Contact centres have witnessed an extraordinary period of transformation and innovation in the past six months. COVID-19 was the catalyst, but the advances are here to stay.
On 23 March 2020, the UK Government announced a country-wide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The impact on the contact centre industry was intense. There ensued a mass migration to homeworking whilst responding to substantial and unpredictable changes in call volumes and a surge in the use of digital channels.
Having successfully addressed the operational changes needed to function during lockdown, contact centres now have their sights firmly set on the future. Contact centre leaders are evaluating the changes they have made to assess which are temporary and which will endure.
Research conducted by the CCMA (Call Centre Management Association), in partnership with Puzzel, a leading Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS) provider, has revealed six trends that have emerged from the dust. Through a series of focus groups with senior leaders from across the industry, this three-wave programme aims to explore the future direction of the industry, the strategic role of the contact centre and the development of new operating models.
The results from wave one demonstrate just how much contact centres have moved on in six months, and how this step change in the operation has created a platform for the contact centre to be recognised as a more strategic, valuable and integrated function within the organisation.
It is fair to say that much of the transformation in the contact centre was already starting to happen. The pandemic has accelerated this evolution and brought into focus the real need for change across every contact centre operation, not just those that were leading the charge.
1. Being agile delivers results
Rapid implementation of operational changes has introduced agile principles to contact centres, which will have a lasting impact. Because there was a compelling need to adapt, organisations made bold decisions, they found a way to adjust their approach quickly and successfully.
The challenge now is to continue to demonstrate that this fast, and effective, decision making process can be retained, and will deliver progress and innovation profitably.
2. Homeworking is here to stay
With eight in ten contact centre operations currently adopting a homeworking approach, according to research by the CCMA on behalf of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in July 2020, organisations are learning how to manage a distributed workforce.
Flexible working will become the norm, with some organisations already transitioned to a primarily remote-based model. Contact centres are now set to re-calibrate recruitment and training processes to suit.
3. Customer behaviours are changing
As the UK adjusted to life in lockdown, an immediate shift was observed in customers’ behaviours and expectations. Some organisations saw a sudden drop in call volumes, while others endured weeks of increased interactions across all channels.
Many contact centres reported that customer satisfaction had skyrocketed during the lockdown. Average Handle Time increased as advisors and customers shared their experiences, connecting with each other on an emotional level.
4. Forging closer ties with other functions
Teams rallied together during the transition and contact centre leaders became more visible than ever. Senior management teams have historically been somewhat removed from the front line but recognising the value and vulnerability of the contact centre, they have stepped up the internal communications.
As a result, the contact centre is closer to other functions as appreciation has grown of its role as the front line and the external face of the organisation.
5. The changing role of the advisor
The role and skill set of advisors are becoming elevated as contact centres become more strategically valuable and lower-effort interactions are migrated to automation and self-service.
Contact centre leaders point to the gap between current public perception of contact centre work as low-skilled versus the increasing complexity of the advisor role, for which individuals are required to possess not only soft skills but strong product knowledge and problem solving capabilities too.
6. Contact centres are becoming more strategic
More than ever, the contact centre is transcending its historical role as a downstream channel for customer service to become the upstream face of the organisation. Contact centres are becoming more strategically important to organisations as customer channels proliferate and the contact centre is involved in a wider array of customer journeys.
Combine this with the valuable data and insights that the contact centre holds and the leaders in the sector have an opportunity to demonstrate the impact and strategic importance that the contact centre has on the future of the organisation.
The outcomes of this research was the result of deep dive conversations with leaders from organisations including LEGO®, esure, Dixons Carphone, Estee Lauder, Vivid Homes, Paymentshield, Ascensos, Moneypenny, GFM, Action Fraud and Paymentsense.
To find out what these organisations shared during the focus groups, you can now download Part 1| The Evolution of the Contact Centre research report.