David Singer, Vice President of Product Strategy for Verint, explains why contact centers will need to stay agile to support the evolving needs of customers and employees.
The past two years have shown us how quickly our world can abruptly change. This theme will continue as we head into 2022 as contact centers brace for more disruption fueled by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has already pushed so much of what we do online. In 2020, contact centers shifted to a work-from-home format which has set the stage for the future as most contact center operations are not likely to return to a brick-and-mortar setting anytime soon.
In 2022, it will be imperative to think strategically about customer and employee engagement strategies to align the customer experience with the employee experience. New technologies will help contact centers be more agile in the new year. Spoiler alert: artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and real-time analytics will all play leading roles.
Supporting Customer Engagement as Channel Preferences Evolve
The future of contact center work continues to evolve to meet customer expectations stemming from the growth and shift in digital channel usage.
Contact centers traditionally have added digital channels to deflect phone interactions. But today, as digital and social channels continue to grow, the total volume of customer interactions is also increasing to fill these channels. Digital engagement will also play an increasingly important role in purchases. Organizations must understand and act on this growth in customer data to drive improvements in the customer experience.
With customers engaging in various channels and differently in each channel, organizations need support from workforce engagement tools to handle and recognize these distinctions. This is critical to support accurate forecasting and scheduling, and quality management programs to support optimal customer experiences.
Social Messaging Remakes the Contact Center
In 2022, customer engagement through social channels, such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, will become the preferred customer service channel over traditional phone, email, and live chat.
Unlike other digital customer engagement channels contact centers have adopted, such as chat, engagements through these social messaging channels take place asynchronously.
With asynchronous messaging, a customer can continue engagement with a contact center agent over a more extended period: sometimes hours or days. The nature, then, of these interactions requires organizations to revamp their performance and quality management approaches.
When is the right time to assess the quality of an interaction? In 2022, organizations will begin to shift to conduct performance management and coaching in the spaces in between asynchronous interactions to improve customer interactions.
Strategies for Next-Gen Talent Management
The pandemic disruption and the Great Resignation that followed hit contact centers hard and hiring practices have had to shift to address the need to source and retain quality talent.
With the work-from-anywhere model not changing any time soon, companies need to be able to attract and interview candidates from a broader geography and potentially without ever meeting in-person. Candidates are far more selective today, and employers must work harder to attract, nurture, and retain quality talent.
Intelligent interviewing solutions using voice, advanced AI, and analytics are coming to the aid of contact centers in helping pre-assess candidates’ job-related performance. These applications enable virtual pre-interviews, job simulation, language assessment, usage of knowledge management systems, and more. Providing a richer employee experience right from the start is a winning strategy that can provide competitive advantage in the tight labor market.
Supporting “Gig Economy” Flexible Work Schedules
With the shift to digital, gone are the days of “9 to 5” work. Now, employees can divide the workday into two or more parts during the hours that best fit their needs and maximize their earnings. In 2022, offering flexible scheduling to promote “anywhere, anytime” work models is a perk that will help employers win the talent war.
As companies worldwide accommodate a remote workforce, embracing flexible work models such as micro shifts and shift splits is crucial. Advanced workforce management tools can help organizations meet these new flexible staffing requirements and promote work/life balance.
Supporting Agent Coaching and Empowerment
In the year ahead, we anticipate increased deployment of technology solutions to support agent coaching and support to promote a remote workplace that empowers employees to be successful on the customer front lines.
Traditionally a manual and ad hoc process, automated quality management (AQM) now provides automated scoring to analyze agent performance, customer satisfaction, agent compliance, and more with every customer interaction.
AQM has become increasingly important especially in the remote workforce, as new agents are onboarded virtually. These solutions ensure new agents, regardless of their location, receive the coaching, training, and support needed to avoid struggling, or worse, quitting. It also ensures good work never goes unrecognized.
The WFH dynamic increased the need for in-the-moment guidance to help agents that no longer have onsite supervisors or peers for consultation. Technologies geared to help contact center agents navigate pandemic work conditions will continue to top the solutions organizations invest in for 2022. These include solutions such as real-time agent assist (RTAA) and intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) solutions that help empower agents to serve customers better and faster, while reducing frustration and fatigue.
Connecting with Customers with Empathy
There’s a significant competitive advantage for contact centers that equip their agents appropriately to gather insights to address customer needs with immediacy and empathy.
In 2022, we will see widespread adoption of AI-driven sentiment analysis tools to help organizations understand and engage with customers on an empathic level versus a transactional level. To support this dynamic, real-time speech analytics automatically senses and detects a customer’s intent and emotional state to help guide agents as to the next-best actions.
This technology now analyzes 100% of every interaction, providing a consistent and objective voice of the customer evaluation by agent, category, and call topic. Now organizations can fully understand the sentiment a brand generates – what sentiment your employees are providing – and what sentiment your customers are feeling.
The Front and Back Office Become Blurred
In 2021, we saw the realization of the vision of “everyone serves” within the organization as the edges of the contact center blurred, as bank and retail brick-and-mortar locations closed, and employees took to the phones to help address the Engagement Capacity Gap.
In this migration, organizations that had cloud-based solutions in place, such as knowledge management, RTAA, and IVA technologies, were well-positioned to support this shift, as these tools ensure that anyone is empowered with the knowledge and support to engage with customers. We have the technology today to route customer interactions to any department in the organization, making manifest the “everyone serves” mantra.
Creating an Agile Contact Center
The way organizations support customers and employees continues to shift – a change accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional, inflexible approaches will no longer work, if companies want to stay competitive and be successful.
Supporting customer and employee engagement will be critical and can only be achieved by adopting advanced technology solutions that also improve business agility as we move into 2022.
About the Author
With more than 25 years’ experience in the Customer Engagement and Customer Experience sector, David Singer is Vice President of Product Strategy for Verint. Twitter: @verint