledge center empowers customers to help themselves. Additionally, having an updated FAQ page on the business website can drastically reduce repetitive calls, queries, and feedback, allowing agents the opportunity to get back to addressing critical issues a customer can’t handle on their own.

Principle 4

Segment customers to save time

For contact center leadership, IVR, or interactive voice response systems, create quite the conundrum. They are deployed to help ease the volume of calls, but sometimes, end up creating a bigger mess of things, leaving the customer frustrated and ready to go to lengths just to avoid using them.

But, when implemented with the end-user experience in mind, IVRs are very useful. They can segment customers based on account information, historical data, and most frequent requests, thus enabling accurate routing to the relevant representative and saving time for both the customer and the agent. 63% of consumers attribute poor IVR experiences to the fact they had to listen to irrelevant options; so, the IVR must be thoughtful designed.

By taking an agile approach to conventional IVR implementation and designing for specific customer journeys based on types of customers, their requirements and their willingness to use digital channels, you’re not signing a deal with the IVR devil.

Principle 5

Automate repetitive tasks

The number of repetitive tasks and customer queries a contact center agent must deal with can be significantly reduced with automation. Organizations have recognized the need to embrace automation as 76% of contact centers are planning to invest in AI within the next two years in an effort to scale back on the need for agent intervention. Some may call it an effect of the pandemic, but forward-looking companies have long insisted that AI as a mainstream technology is the way of the future.

The automation of repetitive tasks, workflow, agent training, reporting, and quality assurance reduces an agent’s cognitive load and the average Agent Handling Time (AHT). As a result, customers receive quicker responses and resolutions, and the need for repeat calls decreases. A variety of automated operations can be performed by chatbots and virtual agents with AI capabilities. Most AI-powered tools allow customer information to be easily available and the AI-driven suggestions help agents to offer tailored solutions to the customers.

Principle 6

Eliminate avoidable calls

Though Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, would most likely disagree, too many phone calls are never a good thing. It puts an overwhelming strain on agents, drives up cost and leaves leadership wondering how to provide exceptional customer service while dealing with impending burnout.

While you can’t predict sudden demand from your customers, you can anticipate and try to mitigate the need to talk with an agent. Eliminating avoidable agent-to-customer communication is a crucial step in optimizing contact center workflow. Other calls can be easily avoided by having a highly defined and strategic website, IVR, FAQs, and databases in place, allowing agents to focus on high-touch, complex issues.

Principle 7

Create a data-driven environment

To quantify productivity, every business uses a set of key metrics to track the performance of various business processes, including things like average speed of answer, abandon call rate, percentage of repeat calls and on-hold time. Understanding and deeply valuing these KPIs is essential to understanding agent productivity.

In a data-driven environment, it is easy to generate actionable insights with analytics and ensure a top-notch customer experience through better interactions. With real-time performance monitoring possible, successful contact centers seize the opportunity to drive operational efficiency, quality assurance, and workforce management through data.

Principle 8

Build on a cloud infrastructure

If 2020 taught us anything, it was that leaders must anticipate a hybrid work environment. Previously, 69% of agents worked in a physical office and were able to access systems and processes with ease because they were onsite. In 2021, 64% of agents worked remotely and have likely either phased back into the office well into 2022 or still have yet to return, making the need to be on the cloud even more prominent.

Building on the cloud means safeguarding if someone can’t make it into the office but can still provide an exceptional experience. In addition to being a more secure option, a cloud infrastructure allows for real-time data and reporting that can’t be achieved on-site, as well as cost savings and flexibility in scalability-responsive to demand.

When customer experience, and the ease of customer data management aligns, scalability can be achieved, and futureproofing becomes a thing of the norm.

The future is bright

We are already in the age of contact center transformation. As the world grapples with ensuring a more digital-first stance, technology adoption and contact center agent productivity must remain at the forefront of ensuring success.

While contact centers are often looked at as cost centers, they have the opportunity to drive more revenue than costs, if you unlock the full potential of your most important customer touchpoints. The CX industry is therefore, one of the most demanding industries to work in, which is why ensuring agent satisfaction and productivity can become extremely overwhelming and taxing for managers.

Simply introducing a few adjustments to contact center operations will spark motivation in agents to deliver quality service, which in turn will drastically improve customer engagement and satisfaction. In order to build a more productive contact center, ensuring a positive agent environment goes a long way and helps build your business for the future.

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Ready to put these principles into action? Our HGS Agent X cloud contact center solution is a comprehensive customer experience solution that begins with enhancing the agent experience.

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