We are all contact centre agents now

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Here's why that's a good thing…

"In the new contact centre, we're no longer reliant on hunt groups, and can onboard new services and new desks very easily, which has allowed for a much higher level of agility in terms of how we connect and collaborate with our colleagues and partners. We've also got a much higher level of control, so we don't need to go through our IT teams to make changes or updates when we need to, and can constantly refine our call flows."

Stacey Whyte, NHS Digital

Mention the contact centre, and most of us will immediately have a clear image in our heads of what such environments look like - typically a dedicated office space, where rows of staff answer customer communications by telephone. However, over the past few years, that image has become very much a thing of the past. With more and more organisations adopting a hybrid working model, and effective omnichannel communication now expected by many customers, the contact centre environment - its people processes, and technology - has been fundamentally transformed.

But in spite of the changes we've already seen, and the way they've transformed many organisations' customer contact strategies, the journey is far from over. It's time to redefine the role of customer contact software within the wider IT infrastructure, in order to bring it in line with the more flexible, more dynamic way in which future-minded organisations engage with their customers, manage workflows, and optimise productivity.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Exponential-e have supported numerous organisations in putting this into practice, and continue to develop our own contact centre solutions to ensure they support not just customer-facing staff, but also back-office staff, allowing them to assign, manage, and track tasks more effectively, and so - in turn - improve their customer outcomes.

By updating their IVR, NHS Digital reduced the number of customers mistakenly contacting their IT helpdesk by 45%

Indeed, we have been inspired by the level of creativity with which our customers have utilised our platform to not only support the move towards hybrid working, but also develop a more holistic, collaborative approach to customer contact.

Let's consider these lessons and how organisations at all levels, in all sectors, can best apply them… 

18 months since lockdown… What has been learned?

Throughout the course of COVID-19, the concept of a fully centralised call centre has become outdated, with 75% of call centres having fully embraced remote working1, in order to ensure their agents can continue supporting customers while still adhering to social distancing requirements. This could not have been achieved without the successful deployment of the right contact centre software.

Such software platforms have not only allowed agents to securely connect to corporate networks from anywhere, in order to access their critical applications, but access all relevant customer information through a single pane of glass at the point of contact, regardless of the customer's preferred channel of communication. With these tools in place, customers are free to make contact in whichever way they prefer (phone, video, audio, email, chat, etc.), safe in the knowledge that they will be put in touch with the most appropriate agent, who will have all the salient information at their fingertips and be able to engage directly with any internal SMEs whose expertise is required. This has allowed organisations to not only maintain 'business as usual' when it comes to customer satisfaction, but also provide their teams with a transformative model for making first-contact resolutions the norm.

So, 18 months since the first lockdown, how can the lessons learned inform organisations' wider customer contact strategies in the months ahead?

An updated IVR lowered calls to NHS Digital from citizens looking to speak to other NHS departments by 30%, while simultaneously providing them with the correct points of contact.

A new vision of the contact centre: collaboration, communication, and customer satisfaction

The kind of technology that has established itself as essential in the contact centre would previously have been regarded as tool costly to implement in many cases, but the rapid uptake in Cloud transformation has changed this, making these solutions not only accessible, but highly desirable to organisations at all levels.

Beyond helping optimise customer satisfaction, these solutions have enabled a more streamlined, more effective style of collaboration between geographically dispersed teams, making more effective use of the expanding volume of customer data that is generated each day to enhance service delivery and identify new opportunities for cost savings, and allowing all tasks to be automatically allocated, managed, and tracked. In light of these shifts, the concept of 'contact centre software' itself has become misleading, as these platforms are no longer purely for public-facing staff whose primary role involves receiving calls.

As we touched on above, these platforms have already helped teams within numerous companies develop new ways of working together in order to efficiently resolve customers' queries or complaints (including making contact directly, when necessary) while managers enjoy a high-level view of the customer journey and the performance of their teams. In this way, teams across organisations - including those in primarily technical roles – have found themselves playing a more active part in achieving their employers' customer satisfaction goals, with the software ensuring their expertise is utilised as intelligently as possible. 

"We all expect things to be easy nowadays, and the contact centre should reflect that. No-one should be kept on hold, only to find that they've been connected to the wrong person. Technology allows for much smoother call flows, where we're able to put processes in place to ensure all callers are directed to the right place – whether it's an advisor, specialist, or an online tool – and constantly refine this journey by taking a deep dive into the analytics. Our advisors are less stressed and able to consistently deliver the outcomes we want, while callers enjoy a smoother, less stressful experience. It's just better for everyone."

Stacey Whyte, NHS Digital

Is it time to transform your own contact centre operation?

Consider the following questions:

  • Do you operate hunt groups (i.e., a system that automatically distributes calls between members of a designated group via a single phone number)?
  • Is 24/7 availability expected by your customers, even if your switchboard has clearly designated working hours?
  • Do customer queries and complaints frequently need to be distributed across multiple groups to be satisfactorily resolved?
  • Is the data generated during any customer interaction automatically consolidated, securely stored, and kept readily accessible to agents and SMEs?
  • Do you have full visibility of your staff's daily performance and workflows?
  • Do you have a process for ensuring someone is available to pick up tasks if the designated person responsible for them is unavailable?
  • Do you require better understanding of contact patterns, in order to identify any potential areas for improvement?
  • To what extent are tasks (including outbound interactions) automatically scheduled and assigned to the most appropriate team member?

If you answered 'yes' to any or all of these, you should seriously consider implementing Exponential-e's own contact centre solutions within your own IT infrastructure, in order to take full advantage of the numerous possibilities for intelligent automation, process optimisation, service delivery, and cost control. Taken as a whole, all this will support a truly cutting-edge customer contact strategy - with customer-facing and non-customer-facing staff combining their skills and experience to make effective communication with customers and a culture of ongoing improvement an intrinsic part of your day-to-day operations.

And at the end of the day, it's the customers who will benefit most!

1 ContactBabel, 2021 

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*Calls to 0845 numbers will cost 7p p/m plus your phone company’s access charge.
All inbound and outbound calls may be recorded for training or quality purposes.