Contact centre expert Kris Graham reveals the latest contact centre trends shaping the way we interact with our customers post-pandemic
Have you noticed a shift in the way your contact centre is performing? If not, it could be just around the corner.
Rising costs and changing customer behaviours are challenging the way businesses throughout the UK manage their contact centres. They are also driving exciting new opportunities to improve the contact centre, leading to several emerging trends.
We caught up with Kris Graham, Opus’ contact centre expert, to find out what those trends are and how adapting your contact centre environment in line with one or more of them could help you to reduce costs, minimise agent churn, and deliver the first-rate experience today’s customers have come to expect.
6 trends shaping the evolution of the contact centre post-pandemic
1. Chatbot usage growing to better manage contact centre demand
Kris is speaking with more and more businesses interested in leveraging AI and chatbot capabilities to help them deflect non-revenue generating activities from the contact centre.
“As the cost of everything goes up, contact centres are looking to be more efficient,” Kris explains. “A lot of companies in various industries are really challenged with meeting demand, leading to excess call times of over 30 minutes and ‘abandon call rates’ of more than 50% in some instances. Most businesses aren’t in a position to simply hire more so utilising chatbot technology is a great way of helping to serve that demand.”
Specifically, chatbots are ideally suited to handling the high-volume, low-value queries contact centres typically receive each day, leaving the more complex, higher-value interactions to be handled by live agents. Agents can manage multiple conversations at the same time greatly increasing the number of enquiries being answered.
“The customer gets the answer they need without having to wait in line or sit on hold and the agents’ experience is also improved as they get to work on interesting, varied queries.”
2. Self-service deflecting non-revenue generating contact
Chatbots are just one part of the self-service puzzle. Kris is helping some customers set up user portals, through which their customers can log in to access information themselves.
“As with chatbots, a self-service portal takes away the requirement for customers to waste time queuing into the contact centre, as they would with a traditional voice call, for example.”
Kris gave the example of a recent Opus Engage customer whose goal is around getting customers off the voice path and into digital contact to improve the overall experience.
“Currently, the average call duration for this particular customer is eight minutes and the average queue time is 30 minutes. If the customer chose to go through their portal instead, they would save themselves over 30 minutes on average and the business would save, too.”
So, going forward, when one of their customers calls in, the contact centre will send an SMS with a URL to their user portal, if that’s a suitable channel for their particular query. This approach to contact centre management is called channel swapping, and it’s achieved by prompting a change in customer behaviour that benefits both customer and brand.
3. Data-directed routing to connect the customer to the right agent
Where channel swapping aims to drive the customer to the best channel, data-directed routing aims to route the customer to the best person to deal with their enquiry. As its name suggests, it achieves this by acting on customer data stored in the CRM.
“A good example is a housing association,” Kris explains. “Say a customer has called up to log a repair. Using the data within the business application, the contact centre technology can see that this customer actually owes rent arrears. With data-directed routing the customer will be automatically connected to the collections department first.”
Obviously, this helps the housing association to collect the rent it’s owed. It also improves the customer experience (CX) because they aren’t having to make or receive multiple calls. Once the rent is paid, or a payment plan is put in place, the customer is passed smoothly across to the repairs/maintenance department, removing the double cost to serve, improving the ‘right first time’ rate, and delivering a better experience.
“This technology isn’t new,” Kris reveals, “but as more contact centre managers look to reduce costs, we’re seeing lots of environments across industries start to adopt it.”
4. Omnichannel is everywhere
“Every company I speak with is interested in digital contact centre solutions,” Kris reveals. “Voice is still the go-to channel on the market, but the pandemic has driven a real shift in how businesses are seeking to reach and interact with their customers across channels.”
As channel swapping and data-directed routing rise in popularity, it’s vital that contact centres have the architecture in place to deliver a consolidated, ‘single pane of glass’ view.
“Having a solution for voice, a solution for email, and a solution for webchat enables the agent to expand their reach to customers and serve them cost-effectively, as does the ability to influence the channels customers are using (or the agents they reach). But you need to be able to see what’s going on to deliver a joined-up customer experience,” Kris says.
If the customer is prompted to swap channels, it’s important that all the data on their interactions is visible to the other channel and the agents operating it. Equally, customers routed to different agents don’t want to have to explain their reason for calling more than once.
When the data isn’t joined up, or the agents don’t have visibility, the experience suffers. The customer becomes more frustrated, which often leads to public complaints on social media.
5. Understanding the customer through speech analytics
Underpinning all this is the renewed need to understand the customer — what they’re calling about, how they’re being serviced, and why they’re reaching out in the way that they are.
“Why are your customers contacting the contact centre in the first place?” Kris asks. “The interactive voice response on which many contact centres depend today will be capturing a foundational level of customer information, but what was the actual reason for a specific call and how does that individual customer’s experience change as they interact with you?”
These are the kinds of questions Kris is seeing growing numbers of contact centre managers ask of their teams in an attempt to better understand and better service the customers.
“Speech analytics will actually transcribe the conversation, enabling contact centre supervisors to unlock all kinds of new insights. Speech analytics’ word spotting capabilities mean they can highlight specific words or phrases within conversations to understand the real intent, why people are calling, and how those calls were dealt with.”
And with deeper insights come clearer actions. Speech analytics will very quickly highlight any issues that customers are experiencing, guiding effective contact centre improvements.
Don’t forget about your agents’ experience. “The Great Resignation has turned recruitment on its head,” Kris adds, “so reducing agent churn has never been more important. Speech analytics can help agents prioritise more interesting, higher value activities as well as dramatically reducing agent training time. Most contact centres are quality monitoring less than 1 percent of the calls. We’re helping our customers do speech analytics on 100 percent of calls. Better yet, it’s automatically scoring them, delivering insights and reducing huge amounts of manual work.”
6. Contact centres are getting smarter with knowledge management
The final trend Kris has observed is around knowledge management and equipping contact centre agents with the tools they need to best service their customers.
“By getting rid of the simple, repetitive (non-revenue generating) queries using the solutions we’ve already discussed, agents are left with the more complex and challenging queries. How can the contact centre be set up to help agents best answer those questions? Knowledge platforms are one solution that I’m recommending to more and more customers.”
Without a single reservoir of accurate information, agents might have to go into multiple data sources to get the answers they need. The customer will have to go on hold, increasing the time to serve. The customer experience is negatively impacted and the agent might also lose credibility, making their job less enjoyable.
A knowledge platform solves all these issues by enabling agents to quickly search using one or two keywords to surface authoritative articles they can use to appear like they’re experts.
“The benefits are everywhere,” Kris says. “It’s so simple but it reduces training time, it minimises the time to serve, and it supports a really positive customer experience.”
And going full circle, knowledge platforms can themselves be enhanced by chatbots, giving the customer the ability to search for the answers to their own questions without having to reach out to anyone.
“This isn’t new technology but it’s becoming more widely available and it’s becoming more relevant as the cost to serve increases, making it a more compelling offer for businesses looking to reduce contact centre costs while simultaneously improving customer experience.”
Which of the latest contact centre trends are relevant to you?
As with most digital transformations, Kris recommends a phased approach when considering which of the latest contact centre trends to adopt across your business.
“It’s not a case of deploying all the channels or solutions on day one. Businesses usually take a phased approach, giving them the time they need to roll out each phase successfully, to secure buy-in across the business, and deliver a smooth adoption.”
Crucially, with a single pane of glass at your disposal, you’ll be able to prove the impact of each phase well before the next one rolls out, making the value of your contact centre and the important role it delivers in upholding customer service clear for all to see.