The Future of Contact Centers is Here

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How is the future of contact centers taking shape? Here are the 9 ways the pandemic accelerated contact center transformation.

The future of the contact center is here, and it’s innovative, expert-driven, and thriving. But signs weren’t always indicating that things would be this way. In fact, before the start of the pandemic, experts were forecasting the coming decline of the contact center.

No one could have predicted how shifts related to COVID-19 would shut down or completely alter in-person customer channels and upend the customer experience. In truth, none of us were really prepared for all of the changes that were to come, but out of these challenges, we have seen a wealth of contact center transformations.

From the rise of the contact center as a lifeline for businesses during these turbulent times to the emergence of a more flexible, virtual model, here are the biggest contact center transformations we’ve seen in the wake of the pandemic and how the future of the contact center is taking shape. 

9 Major Contact Center Changes Since 2020

#1: The contact center has become a new lifeline for businesses

Over the last two years, the contact center and digital were among the few channels that remained open when businesses shut down or shifted operating models. During these turbulent times, the contact center helped organizations stay afloat.

#2: Leaders are recognizing the potential to harness the power of contact center insights

As the last resort for customers who have exhausted all other channels when seeking help and information — such as self-service and digital channels — the contact center is the root of all gold in terms of experience analysis.

Executives who harness data from the contact center are able to learn so much about their business: what the customer wants that they don’t yet provide, how the customer wants to be served, and how to evolve their products and services. These aren’t insights that can easily be gleaned from digital channels because when those break down, customers simply leave.

If organizations are lucky enough, customers will reach out to the contact center. And that’s why it’s so critical that executives leverage the full potential of the contact center for insight data mining.

#3: Companies are choosing which work setup model to adopt

In the immediate aftermath of the onset of the pandemic, companies adopted new working models in haste — doing whatever it took to keep the business going. Now, however, organizations are taking time to reflect on which model will best meet their needs as well as the needs of their employees.

Right now, decision makers are choosing between carefully re-engineering a new remote model, embracing a hybrid model, or returning to work in the traditional contact center.

#4: The age of the employee has arrived

Organizations have experienced a real loss of agents due to COVID-19. Generally, we’re still seeing a shortfall. The labor market is tight and the best agents may be looking to sell their services to the highest bidder, the most flexible work option, or simply the company with the best benefits. 

The power is now in the hands of the employee. Agents have realized they don’t need to commute and receive minimum wage anymore. They can work from home, achieve success, and command a higher wage. 

With the arrival of the age of the employee, the new challenge for organizations is how do companies hire, coach, and promote the new workforce of today? And how can contact centers keep their existing teams, identify and address issues driving attrition, and continue to deliver exceptional customer service? With employees holding the cards, businesses have to look at key factors that influence employee retention — not just salary, but also benefits, working conditions, and management structure.

This new shift in the balance of power could hit companies that decide not to adopt a flexible, remote workplace setup the hardest.

#5: Transparency of data is even more important for employees

The transparency and visibility of data to the front line is even more important now because distributed team members aren’t gathering in person with their managers on an ongoing basis. Before, a supervisor could overhear a phone call, jump in, and offer support. Without that as an option, companies need to have the technology to support remote workforce performance and offer data-driven coaching

That means providing insights and visibility to the frontlines, so they can learn from their mistakes, self-correct, and keep growing. Monthly performance reports are becoming obsolete and are being replaced by real-time performance dashboards.

#6: Companies have recognized the opportunity to cross-skill employees

In many ways, the pandemic accelerated the pace of cross-skilling employees to enable a more agile workforce. For example, one of our telecom clients cross-skilled its retail workers to become contact center agents when its brick and mortar locations were forced to close. 

#7: More mature organizations are adopting a more agile, flexible model

There’s no one-size-fits-all contact center model that’s being adopted. But we’re going to see leading contact center teams embrace a more remote, agile workforce, one where training is a key priority and area of focus. 

That may mean hiring fewer full-time agents and instead relying more on part-time staff. Organizations struggle to effectively optimize around peak calling times with staffing that’s made up solely of full-time agents, but they can do so if they have more of a flexible model with a mix of full-time and part-time staff.  

The results of these efforts are going to begin to become apparent within the next year, with innovators emerging who have the right people working at the right times, during peak calling hours. As this virtual contact center of the future starts to evolve, and optimize, we’re going to see gains in productivity of 10 to even 20%, resulting from this more flexible workforce. 

This new agile model will be more challenging to manage, but the winners are going to be those that can really get that right. 

There are many, many verticals this model suits beautifully — those verticals that are always on the edge of change, at the forefront of evolving technology, and adopting best practices and processes — like telco brands. That being said, this contact center of the future model won’t work for every type of organization, such as government agencies.

We’re going to see a maturing of this going forward, especially as we start to see success stories and that rush to become agile. There will be a lot of organizations that are going to sit this out and learn from those that can run their businesses really cost effectively, remotely.

#8: Organizations are starting to embrace AI and expert agents — and this is only the beginning

Companies are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to manage simple customer interactions. The technology is ready — AI now is really good at recognizing basic inquiries and being able to automate processes — and it’s cost-effective. 

But as we see the basics taken care of, we’re going to see the rise of the expert who can handle increasingly complex challenges —  the kind that aren’t easily solved through self-service and AI. These experts are going to demand higher salaries and stronger benefits. 

We’re at the start of this maturing curve. As each year goes by, I expect to see the role of the contact center become even more important and tightly managed. The future of the contact center is going to be a fascinating place to work and a fascinating business to be in.  

#9: Companies are upgrading their technology stacks

Single vendor contact center management platforms are no longer enough. Leaders have long known that each of these solutions may not have been best-in-class, but they remained locked in because they felt doing so was the best way to streamline their data. 

The reality is, however, many of these single vendor platform elements are not integrated from a data perspective. Or the data is encrypted, a prisoner of the platform, leaving teams unable to add context and richness to any complementary tech. 

Savvy organizations are now freeing up their data by partnering with multiple vendors and tapping agile platforms to create fully integrated, agile technology stacks. These capabilities offer a huge advantage to enterprises that for years have been tied to a single vendor platform to fulfill everything from call handling, recording, analytics, and workforce management. 

Ultimately, this approach enables a daisy-chaining of data and action. By connecting data across sources, brands can conduct omnichannel impact analysis to rapidly and continuously show, at scale, each point of friction and the impact on the customer. 

This also gives license to the growth of predictive analytics, which will not only enable organizations to predict customer experience metrics based on holistic experiences but also enable a synthetic NPS® for those customers who have not engaged. 

For many years we have been wanting to gather experience feedback from those who never give feedback — the so-called silent majority of customers — and that day is here.

Looking for strategies for addressing today’s top contact center trends? Download Medallia’s e-book, Transforming the Modern Contact Center: The Definitive Change Management Guide