4 Essential Contact Center Improvements In A Year of Uncertainty

4 Essential Contact Center Improvements In A Year of Uncertainty

2020 has been anything but business as usual. With organizations around the world experiencing the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic, your business plans for 2020 are likely much different today than they were in January. Uncertainty is everywhere, and the changing global landscape makes it even harder to predict business performance.

But, regardless of the economic uncertainty, businesses of every size and industry need a strategic plan through 2021. And even amid the uncertainty, there are some strategies you can implement with contact center software to prepare for the future in these quickly-changing times.

Businesses thrive in uncertainty when they make intentional, practical shifts to put the customer first and position their contact center to thrive. You may not be able to control what’s happening in the world around us and in our economy — but you are able to control how your business responds, how your contact center adapts and how you care for your customers.

Despite threats of recession and economic slowdowns, now is the time to invest aggressively in your business. It’s not necessarily about spending more money, either. With the right processes and technology, you can do more with less. If you want to beat the middle of the pack and become a best-in-class performer in your industry, make the right investments now.

According to Aberdeen, businesses dedicated to best-in-class performance increased customer satisfaction by 7X and reduced costs by 16%. Those are tremendous results. And when you need to justify your budget at every turn, investing — even in an uncertain environment — can reap dividends for years to come.

Four call center strategies for success amid uncertainty

If you’re tasked with achieving more results with fewer resources, optimizing your contact center can deliver far-reaching results, having a streamlined ripple effect across your organization. SMBs and enterprises alike can overhaul their ROI with 4 approaches.

1. Optimize the customer experience

Customers are the lifeblood of your business, and delivering an ideal customer experience begins with optimizing your contact center. Customer experience has always been king, and during uncertain times, it’s even more important. Businesses can’t risk disappointing customers by delivering a poor experience.

Just like you, your customers are facing a lot of unpredictability right now too. And your organization will stand out when you engage customers with a great call center experience, giving them help when they need it most.Three reasons to focus on CX

  1. Brands don’t set out to create a bad customer experience, of course. But even if you think your CX is up to par, there are likely multiple points of friction. When you prioritize the customer experience, especially during uncertain times, you’ll enjoy benefits like:

    • Processing more inbound requests: In our case study with Swedish Rail, engagement grew by 25% and the contact center processed 35% more messages with the same resources.
    • Lowering costs
    • Offering a more unified customer experience.

    In 2020, a strong CX looks like steering your customers to digital-first options, like chat, email and social media. Customers expect brands to meet them where they are. This omnichannel approach helps you manage CX holistically, tracking the customer journey across platforms to give a better experience.

    Optimizing CX within your call center

    Social media and digital-first consumer behaviors have flipped decades of phone call-first best practices on their head. Your contact center has to go all-in on digital customer experience to cope with today’s uncertainty.

    We’re seeing big changes in what customers expect from their experience as a result of:

    • Consumer culture: Depending on your customers’ age group and demographics, they have their own expectations and technology norms.
    • Technology itself: Increased mobility and connectivity has created a “right now” culture that makes it more challenging to fulfill customer requests.

    Customers shop, talk and engage from anywhere and on any device — and so your contact center has big shoes to fill. You’re obligated to handle more inquiries from an increasing number of channels. Coupled with customers’ strong opinions and needs, this is no easy task for your contact center.

    It’s impossible for you to know thousands of customers personally, but that’s exactly what customers expect. How can you win?

    While you’re likely still using channels like IVR and ACD, the new customer journey is about going digital. To get your contact center up to speed, that means:

    • Utilizing omnichannel resources: Unite all engagement platforms with streamlined contact center software.
    • Giving customers a choice. There are so many digital channels available to your customers. Whether it’s SMS, web, chat, or social media, give your customers the freedom to choose.
    • Having fun with the medium. Did you know that fun additions like GIFs can increase email clicks by 26%? Lean into video, GIFs and other media to increase customer engagement while humanizing the contact experience.

    Digital-first CX enables much more than simple conversations. That increases the complexity of your customer journey, but with a fully-optimized contact center, your business can manage these initiatives at scale. Decrease uncertainty by optimizing how you connect with customers — when they know they can rely on your company, they’ll reward your brand with their loyalty.

2. Invest in the right technology

Customer experience should always be at the forefront of your call center improvements. However, businesses can only go so far without the proper tools. In today’s world, voice representatives are still important. But in 2020 and beyond, businesses have to deliver faster replies with less effort to stay profitable.

Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need a bigger budget to take your contact center to the cloud. Embracing AI and switching to the cloud are two improvements that will bolster your business through a season of uncertainty.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

With machine learning, your communications systems are able to learn and adapt using data. Artificial intelligence, or AI, utilizes data and integrates systems to execute tasks without human intervention.

While AI and machine learning were once a faraway dream for businesses, today’s AI tools are easy to implement to strengthen your contact center’s approach. Customers have more than warmed up to conversational AI. Using this in your contact center can completely overhaul the communication experience, both on the customer and the representative sides.

Furthermore, it exponentially empowers your agents to reach more customers in less time. By allowing AI to tackle some of the initial aspects of the customer experience (think information gathering, grasping the customer’s concern or challenge, etc.), agents are free to tackle higher-level elements in your contact center.

NICE inContact partnered with Forrester to see how call centers prioritized AI. 49% use AI because they want to be more efficient, but customer expectations (48%) and fears about competitor innovation (42%) weren’t far behind.

You can use AI in so many ways for your call center, including:

  • Workforce management: Avoid the worry of over-staffing (or under-staffing) your call center. Sophisticated WFM software uses AI to automatically schedule skilled agents when you need them most.
  • Forecasting: The software will analyze your historical contact volumes to predict future contact volumes across all channels. The better options address seasonality and trends, making this process faster and more accurate.
  • AI chatbots: 44% of customers say they want live chat while shopping online. But if you’re processing thousands of purchases a day, how can you keep up? AI chatbots can reduce overall customer handling time and hold times. Plus, it can give live agents more context on a customer’s needs if they need to step in.
  • Customize agent routing. Traditionally, call centers didn’t care how they matched agents with customers. However, AI technology gives you the power to pair customers with the right agent, based on multiple factors. Whether it’s a customers’ purchase history, current mood, or past behavior, you can pair them with the agent best suited to their needs. If you want the best, most productive conversation possible, use AI technology to reduce transfers and hold times, boosting customer satisfaction in the process.

AI tools aren’t difficult to implement in 2020. In a world full of uncertainty, you can give both your agents and your customers more context and speedier communication with artificial intelligence. Yes, sometimes less is more. Take an expansive view of AI to continue optimizing the customer journey with an assist from the proper technology.

Moving to the cloud

Are you still using outdated systems that don’t integrate with each other? If so, your agents can’t deliver the experience your customers expect. In 2020, it’s time to get your contact center software on the cloud.

The cloud gives your entire fleet of agents live, on-demand access to customer data, KPIs, workforce management and much more. The cloud is the key to accessing more advanced communication channels, like social media, that your customers crave.

You need 100% of your omnichannel agents equipped with cloud solutions to handle inquiries at scale. When you move to the cloud, your organization will have the tools to be able to:

  • Reduce operational expenses.
  • Take on more flexible call volumes.
  • Reduce your agents’ reliance on IT at the contact center.
  • Increase uptime.
  • Enhance compliance.
  • Iterate more quickly.

Best-in-class businesses are 13% more likely to use the cloud. But how do you make the switch for your own business?

Fortunately, the fix is simple. NICE inContact specializes in moving contact centers to the cloud. CXone is specifically designed to engineer your entire process, including routing and analytics, for the cloud

3. Customize your approach

  1. Uncertainty can get the best of any business, of any size and in any industry. You can’t apply another business’s playbook for 2020, verbatim, to your own business. Instead, you have to take a customized approach based on your business goals, customers, and processes.

    Every business has strengths and weaknesses. Performance results will ultimately determine how your business will work in the “new normal.” Know whether you’re a growing, static, or shrinking enterprise to plan for the future accordingly.

    Growing enterprises

    Growing businesses are actively increasing agent headcount and other resources. They want to use their resources more effectively to power growth — and the faster, the better.

    If your business is spending more money and hiring more employees, you’ll benefit from a framework that fits your goals.

    Growing businesses from improvements like:

    • AI and machine learning: These tools empower your contact center agents with real-time decision making skills, thanks to automatically-populated fields and context. Chatbots and voice authentication are popular use cases for this technology, as well as more advanced options like RPA and auto-categorization.
    • Chatbots: You’re scaling your workforce right now. You might not have enough agents to handle all customer inquiries. As you grow your workforce, use chatbots to boost customer satisfaction while optimizing agents’ time.
    • 100% monitoring: If you want to grow, you need to understand your customer pain points. At this stage, it’s critical to record and learn from all of your customer interactions. Your business can use this monitoring to plan its growth.
    • Predictive analytics: You’re collecting data, so put it to good use. Growing businesses focus on proactive customer interactions and give more context to each customer touchpoint.

    Growing enterprises can look forward to quick wins and iteration on a very fast timetable. Take on a customized approach to your contact center that empowers your organization for fast growth.

    Static enterprises

    Not every organization is in the position to invest time and money into growth. Static enterprises want to get more results and a stronger ROI at the same level of resources. These businesses want to continue to grow profitability without increasing their budget.

    In this situation, your organization might benefit more from:

    • Segmenting customer interactions: You can’t look at every customer touchpoint, especially as you grow. Instead, segment your customer interactions and analyze the ones that are most meaningful to your brand. Maybe that means retaining customers above a certain LTV or speeding up the first-time buyer experience.
    • Migrate lower-value customers: Lower-value customers eat into a business’s ROI when they use high-investment channels, like voice calls. If possible, migrate these customers to digital-first strategies. An online FAQ, email, or chatbot gives customers the help they need while preserving agent resources.
    • Coaching agents: You’re making do with the same level of resources, so you can’t afford to hire new agents. Instead, increase the value and skills of the agents you currently have. Give productive, results-focused coaching to your team of agents on a regular basis.

    In an uncertain world, many businesses aren’t comfortable investing more in growth, and we understand that. Fortunately, you can still make the best of an uncertain situation as a static enterprise with the right investments.

    Shrinking enterprises

    The third type of business is a shrinking enterprise. Your organization may fall into this category if you’re decreasing headcounts, narrowing your budget and down-scaling other resources at your contact center.

    This isn’t necessarily about cost savings, but learning how to do more with fewer resources. Shrinking organizations have a huge task ahead of them: while it’s possible to do more with less, they have to go all-in on digital to see results.

    This means customizing your approach to:

    • Find customer pain points: Check your website analytics to see what common keywords or questions customers type into your site. You can proactively address these issues with website content, a chatbot, or with different live agent workflows.
    • Use workforce management: Your workforce is shrinking, and that means there’s a razor-thin margin of error when it comes to staffing. Your business should invest in WFM software that uses AI to auto-schedule agents in the most cost-effective way without sacrificing customer satisfaction.
    • Offer customer self-service: Offer a complete, end-to-end self-service portal online to minimize your agents’ workload. FAQs, setup wizards, and other self-service options make the most of your limited personnel resources.
    • Switch to the cloud: It’s nearly impossible to do more with less if you don’t have the right technology. Shrinking businesses have to invest in cloud tech like CXone that get ROI. According to Forrester, businesses saw a 323% average annual ROI on CXone, which made it a valuable part of their revenue growth strategy.

    It may not be easy doing more with less, but it’s possible. And with the right contact center software like NICE inContact, there’s much potential no matter your organization’s size. Regardless of where your company is today, remember that you should customize your approach. Uncertainty is scary for any business, but a personalized approach will put you far ahead of the competition in 2020 and beyond.

4. Track your KPIs

Pre-pandemic, you likely had revenue and productivity goals for your business. But in the “new normal,” it’s more challenging to understand which metrics are most useful, and which goals are attainable.

KPIs, or key performance indicators, are important measures of your contact center’s performance. You can use this essential data to make decisions about your people, processes and technology. In uncertain times, KPIs act as an anchor for not only your leadership team, but every contact center and agent in your business.

Without KPIs, it’s impossible to make educated decisions about the future of your business. KPIs tell important stories about your contact center agents’ performance today and what you can do going forward. KPIs are important not only from a revenue and performance standpoint, but also your brand image and reputation as a whole.

Instead of flying blind, choose the best path possible by tracking your data.

But we know this is easier said than done. Businesses often struggle with choosing the right KPIs, tracking those KPIs, and making educated decisions based on their data.

Selecting your KPIs

The first step to using KPIs effectively is selecting KPIs that mean something to your business. While your competitors might track a certain set of KPIs, that doesn’t mean your business should choose those exact metrics.

Select your KPIs based on:

  1. Customers: Who does your contact center help? What do your customers need? Why are they calling? What’s the value per engagement?
  2. Company mission: What’s your corporate mission? Are you acting on that mission statement at your contact center? How do you use this mission in your decision making? How does this mission come to life in your customer experience?
  3. Business details: Industry regulations, your business’s size, and growth history all factor into KPIs as well. You’ll need to track different KPIs if you’re seeking an outside partner or investor, too.

KPIs stick when they reflect your overall mission and strategy. If there is dissonance between what your organization stands for and the KPIs you’re chasing, your data won’t match your efforts.

Many contact centers track metrics like:

  • Average handle time
  • Utilization and adherence
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Customer churn
  • Agent retention rate
  • Calls transferred
  • Average hold time
  • Abandoned calls
  • Calls per agent per hour
  • Cost per call

KPIs should change based on your business. For example, if you’re a low-cost provider, you might track revenue-based metrics like cost per call or calls per agent per hour. As a high-end provider, you might focus on average queue time or transfers.

Benchmarking your KPIs

However, it’s not enough to choose your KPIs. Best-in-class contact centers benchmark their KPIs, too.

When you benchmark your data, you give context to each KPI that helps you determine how you performed and what you could do to improve performance going forward.

There are three ways to benchmark your KPIs, depending on your goals. Most contact centers blend several benchmarking approaches to get the most out of their data. You might benchmark against:

  1. Your own performance over time: In this situation, you would compare KPIs against yourself. For example, you would analyze this month’s number of transfers against last month’s number of transfers, using your own internal data.
  2. Internal targets: These are arbitrary ranges that people often bring from their jobs at previous call centers. You can also find these targets in industry publications. They aren’t always helpful, but they’re good if you’re just starting out and want to know if your KPIs are in an acceptable range.
  3. Competitive or peer benchmarking: Compare your performance against that of your competitors (or peers, if you’re a nonprofit or a government organization). You should always use competitive KPIs to benchmark your own performance.

Start benchmarking and find your gaps. Where is your contact center falling short? Which numbers are trending downward?

After identifying the gap, figure out the precise problem and make a plan to improve it. Benchmarking is an ongoing process that requires measuring and evaluating your KPIs over time. That’s the key to thriving through uncertainty beyond 2020.

Remember, your decisions are only as good as your data. Make sure you’re following clean data practices and pulling the numbers correctly. Everyone should know the math behind your metrics and why those metrics matter.

Prepare for uncertainty right now

Best-in-class businesses modernize their contact centers. Your competitors are likely investing in customer experience right now, especially in response to the pandemic.

Switching to the cloud is the key to modernization and growing with the times. Identify efficiencies, improve the customer experience, and reduce costs with a smart strategy designed to win, even in uncertain times.

Learn more about how you can use certain cost levers to achieve your goals faster. Explore more can’t-miss investments in your contact center with the NICE inContact “Planning For Uncertain Times” webinar series. Download your free guide and access our webinar series, plus bonus resources, to get ahead of the curve — no matter what the future holds.