A significant number of industries and organizations experienced major business disruption over the course of 2020. Government lockdowns and restrictions interrupted supply chains, forced the closure of some companies and required others to adapt to remote working where possible, while also accelerating the adoption of new technologies to facilitate changing working practices.
While this year brought about huge changes to how our society operates, it also provided lessons that contact centers can use to predict the unpredictable and plan for an uncertain future. Across the industry, we’ve seen a significant shift in the way that contact centers are managed, and how agents are responding to changing customer behaviors and needs. This shift will likely continue as we settle into the new normal and will impact two of the key factors in how we Work from Anywhere: people and technology.
We’ve identified seven emerging and developing trends that will continue to change the way contact centers work in 2021 and beyond:
Changing trends for contact center agents
The global workforce experienced a significant shift in 2020 as businesses increasingly adopted Work from Anywhere processes to accommodate the pandemic. This was a major adjustment for many workers, and one that provided a great deal more flexibility than traditional contact centers. Over the next few years, we anticipate a steady uptick in hybrid working environments, as fewer people come back to work in traditional contact center environments, which will impact the workforce in three ways:
1. Shift to hybrid working environments: the transition to new working environments will see a changed need for workforce management and employee engagement management. With increased flexibility, we’ll start to see more workers wanting to Work from Anywhere and at any time they like. Workforce management and engagement solutions will need to help manage people and help them manage their own schedules and workloads more easily.
2. Increased flexibility will expand the workforce: having access to increased flexibility has changed our perspective on working practices. Being able to Work from Anywhere, and at any time, has the potential to vastly expand the workforce, and even potentially integrate a gig economy style of working for contact centers. Scheduling time for work provides more opportunities for people that only want to work part-time or casually, or with more flexible schedules to accommodate other priorities. This will also let older workers and those with carer responsibilities re-engage with the workforce as they have more access to remote working and part-time schedules.
3. Better access to resources: the changing face of the contact center workforce presents new opportunities for the industry. COVID-19 highlighted the importance of business continuity, and the value in having access to resources onshore. The trend of contact centers coming back in-country has the potential to extend beyond the pandemic, and the flexibility and availability of new generations of workers can help to overcome resourcing limitations.
Enhanced role of technology in contact centers
While changing working environments will provide many opportunities for contact center agents to work more flexibly, managers will look more closely at technology and automation solutions to augment this new reality.
Most significantly, we anticipate there will be an increased investment in cloud and digital solutions, including automation and artificial intelligence (AI), though it will impact businesses in different ways:
4. Increased uptake of cloud software: as a direct result of the business disruption that organizations weathered in 2020, companies will continue to look to cloud solutions to protect their operations and ensure business resilience and continuity in times of crisis. In terms of usage concerns, companies will look for solutions that offer elasticity and scalability that best meets their needs and requirements, and the ability to better supervise contact center agents by hosting contact centers centrally.
5. Increased adoption of digital solutions: digital solutions will also be increasingly important to help support human contact center agents as they Work from Anywhere. For every 100 people in a workforce, we might see 50 bots being deployed to support them. In terms of business continuity and consistency, this will raise challenges around what happens if a digital employee doesn’t show up for work due to a system failure, for example. As a result, we will see an increase in technologies being built to manage AI-based solutions like digital assistants. Human workers will also focus more on managing AI-based solutions and the digital workforce, as they support human workers by completing more of the repetitive, rules-based, manual work, allowing human contact center agents to focus on prioritizing more complex tasks.
Changing technology trends and their impact on contact center agents
The way technology and people interact and function together in the future will come together to form part of the ongoing transformation towards a more digital, flexible future. Consequently, contact centers will see an increased reliance on and need for analytics and automation to work symbiotically, to better support and enhance the Work from Anywhere workforce. The key emerging and developing trends in this space are:
6. Continued investment in automation: while companies will continue to invest in automation solutions to reduce costs and streamline processes, there will be a reduced interest in automating for the sake of automating. To better support human agents, contact centers will invest more in integrated AI-based and analytics solutions that work collaboratively to improve the employee experience, facilitating greater collaboration and flexibility with human and digital agents. Increasingly using AI-based solutions that automate the qualitative analysis of call monitoring, with machine learning helping to quantify these results, organizations will be able to put a numeric value on previously unquantifiable data sets such as agent behaviors or customer emotions. Similarly, with continued investment in quality automation and analytics solutions, such as automating workflows, companies will be able to better streamline agent and work management, reducing time and costs spent on unnecessary actions.
7. Increased engagement with analytics and business intelligence solutions: by further integrating customer interaction analytics software into their processes and combining these with machine-learning-driven AI models, contact center managers can assess new data insights and predictive behaviors in real time. This will provide actionable insights as calls happen, empowering agents to act on prescriptive real time guidance with the help of virtual assistants. This will let contact center agents make immediate changes for more productive calls. By enhancing the employee experience, this will drive a more positive experience for customers, leading to better future engagements and increased loyalty. In addition, contact center managers will have access to key insights on churn, propensity to buy, fraud, client vulnerability, and more, letting them act on agent behaviors before they can negatively impact on the organization.
These advances will significantly change the way that agents and contact centers work in the future, both on a micro and macro level.