Contact Centers’ Digital Transformation Has Only Begun

March 30, 2021
By Donna Fluss

COMPELLED by the pandemic and its ramifications for their businesses, executives sent their employees home to work. A speedy transition was vital, and there was little time for niceties like making sure agents and other employees had a quiet place to work, high-speed bandwidth, a properly configured PC, or even a chair. It was a brute force exit from the office, but contact centers were highly effective in getting their folks home and back online so they could be available to assist their companies’ customers and prospects. (Companies that were using cloud-based systems had an easier time with this move than those with on-premises applications.)

CHANGING BUSINESS MODELS

The digital transformation of enterprises and their contact centers was greatly accelerated as companies quickly made modifications to accommodate a rapidly changing economic environment and social distancing requirements. Any business activity that could feasibly go virtual made the leap. Companies have reduced their physical presence and, whenever possible, real estate costs. Salespeople learned the art of selling on Zoom, and many companies simplified their sales models and processes. As more business was conducted virtually and digitally, automation was applied wherever possible, allowing companies to shrink their staff. As all of this was happening, companies were accepting the need to become more socially responsible.

NEXT ACT FOR CONTACT CENTERS

Executives are now considering what will be next. With vaccine distribution beginning to ramp up worldwide, the pandemic will pass, and it will be time to return to the office, or so managers think. While it won’t be necessary to keep on doing some of the things that companies were forced to do during the dark days, returning fully to the way things were before the pandemic doesn’t make sense.

Companies need to find a balance between successes of the past and the needs of the future, which will require them to move further out along the digital transformation continuum. Enterprises need to continue to focus on enhancing the customer experience (CX) in all touchpoints, not just in the contact center. Contact centers should lead and pave the way. They should take this opportunity to re-imagine the service experience, identifying systems and applications that need to be replaced or acquired and, after implementation, the procedures and processes to optimize the benefits.

It’s time for companies to give customers what they want, which is artificial intelligence-enabled omnichannel self-service solutions, as these have become consumers’ preferred method of conducting business. The new generation of self-service solutions should be backed by digital-first support organizations, with phone-based service available as the channel of last resort. Once new systems and processes are in place, companies will be positioned to further automate activities and tasks that do not require the cognitive capabilities of live agents or employees in other departments, such as back offices. Companies will be able to retool and optimize their staff and rethink the role of contact center agents, as the jobs they perform will be at a much higher level than in the past.

Lastly, the pandemic proved that contact center agents and other employees, such as supervisors, managers, quality management specialists, and workforce management administrators, can be as productive working from home as they were in the office. Allowing 25 percent to 30 percent of contact center employees to work from home is a safe way to go, as long as security, regulatory, and compliance concerns are properly addressed. The work-at-home model is beneficial for disaster recovery and business continuity, in addition to accommodating the needs of employees who are reluctant to return to the office.

Executives need to stay focused on the goal, which is to deliver an outstanding customer experience cost-effectively. The impact of the pandemic has been horrific, but companies should leverage the positive lessons learned and continue to move their service organizations forward, which will include moving systems to the cloud securely.