The CCMA has been tracking how contact centre operations have changed during these times of real change. The Evolution of the Contact Centre research series, supported by Puzzel, has documented this transformation by inviting contact centre leaders representing adverse mix of vertical markets, contact centre types and experiences to a series of focus groups.

The first wave of research in August 2020 revealed how contact centre operations were responding to the first lockdown, rapidly ramping-up remote working and agile operations. The second wave published in November 2020 examined how contact centres were faring several months into lockdown.

The CCMA has just launched its third report that explores the ongoing impact of the pandemic on people and operations. This latest report unflinchingly chronicles the toll that the ongoing pandemic has taken on the people working in our sector in recent months.

Leaders of contact centres up and down the country are united and single-minded in their commitment to prioritising the well-being of colleagues. As the country begins to re-open and bounce back, our industry will emerge a more resilient one, better equipped than ever to deliver the experiences that colleagues and customers demand and deserve

When the UK government announced another national lockdown in the first week of 2021, many contact centre operations had already gained valuable experience of implementing remote working. In terms of infrastructure and processes at least, most were well prepared.

While the winter lockdown has tested the resilience of contact centre professionals, the same also applies to customers. The spike in empathy and customer satisfaction witnessed last summer is gone, replaced by renewed expectations and lower tolerance levels when expectations are not met.

It has been perhaps the most difficult winter that the industry has ever experienced for colleagues and customers alike. However, all signs are now positive with the infection rate falling, weather improving and target dates set by the government for easing restrictions.

The contact centre sector has responded to adversity by doubling down on efforts to support its people. What has always been a highly people-centric industry has become even more single-minded in its dedication to colleague well-being.

As contact centres have redoubled their efforts to support staff during the ongoing pandemic, leadership responsibilities have evolved. During the latest lockdown a heightened awareness has emerged of the role that senior leaders play in the welfare of their people. Managers must dial up their empathy and emotional intelligence to be able to proactively recognise potential distress signals from colleagues; no easy feat within a remote environment.

As with last year, 2021 will be a year of change, transition and uncertainty. The longer-term economic impact of the pandemic and of Brexit are still unknown. Anticipating how consumer confidence will unfold is a key requirement to be able to predict demand and resourcing needs.

In line with the renewed emphasis on staff well-being, technology priorities have shifted towards empowering advisors and improving the colleague experience. Examples of technologies that have come to the fore recently include enhanced call-routing to guide both advisors and customers to the right outcomes, as well as closed-loop feedback systems to help advisors follow up on outstanding actions.

Even following the huge investments and rapid deployments witnessed during the pandemic, there can be no doubt there are still significant gains left for technology – with colleague experience rising further to the top of the priority list as understanding grows of the importance of empowering advisors as a route to customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.

What has emerged from the research is a clear state of play for 2021:

  1. Our collective resilience has been challenged. Winter lockdown has taken its toll on colleagues across the industry at all levels as well as customers. Mental health is top of the agenda while boosting empathy with colleagues and customers will be a permanent component of training and day-to-day operations.
  2. We need workspaces that work. While remote working has been hailed a great success, much is yet to be done to embed this approach into a long term, hybrid way of working that delivers for both colleagues and organisations.
  3. Balancing needs is harder than ever. The pressure has never been greater for contact centres to maintain the balance between happy colleagues, meeting the expectations of customers who are looking for fast and effective resolutions, and managing costs.
  4. No one size fits all. The most effective new operating model will be specific to each organisation and its own dynamics and customer expectations.
  5. Technology has so much more to give. Even as many contact centres have adopted cloud infrastructures and digital channels, additional innovations such as smarter call routing and speech analytics pack the potential to unlock further productivity.

We’d like to thank our members that participated in this third wave of research, including Paymentshield, Halfords, Fiserv, Vivid Homes, Bupa, Ascensos, Moneypenny, Estee Lauder Companies, Travelport, Atos and Atom Bank. We’d also like to thank Puzzel, a leading Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS) provider, for supporting us on this journey.

You can download this latest report, plus part 1 and 2, from the CCMA website.