Customer service orgs are under pressure. High volumes, distributed teams, yet same expectations for efficiency. As a natural response, digital transformations are accelerating across the industry, with workplace automation suddenly becoming the new buzzword for contact centers.

But are these operational circumstances temporary? Do companies need to be investing this much money in AI? The short answer is yes—and we can back it up. We’ve collected up-to-date statistics, no older than 2020, which should help you assess what’s going on, and what’s needed, so you can successfully plan ahead.

 

The new normal is just the norm now

All reports suggest that most companies will continue to work remotely even after the COVID crisis comes to an end (when it comes to an end).

According to PWC 55% of employers anticipate that most of their workers will continue to work remotely at least one day a week even after COVID-19 is not a concern. At the same time Gartner reported that 82% of respondents intend to allow partial remote working as employees return to the workplace. 

In a recent TalkDesk survey, respondents stated: 89% of leaders say that the Covid-19 crisis has changed the contact center industry forever. Only 3% say that it hasn’t, the remainder are unsure.

While companies rose to the many challenges of going remote overnight – 44% of companies working from home during lockdown still reported that “managing contact volumes” had been a significant or very significant issue. This naturally lead to more leaders investing in new tools that would:

  • Help manage customer contacts more effectively (56%)
  • Help with remote management and monitoring (40%)
  • Help boost effectiveness with AI solutions (39%)

So let’s look deeper into the new challenges contact center leadership will deal with in 2021.

1. Managing and delivering critical knowledge to distributed teams

Having transitioned agents to work-from-home deployment, contact centers must now focus on maximizing the customer and agent experience.

When it became clear that companies will need to put up with the “new normal” for a long time – optimizing processes and smoothing out the rough edges became vital. This is especially true for B2C companies which experienced a massive spike in demand for services. But with fewer resources to support employees and an increased volume of work, companies identified a major gap according to Garnter – customer service organizations lack knowledge management (KM) systems.

Companies view knowledge management as one of the most important solutions for tomorrow’s contact center, with over 53% of companies rethinking new strategies for it.

2. Dealing with increasing volume of interactions

People are more open to self-service options, with 53% of consumers preferring to self-serve versus speaking with a company representative. Obviously, this is a perfect opportunity to shift customers to using new digital-first service options. Powerful FAQs, webforms and chatbots will help deflect inbound interactions that neither consumers nor companies want/need.

Companies will increasingly shift customers to using self-service rather than assisted service in order to reduce inbound interactions and improve CX.

But not all interactions can nor should be deflected. In fact, knowledgeable experts are in more demand than ever before, since the percentage of “difficult” customer inquiries has more than doubled, reaching a staggering 20%. This refers us back to the knowledge management crisis – companies must find a way to ensure a fast and accurate turnaround of answers to remain competitive.

3. Optimizing remote onboarding and training

Even before the pandemic, support teams were overwhelmed trying to retain knowledge on an increasingly complex and diverse set of contact types and services, many of which they rarely handle. The result is high attrition (especially for new hires) and poor performance. So, companies segment skills to train “specialists” in phases and often assign trainees to managers that already have a long list of other responsibilities and additional pressure from supporting their existing remote team.

Recent market studies found that 51% of respondents from organizations that were mainly operating on a work-from-home basis during lockdown identified homeworker training as a significant or very significant issue. In addition, 30% of all respondents saw it as potentially being a bigger issue in 2021.

This means that companies need to find a way to enable agents to handle increasingly diverse and complex contacts without extensive training and specialization.

4. Addressing customer support mental health (finally!)

Experiencing inefficacy is among the top stressors of contact center agents and has a direct effect on high agent attrition and burnout at work. Large call centers report a staggering turnover rate of 30-45%. 

Now imagine working the same job at a faster pace with less tools, distracted by responsibilities at home, stressed about your KPIs and keeping your job. 

In fact, anxiety and mental health issues have been the biggest concern for organizations operating work-from home centers during the current crisis, with 66% of people calling it a very significant issue. Mental well-being is is paramount to a successful work-from-home framework.

But it’s not just mental health. With remote onboarding already a major issue, many companies won’t be able to afford or handle high turnover. A contact center with 100 agents has an industry-standard 45% attrition rate and spends anywhere from $1.6M to $4.8M each year on turnover.

A combination of increased turnover costs and employees’ mental health at stake will force contact centers to address stress triggers to maximize agent efficacy and job satisfaction rates.

5. Covering operational gaps with AI

Every year experts predict an ever-rising number of AI technologies taking over a variety of markets. It turns out—2020 has exponentially affected the trend. AI has rapidly shifted from being a “nice to have” to a “MUST have”. 

Artificial intelligence can be applied to almost every step of customer experience, aiding both customer facing and internal processes. AI can power leading CCaaS, CRM, and ticketing systems by automating knowledge management and collaboration. In fact, 39% contact centers are expecting to invest in AI solutions in 2021. 

For 62% of companies, the success of automation investments hinges on reducing financial cost. When agents aren’t wasting time tracking down information, they can better manage contact centers can better handle those heavy volumes. 

Let’s sum it all up

Both companies and consumers have changed drastically in 2020. New priorities, new expectations and new trends all require flexibility and an open-mind from both sides. 2020 revealed industry problems that have existed for quite a while. Fixing them could bring great things in 2021. 

    • Companies need a better way to manage and deliver the increasing amount of critical knowledge.
    • As interaction volumes grow, companies need a budget-friendly solution to scale.
    • Contact centers should consider how to scale distributed teams in the longterm.
    • Technology doesn’t just improve efficiency, it can balance your team’s workload and promote good mental health.
    • AI will be commonplace and improve customer service jobs rather than take them.