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Involuntary, but necessary? The transformation of contact centers

Artificial Intelligence, Recording, Cloud

The digital transformation of contact centers was sped up by lockdowns or stay at home orders and caused rapid changes. This transformation not only caused changes within the contact centers, but also with customer expectations. In the following, Eric Buhagiar, Managing Director at ASC, explains how the digital transformation changed the customer experience and what can be expected for the future of contact centers and customer services.

Last year, the pandemic momentarily brought the whole world to a stop. Stores and restaurants were shut down, planes remained on the ground and the streets were deserted. Despite slowing down our fast-paced society, the pandemic forced some industries to accelerate and move forward. This was the case for contact centers. Even though working from home is a trend that has been gaining popularity across all industries, working from home for contact center agents was still a rarity. Security issues and quality monitoring were the main reasons why working remotely was not in the cards, but the pandemic changed the game.

The last year forced people to work from home in order to stay safe, but at the same time compelled those responsible for IT to adapt to the circumstances. Cloud-based contact centers were the ideal solution for this problem. Cloud contact centers can combine multiple contact centers in one and allow easy collaboration on top of providing a flexibility and uniqueness to the organization that was unimaginable before.

The pandemic forced even the most hesitant to embrace change. The financial sector has to abide by a multitude of regulations, so the reluctance to work outside of the office was big. In light of the pandemic, the risks for companies and their employees were too high to further delay the digital transformation. IT managers had to quickly find a solution; tests had to be done to ensure that compliance rules were still followed. In the long-term view, the process of moving to the cloud was sped up by the pandemic. Even though the new digital solutions offer major advantages such as working remotely, it is likely that some companies, especially those from the financial sector, will return to their old ways when possible, now having the advantage of the flexibility and knowledge on how to work from anywhere, if necessary. This knowledge will ease future collaborations and mergers.

Internal and external changes for contact centers

COVID 19 not only changed contact centers internally, but customer expectations were also influenced by the pandemic. While contact centers temporarily struggled with decreasing available agents as a result of the pandemic, calls to contact centers increased significantly. Since customers were unable to go into the store to discuss their problems, the only other option that allowed real human interaction was phone calls.

Specifically, in the financial and travel sector, customers were unsettled, which led to an immense growth in call volume. To handle the increase in calls, contact centers had to find a way to qualify the calls. IVR systems were installed to prioritize the calls and decide to treat it automatically, propose a call back, or to transfer it to an agent. Additionally, more information was added to websites in order to answer as many questions as possible beforehand and decrease calls.

Use of analytic tools in contact centers: an advantage for both the agent and the customer

While keeping up with the demand was one of the main concerns for contact centers, the most important aspect in customer service was still to quickly provide solutions and solve callers’ problems. The target for most contact centers is to achieve an 80 percent first call resolution. To reach this goal, insights into the customer interactions are needed. Questions concerning the reason for the call need to be answered as well as providing real-time insights into customer experience issues. Recording and analytic tools provide concrete answers to these questions and, in turn, help the agent in solving calls quickly and appropriately.

Not only do the contact center agents benefit from these tools but also the customers. As convenience has become one of the most important aspects for customers, recording, quality management, and analytics tools, provide the setting stone for a convenient interaction for the customer. These tools help on an analytical, as well as an interpersonal, level. Recording provides the analytics of the current situation in a contact center and gives information on topics such as peak calling subjects or sentiment analysis of the conversations. With this information a contact center can be appropriately prepared to offer the best possible customer experience.

While accurately preparing a contact center is essential, the agents still need to be supported and trained individually. To be able to provide the right training, quality monitoring is necessary. Recording and speech to text make it possible to verify that agents are following protocols and know how to handle technical issues or follow the right process. The information provided by this then allows the supervisor to select the right training for each agent and manually coach them accordingly. The customers directly profit from this in that the tools provided to the agents are not only helping to solve problems quicker, but also to improve their overall performance.

The future of contact centers and evolution of the customer experience

The past year brought on a rapid digital transformation for Contact Centers. The trend for cloud contact centers is more popular than ever and the benefits of it will stay relevant even in post corona times. The flexibility of having agents work from different locations and increasing the number of present agents depending on activity, offers a solution to the challenges of a rapidly developing working environment.

The next step now, is to further integrate Artificial Intelligence into contact centers. The vision is that, eventually, AI will be included in every part of the contact center and augmented agents will be the norm. Agents will have tools provided to them that give them information on a customer and present the right steps to take on their screen. Artificial Intelligence will help to customize responses for customers and create processes to guarantee a high call resolution.

Not only contact centers have an exciting path ahead of them, the future of customer experience also looks promising. The use of Artificial Intelligence directly impacts the customer experience by defining the purpose of a call, providing self-services to speed up processes, and overall enhance the agent’s performance.

Eventually all processes will move to the cloud and customer service will become more and more imbedded in products. Products now and in the future are designed to be as automated and easy to understand as possible. As they are also becoming increasingly similar in price and function, customer service will become even more of a key differentiator.

When looking at the future of contact centers, it may seem like the goal is to replace humans with AI, but this is certainly not the case. While Artificial Intelligence is the solution for a lot of things, it misses one thing that is essential for every contact center: empathy. AI will never be able to provide the same kind of empathy or care a human could, which is the key point of contact centers. After all, the last year proved that even when presented with several other options, when it comes to problems, customers want to speak to real people, who can convey empathy and give them the feeling they care.

Eric Buhagiar
Managing Director ASC France

Eric Buhagiar is Managing Director at the ASC subsidiary in France and will support the development of the cloud activity of ASC in France and transform the business model from direct to partner sales. He will also increase the market share of ASC in the Call Center market by bringing a long experience in customer experience gained from several position at OBS, Avaya and Nortel.