Contact Us

feel free to contact us and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

BPO 2.0

5 Lessons From The Covid-Era Contact Center: Pandemic Trends That Are Here To Stay

In today's new normal, Covid-era contact center trends are here to stay.

“Normal” has been tough to define over the last 2 years. One thing is clear: for customer support organizations, operations have changed rapidly and dramatically. Customer buying trends shifted overnight, and brand expectations of their CX outsourcers have become harder to meet than ever before. For CX outsourcers up to the challenge, this is a remarkable opportunity. 

Contact centers and their CX professionals have become the frontline for the challenges posed by shifting consumer needs during the Covid-era.  The challenge: 1 in 5 contact centers saw worsened attrition and agent turnover during the pandemic. Cognizant similarly reported contact center clients experiencing up to 40% absenteeism during this time. 

While most brands have adjusted to a post-pandemic landscape, the Covid-era has unearthed valuable lessons and trends that will inform the next paradigm of workforce management and contact center operations far beyond Covid-19. 

Read on to see what trends are here to stay, and how Covid-19 measures can help improve your contact center in the long-run. 

Amplified Risk In A Covid and Post-Covid Contact Center

Contact centers witnessed an increase of 300% more calls than usual during the early stages of the pandemic, which had a significant impact on key contact center KPIs, like increased AHT and abandon rates. Since nearly 60% of people will switch companies because of customer service, according to Microsoft research, it is key to ensure your contact center is prepared for these unexpected challenges in the future. 

  • Fewer agents means more dissatisfied customers. Customers want their concerns addressed quickly so they can move on with their days. If they’re calling your contact center, they may have already tried self-service or interacting with an AI-based ChatBot. They’ve spent enough time trying to fix an issue and are calling to rectify it once and for all. But without enough agents to answer phones efficiently, customers will be left waiting longer than they’d like. As a result, they may abandon the call, leading to frustration and lower satisfaction.
  • Issues compound. If agents leave or call out constantly, customer calls and support requests get piled on their colleagues, causing burnout and dissatisfaction. Consequently, contact centers may experience a ripple effect, where unhappy agents also leave or begin calling out more.
  • It’s costly. The potential for losing customers is expensive enough. Investing in new customers can cost up to 25% more than retaining the ones you currently have, research shows. But then consider this fact: You likely invested in a contact center to save time and money. You reap neither of those benefits if there’s attrition, absenteeism, and shrinkage. 

contact center

Lessons For Contact Center Management Beyond Covid

While the initial shift in operations and challenges brought about by Covid are behind us, many changes and trends have proven to be lasting and are defining the post-Covid CX landscape. While some changes were made as a direct response to Covid guidelines, many existing contact center challenges were only exacerbated by the pandemic, which shined a light on areas that needed improvement. Consider this a guide to managing the post-Covid contact center, and which pandemic trends have inevitably become cornerstones for contact center success.

1. The Shift to Hybrid In-Center & At-Home Contact Center Teams

Remote work is likely here to stay. Gartner projects that 71% of contact center services will be provided from a remote location in the future. Many agents would sign on for that. Forbes research found that 72% of managers said their agents were happy with the flexibility of their remote roles allowed. 

It’s possible to have the best of both worlds by balancing in-center and @Home agent teams. Instituting a flexible hybrid model, with a mix of @Home and in-center agent support, is the ideal solution when you want to reap the benefits of a flexible @Home infrastructure, but still can tap into the benefits of being in-center with your agents. 

Some have predicted that the ideal ratio of agents working from a physical facility to agents working-from-home is anticipated to be 70-80%:20-30%. In fact, this is what agents want, too: a recent survey found that a large majority of contact center agents did not want to be either in-center OR remote 100% of the time -- they want flexibility. You can institute a hybrid model by:

  • Allowing agents to work from home instead of taking a sick day, if they are feeling up to it (this can also reduce COVID absenteeism in contact centers—or any future viral outbreak)
  • Giving agents a certain number of work from home days per year, month, or quarter.
  • Tap talent across the globe by having a certain number of permanent @Home positions, mixed with some completely in-center, and/or flexible agents that work some days in-center, and some days @Home.

If you are tapping a more permanent @Home model, you may worry that employee engagement and support will be a challenge. Agents need real-time support from managers to meet customer demands. And culture is important for buy-in. In order to ensure you have the support you need from engaged, incentivized agents, and establish and maintain connections with your CX team, tap into the following resources:

  • Keep a collaborative work environment
  • Check in frequently
  • Use chat and support tools for constant communication
  • Ensure a manager is always available to help with difficult interactions
  • Host regular virtual trainings as well as social events and happy hours to keep remote employees feeling like part of the team
  • Provide incentives for hitting new milestones 

 2. New Technology To Support Remote and In-Center Agent Productivity

A Forbes survey found that 70% of contact center managers were satisfied with their agents’ productivity while working remotely during COVID-19. But as brands decide to let agents work from home permanently, CX leaders may fear accountability and productivity may decline if they aren’t noticing it already. Adding tools to your tech stack can help contact center managers support agent productivity in a similar way that they would if they were sitting right next to the person. These tools should include tools for:

contact center

3. Refocusing on Agent Engagement & Morale For Superior Retention

The pandemic has taken its toll on many workers, and has caused them to re-evaluate what they want out of an employer. One way to increase morale is by empowering your agents in and outside of their work environment. Here’s how: 

  • Provide continuous training and improvement opportunities, being sure to balance constructive feedback with positive feedback.
  • Invest in gamification to create competition and boost team spirit, and introduce a fun way to improve stats. 
  • Reward top performers on a regular basis to create an incentive to keep improving.
  • Invest in career and professional development plans for agents. It will help grow your current agents into your next-gen contact center leadership.
  • Offer growth opportunities and additional trainings for remote employees.
  • Make sure you send remote employees branded gear for their @Home office to feel like they are as immersed in your brand as an agent in-center.
  • Get to know agents personally. Be purposeful about activities that allow people to get to know each other, and celebrate each other's successes. Being empathetic and personal will ultimately increase engagement and agent success. 
  • Include @Home agents in team traditions to extend your brand culture outside the confines of your brick-and-mortar.  Virtual happy hours and engagement events, acknowledging work anniversaries and birthdays, and calling out big successes make a difference for agents working at home to feel like part of the team. 

4. The Primacy of Human Engagement

Contact centers and human interaction remain an essential part of CX. PwC research found that 82% of U.S. in the U.S. and 74% of those outside of the U.S. crave more interaction with humans in the future. So while self-service and technologies like Chatbots can allow consumers to fix a concern themselves without picking up the phone or messaging with a live agent, what we've learned through the increased support volume during Covid is: human interaction is favored by customers. In fact, the human element might be more important than ever as more customers began tapping digital channels during the pandemic. 

The importance of human engagement is compounded by a higher need for empathy and a strong desire for personalization. A recent survey found that up to 73% of consumers desire not just real-time human engagement, but one-to-one advice, personalized support, and help in decision-making. This replicates the experience a customer might find when looking for support at a local shop -- which, post-Covid, is the experience of many consumers who have been forced to shift to digital for their day-to-day activities that previously required a human engagement.

Finding an optimal balance between human, automated, and self-service support with room for personalization can both increase customer and agent satisfaction by allowing agents to focus on more complex or high-touch interactions, and tapping technology and self-service tools to provide assistance for more simple tasks.

This should also serve as a reminder that it's not just about having the latest technology for the sake of it. Technology should not look to replace human engagement, nor can it successfully satisfy customers who want to speak 1:1 with another person. Technology should be used to assist in meeting the specific needs of your brand's customers and augment the experience accordingly. The right mix of technology coupled with unique customer data will empower your human agents to provide better customer experiences.

5. The Importance of Understanding Your Data

Regularly assess key contact center metrics, like agent attrition rate, call volumes, call abandonment rate, and average waiting time. If you notice they are veering off course, consider it cause to dig further into what’s happening. It will allow you to develop and execute solutions before the issues spiral and affect more agents and customers. Some ways to dig deeper:

  • Conduct agent satisfaction surveys to identify pain points and reasons for possible attrition
  • Take a new look at customer personas and how they interact with your brand given the shift to digital for many customers
  • Refresh your customer journey maps to ensure you're effectively engaging with your customers at their preferred channels
  • If agents are present, productive, and not resigning, it may be a sign something else is amiss, such as updating technology or you need to scale staff
  • Invest in a social reputation management tool to gauge customer sentiment, address issues, and turn social media feedback into actionable CX power
  • Harness the power of Business Intelligence to uncover important insights about your customers directly from your customer data. This will help inform pain points and gaps in your customer experience and what your customers really want, so you can transform your program into a CX powerhouse personalized specifically for your brand's customers.

Conclusion

In a post-Covid CX landscape, it is critical for contact centers to be flexible, agile, and resilient, and ready for any challenge that might be coming their way. While Covid-19 brought on many challenges in the customer support space, it also shined a light on areas that needed to be addressed to be better equipped to provide excellent customer experiences, such as investing in tools and models that afford more flexibility and empowerment to the agents on the front lines of  your customer support operation. When you invest in permanent, meaningful changes to your contact center based on lessons learned over the last two years, you will be sure to see amplified CX outcomes and be primed for future success.


Also Check

How Lyft Leaned on CX Technology to Overcome The 2020 Rideshare Crisis

Highlights from our Digital Transformation Through Disruption Webinar with Lyft and Frost & Sulli...

Podcast #10: The Upgraded Contact Center

Jon Lunitz interviews ibex's Jim Ferrato, CIO & Chad Rycenga, EVP of Product.

Podcast #1: Security in the W@H Environment

Jon Lunitz interviews Sandra Fernandez, VP of Compliance & Risk Management at ibex.

The latest in Innovative CX, directly to your inbox.