Customer Experience 2021 Predictions: The Contact Centre of the Future

Derek Lewis - Maintel

29th January 2021

by Derek Lewis

Head of Customer Experience

Leo Rosten’s quote “Some things are so unexpected that no one is prepared for them” is a good retrospective summary of 2020 vs the CX predictions made this time last year. Despite the monumental upheaval in all of our lives some predictions around homeworking, the customer journey, and moving to the cloud rang true, although no one could have anticipated the degree to which contact centres would necessarily adapt and change. 

As we kick-off 2021 – and with almost a year of COVID-19 experience already under our belts – it’ time to look to what we can expect from the industry over the next 12 months and how businesses can best prepare for the contact centre of the future.  

One thing is for certain, life as we knew it pre-pandemic is not likely to return. 89% of UK contact centre leaders say covid-19 has changed the UK contact centre industry forever. And whilst many organisations have adapted swiftly, bringing reactionary measures into place quickly to ensure business continuity, it’s becoming clear that the pandemic will have a lasting effect, and long-term strategies are required.

 As such, we can expect that 2021 will be a complex and pivotal year for contact centres – alongside many other areas of business. Though it is impossible to state anything with absolute certainty, one this is clear – we are entering a new age of customer service, and contact centre managers need to be forward thinking or risk falling behind.  

Home working is no longer just a ‘nice to have’

What may have begun as a government enforced measure has rapidly become the ‘new normal’ for many of us, and contact centre agents are no exception to this. In fact, as of July 2020, 77% of contact centres had more than half of their employees working from home.

Maintel has spoken previously about enabling contact centre agents to work from home in the early days of lockdown, however, as home working looks to increasingly become a part of contact centre life, there are key considerations businesses must be mindful of:  

 

  • Employees who were not initially hired on a work from home contract may begin looking to have their employer contribute towards the costs and disturbance to their wider home working environment, from desks and chairs to connectivityheat and light. 
     
  • A distributed workforce leads to new security risks, and not just in terms of enterprise grade secure connectivity. The home working environment isn’t necessarily secure in the physical sense, for example, and IT displays can be viewed or photographed giving rise to potential GDPR breaches. 
     
  • Contact centre agents are used to working near colleagues providing support and camaraderieSome employees may experience lonelinessdepression or a lack of confidence when deprived of this close-knit atmosphere, and management will need to ensure they’re providing sufficient support.  

The world of hybrid work is fast-approaching

A key implication of increased home working is that staff will split time between home and office. With these changing working patterns, we’re emerging into a new world of work unlike anything we’ve seen before; the world of hybrid working.  

 

The hybrid world demands different approaches to technology, tools, networks, and security. Contact centre managers will need to provide a flexible workplace that permits employees access to applications and services, and enables collaboration wherever teams are based 

 

  • Cloud technology is vital to hybrid working and in enabling agents to work from multiple semi-permanent locations. Cloud solutions are ideal for companies keen to remain agile and maintain critical business continuity 
     
  • For those that will be office-based, tools must be provided to remain COVID-secure. From fixed desks, to personal comms kits, collaboration tools, and scheduling systems, the contact centre of 2021 will require a range of key solutions and practices 
     
  • Be mindful of those employees working from home in contrast. Ensure staff’s home working environments are compatible with voice calls, consider broadband management solutions to protect call quality, and promote adherence to tested and approved equipment, e.g. headsets. 
     

The digitisation of customer care

The pandemic opened a pandora’s box of sorts with regards to customer support. It created an increased reliance on digital channels (from online shopping, to online banking, and beyond) and that lid isn’t going back on the box any time soon. In fact, digital customer service interactions are expected to continue increasing by 40% Forrester suggests 

With many companies closing their offices and stores, there is a significant decrease in in-person customer support and the physical customer experience. We are facing a new age of digital customer service that UK contact centres need to adapt to. Contact centres will need to leverage digital channels to both manage new customer demands, as well as support hybrid working. 

  • With retail activity increasingly moving online, the ‘virtual store’ is on the rise. The sales assistant of tomorrow will take the form of the contact centre agent walking the virtual store and using avatars or video in combination with co browsing to aid customers understanding, selecting, and purchasing the goods they seek. 
     
  • AI is no longer a novelty. It brings consistency that customers crave and enables your agents to handle customer issues faster, accurately, and more efficiently by routing conversations to the right agent at the right time. 
     
  • Don’t forget about social media as it plays an important role in the customer’s digital experience. In fact, 63% of customers today expect a brand to offer customer service via social media channels.  
     
  • The importance of your voice channel will not diminish, however. This is the option many customers turn to when others don’t work or when they have an emotionally driven concern and want to speak to a person. Voice channels consistently rank highly with customer satisfaction so be sure your tech enables this.  
     

Whilst no one can be expected to 100% accurately predict what the trending challenges and solutions across the contact centre industry will be in 2021, one thing is for sure – with so many businesses, across a broad range of industry verticals, working through similar challenges at a high pace, solutions to the most common problems will evolve quickly and no-doubt become more accessible. 

So, why not consider a new year resolution to try and regularly allocate some time to keep your finger on the pulse of contact centre developments and the impact on customer experiences as the year unfolds? 

Keen to learn some more about what we can expect to see in 2021? Check out our Cloud and Managed Communications Services predictions here!  

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