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Renewed focus on contact center trends in 2020

As contact centers move from office settings to remote work environments, businesses renew push for sustainable work-at-home programs, enhanced AI and cloud technologies.

Key contact center trends for 2020 have not changed amid the coronavirus crisis; in fact, there is a new sense of urgency, with businesses placing a renewed focus on these trends, accelerating the need for change and placing them higher on the priority list.

The COVID-19 pandemic raised awareness of two major opportunities for businesses to address. First, the movement of contact center operations from an office environment to a remote work model has guaranteed business continuity along with protecting the health of employees. Second, expanding the availability of customer self-service where it does not matter whether an agent is available has enabled the customer to resolve their issue.

The following contact center trends address both of these opportunities.

Building a sustainable remote work environment

Historically, organizations have primarily embraced a remote work model to support business continuity and provide a reward system for outstanding agent performance.

In the current environment, many additional organizations have been required to adopt a remote work model to support continued operations and protect employee health. In many cases, this was a quickly made change without a well-thought-out plan.

Organizations need to revisit their remote work model to ensure it is sustainable over the long term.

There is a high likelihood that many organizations will begin to see additional benefits of the remote work model, which include access to a broader workforce, lower absenteeism, more flexible scheduling opportunities and improved productivity. As a result, some of these organizations may decide to continue to have at least part of their staff work remotely.

Organizations need to revisit their remote work model to ensure it is sustainable over the long term. Changes that are necessary include:

  • revising hiring practices to ensure job candidates can work independently;
  • revising training processes to support remote learning;
  • enhancing employee communication/engagement tools to provide a variety of communication channels among agents and supervisors; and
  • expanding technology capabilities to ensure agents have the same -- or better -- tools that are available in an office environment, such as headsets, monitors and system responsiveness.

Consolidating desktop applications

The number of different applications that agents access in a contact center continues to grow, including CRM systems, online help, knowledge bases and homegrown systems. As a result, there is an increase in the number of monitors that agents have at their workstations. Some agents even consider it a "badge of honor" or "source of pride" when they have three or four monitors at their workstation.

But businesses need to seek ways to consolidate agent desktop applications, whether using internally developed tools or external platforms, to provide a simpler desktop for agents to navigate in responding to customer inquiries. This consolidation will increase agent efficiency and decrease the need for so many monitors on the desk.

Moreover, if organizations continue to enhance their remote work models where training becomes more challenging, it will be even more critical to provide an improved and easier-to-use desktop applications to support the needs of the agent and prevent the need for turning around to ask their neighbor a question.

Using AI

AI is a hot topic in contact centers but is still in infancy in its use. AI provides the capability to expand the use of customer self-service and to provide tools to make the agent's job easier.

Organizations need to take a closer look at how to implement and expand the use AI to support additional self-service capabilities, ensuring a 24x7x365 presence across many channels of communication. Specific examples include building on the early capabilities of natural language processing and expanding the use of chatbots.

Additionally, the implementation of agent-assist tools, which suggest responses for customer inquiries, will also be beneficial to remote agents who may be struggling to find critical information.

Expanding the use of AI will also drive another contact center trend, which is the need to implement knowledge management systems that customers, agents and AI tools can access, ensuring a consistent experience across all channels of communication.

Moving to cloud technology

Over the past few years, there has been a significant move by organizations to shift from on-premises platforms to cloud technologies.

Moving to a remote work model has been extremely challenging for contact centers using on-premises technologies. Contact centers have had to either enhance their current infrastructure, make decisions on functions and features that agents can or cannot use, or work with vendors to get a cloud system up and running quickly.

Organizations that have not moved to the cloud or had to quickly implement an interim cloud solution should re-evaluate their options to determine if a cloud platform -- especially those with integrated add-ons such as workforce management -- is more effective for the remote work model.

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