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Lessons from the past year: How 2021 transformed contact centres

by wrich

Marco Ndrecaj, Government Director of Contact Centre Services at SSCL

The last two years have caused huge upheaval across businesses, butcontact centres in particular were some of the worst hit by the pandemic. Calls, emails, webchats, SMS, social media messages came pouring in as people looked for information and sought help with a whole range of issues from financial and medical advice, rearranging travel plans, filing for unemployment benefits, and even obtaining emergency loans.  

COVID-related challengescreated changecontact centres had never before seen, asthey experienced increased shrinkage and attrition, higher call volumes, and the sudden need to deploy work from home operations. The industry was struggling, with no blueprint available for how to best respond.

This triggered widespread service failures, including endless busy signals and days-long hold times. Today,as we start to return to some kind of normality, contact volumes and demand remains high. 

Albert Einstein encapsulated the need for focused action in his quote – “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.” For progressive organisations, ‘rise above’ sparked an extraordinary wave of transformational acceleration, creating innovative solutions that, during ‘normal’ times, would have taken years to implement.

 As contact centre leaders look ahead to 2022, there is much to reflect on when it comes to transforming operations. Although the dust is settling, we must continue focusing on the future, and review our operations and transform accordingly to avoid similar disruptions when the next crisis inevitably hits. 

The dangers of stalling

Contact centres must seize the opportunity to take their capabilities to the next level. The pandemic powerfully verified that their typical business continuity plans (BCP) are fundamentally flawed, and that standard operating models aren’t flexible enough to cope with highly unpredictable events. Organisations that simply tweak what they were doing before COVID will be missing out on the chance to shift to more adaptable and resilient ways of working. 

Employing technology and process innovations is vital if contact centres want to avoid getting caught by surprise again. Crucially though, contact centres must use this as an opportunity to instil innovations that enhance their ability to serve customers more efficiently and effectively during normal times – whatever ‘normal’ means in the future. 

Innovation needs to be undertaken at a greater speed: moving gradually towards the cliched goal of creating the ‘next generation of contact centres’ or ‘contact centres of the future’ no longer applies. Today, procrastination will be the death of essential innovation.

Looking ahead with intention

If adopted proactively, AI-powered, cloud-based solutions will allow contact centres to become hubs of customer intelligence, while acting as a catalyst for more personalised, real-time and valuable customer experiences.

Over the coming year, understanding when human agents should take the lead and when Artificial Intelligence (AI) can supplement excellent service, will make all the difference. 

At a high level, within SSCL we have successfully deployed Connect+ (powered by AWS) into our contact centres, enabling end-to-end integration with state-of-the-art CRM & workflow tools, and supporting AI, Natural Language Processing and voice recognition. 

Such cloud-based ecosystems facilitate  the provision of true omni-channel solutions, bringing together voice, self-service, email, webchats, chat bots and service requests into a single view of a customer. This enables tighter integration across all channels, ensuring end-users can ask once, and receive consistent responses, regardless of channel or context. 

Similarly, it is vital contact centres utilise next-level contact analytics for end-to-end automation of customer requests, through adaptable, scalable platforms that can flex to different operating models at short notice. 

We know that new technologies are continuing to emerge at a rapid pace, and those which hesitate to adopt them will be left behind. This will though, provide huge opportunity for those who do adopt them, as their operations will be transformed – if we’ve learnt anything from the last two years, it is that there is no room for complacency.

 

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