COVID-19: The Contact Center Takes the Spotlight

G. Willsky

Summary Bullets:

• The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a seismic shift in contact centers on multiple fronts.

• Almost overnight, the strategic role contact centers play in supporting the customer experience has entered the spotlight.

The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a seismic shift in contact centers on multiple fronts. First, almost overnight contact centers have transformed from physical locations filled with agents and their supervisors to having a virtual presence where all staff work remotely. Second, now contact centers are the result of an evolution from voice-centric call centers as they handle multiple channels. Third, with options for in-person service limited or unavailable, contact centers have become central to managing the customer experience. How has the metamorphosis of contact centers transpired? That question will be examined in this post.

Older, premises-based solutions have proved inadequate to support the new, remote model of contact center operations. Thus adoption of modern, cloud-hosted contact center platforms has accelerated. Cloud technology offers several benefits. Cloud enables traditional contact center functions to scale easily in response to fluctuations in traffic. Moving contact centers to the cloud also eliminates the cost of office space, enables employees to be managed remotely, consolidates siloes of customer-facing operations, facilitates business continuity, and eliminates the constraints of work shifts, time zones, and geography. Because of all of these benefits, more organizations are utilizing contact center capabilities. As a result, contact centers have become one of the biggest growth areas for vendors and service providers.

Cloud technology has also enabled contact centers to evolve from the traditional in-bound/out-bound voice model to a multi-channel environment. This fact, coupled with customers becoming more accustomed to remote (versus in-person) engagement due to the pandemic, has made contact centers central to managing the customer experience. This is perhaps most evident in verticals such as retail where brick-and-mortar stores had already been closing since before the pandemic. In other verticals such as healthcare and finance remote engagement with customers is in the early stages and is expected to pick up in the longer term.

Customers now demand to be fully recognized whatever their channel of choice. Channels span voice, web chat, SMS, email, video, and social media accompanied by self-service options that can easily escalate to an agent as needed. Thus the challenge now for businesses is to develop omni-channel customer contact strategies. Omni-channel enables contact center agents to view a customer’s entire interaction history with the company across all channels and independent of what channel the customer uses to contact the agent at a given moment.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has become another must-have contact center feature. AI’s predictive capability enables organizations to anticipate when a customer needs service and take proactive action. AI enables reduction of routine call volumes via self-service technology such as bots. AI provides the capability to route a customer to an agent most qualified to help with their particular issue and supplies that agent the information needed to resolve it.

Vendors and service providers such as Cisco, Microsoft, AT&T, and Verizon can leverage contact center offerings to become an indispensable partner for enterprises. Capabilities such as omni-channel, AI, and CRM help enterprises gain greater enlightenment into their customers thus optimizing the value of customer interactions. Such insight helps reduce operating expenses by enabling marketing and R&D dollars to be focused only on identified customer needs and wants. It also increases revenue through greater customer retention and maximizing customer spend by serving those needs adequately.

Leveraging customer experience as a differentiator and retention tool should be a key objective for service providers and vendors. Providing the proverbial single pane of glass digital experiences through deep integration of collaboration, customer contact, AI, and CRM will become even more critical in 2021 to compete. The companies with the most robust and intuitive experiences will ‘win’.

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