A steady hand in challenging times - economy proofing the contact centre
There's no doubt that the current economic environment has led to feelings of instability, in both our personal and professional lives. Consumers are feeling the pinch, and with rising inflation and interest rates, they will have no choice but to curtail their spending. The impact on business is similarly far-reaching. Aside from the economic impact of the reduction in spending, there is the very real situation that both employees and customers will be experiencing stress in their personal lives. As a result, many organisations across the public and private sectors are evaluating how to best maintain their service quality under these difficult circumstances.
As we have considered in previous blog posts, the contact centre has evolved to become the main customer-facing aspect of many organisations, who must take this opportunity to review their systems, processes, and standard of performance in order to ensure the wider economic conditions have minimal impact on service delivery. This will help organisations demonstrate their resilience to the citizens who make use of their services, providing some measure of stability in uncertain times.
Let's take a closer look at the most important aspects of this process…
UK households (4.4 million) are now in ‘serious financial difficulties’, compared to one in ten (2.8 million) in October 2021
(University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre, 11th July 2022)
of people said their cost of living had increased compared with a year ago
(ONS Oct 28, 2022)
of businesses reported they had some form of concern for their business in November 2022, with this percentage being higher for businesses with 10 or more employees, at 85%.
(Office for National Statistics)
For some industries, the economic situation will result in increased demand, as consumers struggle to pay bills. The flipside is that they will also be looking for sources of extra income, which presents an opportunity for contact centres to expand their pool of agents.
Building on the above point, with the new breed of technology infrastructure enabling agents to connect from the traditional contact centre, from home, or on the move, hiring managers can offer new talent a much greater range of contracts, without any geographical limitations. This allows for a more fluid, adaptable workforce without compromising service quality - something that can prove essential during periods of rapid, unpredictable change.
For an even greater level of flexibility, the latest workforce management software allows contact centres to manage shifts down to a granular level, making it possible to offer employees shifts in 1- or 2-hour slots. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities, as agents are able to earn extra income by working around their existing commitments.
As we have explored in a previous blog post, failure demand - the demand created by the failure to fulfil a customer's needs - is one of the most essential metrics for any contact centre operation. A failed customer journey is an expensive customer journey, which means it is essential to not only identify and monitor any points of failure in the customer journey, but ensure they are resolved.
If you understand where your customers have been and what it is they want from you, you can make each interaction as efficient as possible - a win for everyone! Today's omnichannel contact centres put the entire journey at your fingertips, including past interactions. Leverage these capabilities to save time and, ultimately, money. Above all, remember that contact centres are people-focused operations, which means every aspect of the customer journey should be carefully considered, and your key customer personas established and communicated to all agents.
The less time agents are forced to spend on routine tasks, the more they will be able to focus their attention on providing successful resolutions. Even the smallest time savings will add up in the long run, so look for opportunities for automation and act on them as soon as possible. However, any sort of automation comes with a health warning. Highly sensitive queries should never be automated, so consider the emotional impact of removing the human touch.
If you've taken the time to understand your customers, as per above, you can identify where automation will help and not hinder. For example, identification and verification typically lends itself to well to automation.
This is very much about taking our point around the customer journey to the next level. If the data each customer generates through the various channels they use to make contact is consolidated in a fully centralised, actionable form, each agent can have the customer's full history right at their fingertips at the outset of each call, ensuring the customer does not need to repeat information they have already provided (a major source of frustration), and that the appropriate action can be taken as quickly as possible.
We have very much entered the era of omnichannel communication, where customers expect a completely seamless experience across multiple platforms - including online. Your website should be designed with this in mind, making it as easy as possible for visitors to find the answer to their question through clear, easy-to-navigate layouts and a high-quality user experience. AI's potential in this respect is huge, providing visitors with a helping hand as they navigate websites and - in a best-case scenario - ensuring a resolution can be achieved without an agent's intervention being needed for non-sensitive queries.
Following on from the above point, few things will frustrate a customer more than content or documentation that is incomplete, inaccurate, or out of date. A robust process should be maintained to regularly review all customer-facing content and refresh it, where necessary.
As we have considered in earlier posts, an effective contact centre operation depends on agents who are healthy, motivated, and properly supported in their work. This approach should be extended to customers, with measures in place to not only identify the most vulnerable customers, but to ensure they are properly supported throughout every interaction. Professional bodies like the CCA run regular workshops on this, and we will also be returning to the topic in future posts.
All these elements are very much journey rather than a destination, and must become part of the contact centre's culture if they are to prove effective in the long run, but once they are in place, the whole operation will be well-placed to meet customers' immediate expectations, while maintaining the flexibility to scale and adapt systems and processes to offer a safe hand, no matter how the economy shifts in the years ahead.
Do not hesitate to contact our team to explore how to effectively economy-proof your own contact centre and ensure your customers continue to receive the support they require, throughout every interaction, across every channel.