2020 was a year of profound change, with the pandemic turbocharging many existing trends such as remote working and the switch to digital channels.
It has fundamentally changed how we work, especially in the customer service industry. And while current lockdowns mean most contact centres remain closed, with staff working from home, now is the time to focus on the future and build the right working environment for the post-lockdown world.
The future of work
Clearly, it is unlikely that everyone will return to working full time in an office. People enjoy the greater flexibility that not having to travel to work provides and the additional free time it should create. Many people have used the opportunity to move outside big cities – London is set to see a drop in its population in 2021 for the first time in 30 years. Those workers won’t want to undertake lengthy commutes, five days a week when offices re-open.
However, humans are social animals and we do need face-to-face contact – and enforced remote working has highlighted gaps in the experience that need to be fixed. For example, the last year has brought:
- Videoconferencing burnout – when concentrating on a screen it is harder to pick up non-verbal clues in a conversation
- New systems to learn and use, often while struggling with poor broadband or inadequate workspaces
- Greater isolation from colleagues without the ability to chat over a coffee or around the watercooler
- A blurring of the lines between home and work that has led many to put in more hours at their job
The rise of hybrid
So the future is likely to be a hybrid model, where people are based at home but come into the office for meetings, collaboration, planning and face-to-face socialising with colleagues. This will also benefit businesses – they will be able to downsize office space and repurpose it to better reflect the needs of staff when they do come in.
Successful hybrid working is about enabling people to do the same tasks, wherever they are based. It relies on four key technology trends to underpin it:
1. The cloud
Those organisations that had invested in cloud-based systems were much better placed to cope when offices closed for the first time in 2020. Employees, such as those in the contact centre, were able to log on and access the same systems and information as when they were in the office, meaning they could be up and running instantly. Others, who relied solely on on-premise solutions were forced to reduce the service they offered (such as shutting particular channels) or hastily cobble together workarounds that gave some access to those working remotely.
Moving into 2021 these temporary fixes are not enough – organisations need to put in place a true cloud backbone to their infrastructure if they are to support hybrid working, with the same features and solutions available to staff wherever they are based.
2. Unified communications
Customer service is now everyone’s job, meaning that front office agents need to be able to work together with their colleagues and subject experts in the middle and back office. While this was true before the pandemic struck, remote working has made deeper collaboration and closer communication vital to business success. Unified communication (UC) tools such as Microsoft Teams, which allow staff to work together closely, communicate through chat, voice or video and share documents provide a platform to recreate the positive side of the office, wherever people are working from.
Effective UC makes location irrelevant and also helps with staff wellbeing, providing some of the camaraderie of the office online, reducing feelings of isolation and delivering greater support.
3. Quality management systems
Many interim solutions implemented in contact centres during lockdown only focused on the basics – ensuring that calls and other interactions could be successfully answered by agents working remotely.
This is not enough for the longer term, hybrid future. Customers still expect the highest levels of service – after nearly a year they are not willing to accept remote working as an excuse for substandard service. That means that businesses need to ensure that they have the cloud-based solutions in place to monitor, manage, support and report on customer service, wherever agents are based.
They require up-to-date visibility of call queues to ensure service levels are met, if necessary by adding more resources. Equally, they need to be able to support agents and to monitor quality through real-time speech analytics (RTSA), with the ability to join a call to support or coach an agent. Finally, ensuring security and compliance is vital – wherever agents are based. Essentially businesses want exactly the same advanced functionality across the hybrid contact centre as in the physical location.
4. Empower the workforce of the future
The rise of channels such as self-service and AI-powered chatbots has transformed the nature of those interactions that reach the contact centre. With more routine queries handled by self-service, agents have to deal with more complex and emotive calls, requiring more time, and different skills. We’ve outlined some of the qualities these super-agents need in this previous blog.
As well as AI, this smaller group of agents will be supported by specialists and experts within the business, and even beyond. For some companies that don’t have the need to employ people with very specific skillsets, they will simply tap into the gig economy and bring them in as and when they need them, integrating them into teams virtually for a set timeframe or assignment. All of these customer service representatives will need the ability to instantly access systems, wherever they are based, logging into cloud-based solutions when required.
The pandemic has accelerated existing trends around the cloud, collaboration and remote working while focusing everyone on the importance of customer service. The world of work has now changed – and the future is hybrid.
To learn how to build the infrastructure for a hybrid contact centre join Enghouse together with Microsoft and Hitachi ABB Power Grids on Wednesday 10th February at 2pm. Our interactive webinar will explain how companies can extend their Microsoft Teams collaboration environment to the contact centre while facilitating secure hybrid working practices and distributed teams. Reserve your place here.