As the gateway to a brand, contact centres can make or break a customer’s experience. Yet this pressure hasn’t always translated to success. In fact, despite being at the heart of customer service operations, contact centres have historically relied on outdated, legacy infrastructure – which can negatively impact the customer experience delivered through its inherent limitations.

As customers continue to demand more from the organisations that they interact with; expecting the same levels of flexibility, choice and customer service they receive from consumer brands to be replicated across all their interactions, contact centres have been forced to evolve operations to focus on customer experience.

The changing contact centre customer

A key driver of change will always be people. Accelerated by the rapid digitalisation of the past few years, tech-savvy consumers are demanding omnichannel journeys from their favourite brands, from social media to chatbots, SMS and email. As of 2021, 71% of consumers considered texting their favourite businesses as an effective form of communication, whilst Gartner predicts that by 2025 digital messaging, such as WhatsApp and WeChat, will be the favoured method of delivering CX.

With digital natives also entering the market – 53.2% of global internet users aged 16-24 use social networks as a primary source of information when researching brands – and 90% of customers claiming that the experience a brand provides is as important as its products or services, there has never been more incentive for brands to embrace omnichannel CX to meet customer needs.

The contact centre agent of today

But customer demands aren’t the only driver of change. Post-pandemic, we are still seeing large swathes of the working population opting for hybrid work styles. The UK government has now provided employees with the legal right to ask for flexible work from their employer. Contact centres that embrace hybrid working can see the benefit of agents joining from a wider demographic. Be it parents who can schedule hours between childcare responsibilities or students who are more willing to work outside typical office hours to fit around studies.

This has numerous advantages from a customer experience perspective. With this increased pool of agents, managers have more flexibility when it comes to managing agent schedules and ensuring that their customer service team is adequately staffed around the clock. In addition, with a more diverse base of agents, organisations can foster a culture of empathy when dealing with customers. After all, while training can do a lot to ensure agents understand the customer base, nothing can ever top a shared experience. Consider, for example, how the cost-of-living crisis affects customers differently depending on their dependents, job security, or even whether they own property or rent. Having agents on board that can help each other understand the various situations a customer is going through is an excellent asset for any contact centre looking to enhance customer experience.

Evolving technology

Equally integral to this evolution are the tools available to agents – which must continue to advance as customers become more and more tech savvy. Think of mobile phones versus landlines. Before the ubiquity of portable mobile phones, landlines gave customers only one contact option – telephony. But now, with most customers owning a smartphone, they can now access alternative channels, such as SMS and email. These mobile-based channels are often the preferred choice for customers who need to complete errands on the go.

These technological advancements have been possible due to many contact centres migrating to the cloud – and away from legacy on-premise infrastructure. The cloud facilitates the deployment of contact centre innovations like automated AI bots, speech analytics, and streamlined ID&V solutions, which can be leveraged for easier communication with customers.

Cloud-based automation tools can also relieve agents of mundane tasks, enabling them to invest more time in customer interactions across various channels. For example, automated ID&V on calls saves agents valuable time – reducing the repetitive elements of the call and reducing inbound, enabling them to focus on other tasks and the customer relationship. Moreover, introducing self-service channels powered by chatbots enables quick FAQ responses, and removes the need for agents to handle unnecessary tasks, therefore giving agents more time to attend to complex customer queries.

By moving operations to the Cloud, the contact centre becomes accessible to all agents – allowing them to operate securely, wholly, and compliantly wherever they are located. By securing all work environments, whether in the office or at home, agents can ensure that customers achieve the same customer experience at all times.

Rewriting the contact centre’s reputation

Change is already afoot. The evolution of the contact centre has brought about positive changes for both customers and agents. By moving to a cloud-based infrastructure and adopting next generation technologies such as AI, contact centres can now offer customers a broader range of communication channels, improving the overall customer experience delivered. Additionally, the rise of hybrid work has allowed contact centres to tap into a more diverse talent pool of agents whose many skills thread together to form a more empathetic and informed workforce.

Ultimately, these changes have allowed the contact centre to evolve into the proud face of a brand and to play an integral role in ensuring customer loyalty for long-term success. While we can never be confident of the future, we can be sure that for contact centres, the next few years will continue to bring exciting innovations and evolution that benefit both customers and agents alike.

About the Author

Craig Farley, Head of Consulting, IPI

Craig is the Head of Consulting at IPI, with previous experience working in contact centre operations and leadership, putting him in the perfect position to advise and consult on the best ways to optimise your current contact centre environment.