Contact centers are often said to be on the front lines of delivering satisfying customer experiences. They fight a well-planned battle every day to provide low queue times, high first contact resolution rates, accurate responses, and engaging interactions guided by high quality agents.
Because they are on the front lines, contact centers are often challenged with flexibly adjusting to short-term changes in business or operational conditions. For example, they may need to plan to support marketing promotions that will drive an unknown number of additional contacts or react to the aftermath of an ice storm that not only caused a staffing shortage but on top of that delayed delivery timelines.
Contact centers have become very adept at handling these types of short-term disruptions. It's the nature of the business. And modern contact centers have more tools available than ever to help them adjust, including workforce management software that's capable of quick and effective intraday adjustments, and a new cadre of at-home agents who don't have to brave icy roads in order to help customers.
But it's not just short-term issues that have contact centers in perpetual adjustment mode. They have also had to adapt to changing consumer preferences. More and more consumers are demanding digital support and omnichannel experiences, forcing contact centers to evolve their service models. For example, Salesforce found that digital channels like messaging apps and text messaging (SMS) are steadily gaining ground as preferred interaction methods.
Figure 1 Source : Salesforce
And then there was 2020. The pandemic brought business resiliency out of the disaster recovery documents and into real life. Some organizations adapted well, while others struggled. This crisis taught us all the importance of being prepared for anything. Although organizations can't predict every crisis, they can have good plans, processes, and technical tools in place to enable agility in the face of whatever disruption comes their way.
What should your contact center do in order to be prepared for anything? Focusing on the following four areas will have you well on the way to adapting and thriving in the face of disruptions both large and small.
Focus Area 1: Getting Ahead of Crises by Managing Problems
Contact centers are typically really good at solving individual incidents. A competent agent with solid problem-solving skills can spend all day knocking down one incident after another. It's what agents do.
But it isn't enough for contact centers to perpetually react to individual incidents. Instead, they need to be able to look at a collection of related incidents and trace them back to a common problem. Further, they need to be able to identify root causes of problems and either fix them or recommend solutions to the teams that can resolve the issues.
The Pareto Principle often applies to contact drivers. That is, 80% of volume is caused by 20% of contact types. By focusing on identifying and resolving these 20% as well as emerging problems, contact centers can shift from being reactive to proactive. A proactive approach not only enables timely issue resolution, but it will reduce volume, preserve the customer experience, and prevent a problem from developing into a full-blown crisis.
Becoming a proactive contact center that's prepared for anything requires technical tools that alert leaders to issues, help them manage customer impact, and provide the information needed for rapid problem solving. This technology includes the following.
- Interaction analytics. Interaction analytics uses artificial intelligence (AI) to comb through and analyze all contacts from all channels. This allows interaction analytics software to categorize every contact, making it easier to identify problems and quantity the impact relative to historical data. Additionally, real-time reporting alerts leaders to emerging trends, allowing them to quickly quash new problems.
- Sophisticated automatic call distributors (ACDs). Contact centers with the best ACDs can use them as tools to help impacted customers. For example, customers affected by the issue can be routed to a team of agents specially trained to address the problem. This type of intelligent routing can help improve customer experience and minimize the impact to the rest of the contact center.
- Outbound dialers or interactive voice response (IVRs) systems. Proactive contact centers don't wait for impacted customers to contact them; they reach out to their customers first in the channel each customer prefers. Once the contact list is developed, dialers and outbound IVRs can push the messages out to inform customers about the issue. Customers will appreciate the proactiveness and this will reduce inbound contacts.
Focus Area 2: Bolstering Agility Through Knowledge Distribution
Being ready for anything means contact centers need to know what to communicate and then have a way to make the information available to agents in the right format at the appropriate time. The old adage "knowledge is power" is particularly true in a crisis. Organizations that can quickly disseminate information or rapidly populate their knowledge bases with current information will have an advantage when it comes to handling disruptions.
Imagine you're a customer affected by a system outage and you seem to know more about the issue than the customer service representative you're talking to. Nothing kills trust quite like a business that doesn't have its act together when trouble shows its face. Additionally, putting agents in a position where they don't have the necessary knowledge to help customers will crush employee morale.
In the not-so-distant past, pushing information out across the organization was a cumbersome process fraught with bureaucracy and inconsistent results. Red tape and lack of effective tools made it likely that the information would be stale and not reach everyone that needed to know.
Those days are gone, thanks largely to modern technology. Below are examples of how current technology can facilitate timely knowledge sharing.
- Knowledge bases. Contact centers often use knowledge bases to support their agents and provide answers to customers trying to self-serve in channels like IVRs, bots, and mobile apps. To get the most from their knowledge bases, organizations should decentralize the population of articles, write in language customers use, and tie knowledge to cases. Knowledge bases should be integrated with contact center software for maximum effectiveness.
- Call recordings. Call recordings are a gold mine of information about emerging issues. They can inform contact centers about what needs to be added to the knowledge base or otherwise disseminated to agents, as well as how to phrase the information. As mentioned above, using terminology that customers use is a best practice. Monitoring call recordings will help contact centers produce solutions their customers can understand.
- Screen pops. For timely, context-driven knowledge, contact centers can provide relevant information about individual customers in screen pops. This helps ensure agents don't overlook knowledge that can help them resolve issues. For example, the customer screen could flag them as being impacted by an ongoing issue or it could contain the URL of the website page they were on when they initiated a chat session.
Having an effective process and tools in place to quickly share knowledge is essential if contact centers want to be agile during disruptions. Good knowledge management practices can yield the following benefits:
- Shortened time to proficiency. If a crisis causes volume to spike for a prolonged period of time, contact centers may need to supplement their staff with temporary agents or by contracting with a BPO. Good knowledge management processes and tools can shorten the learning curve for these new resources.
- Enhanced agent experience. By putting all relevant knowledge at agents' fingertips, contact centers empower them to be more effective at problem resolution. This will make agents more confident and enable them to be successful at their jobs.
- Increased first call resolution. Agents who are more effective at problem solving will also have higher first call resolution (FCR) rates. A recent Microsoft study showed just how important this is for CX - consumers ranked as the most important aspect of a good customer service experience. Equally important, high FCR means customers won't have to contact the organization multiple times, which can provide relief for strained queues.
Focus Area 3: Intelligence and Analytics
Contact centers are rich with data. Every system from the ACD to CRM to quality management generates data that is useful individually and can bolster operational performance when combined and transformed into actionable information.
In the past, data was often difficult to access. It may have required vendor or IT support to change a simple report or build a new data feed. And combining data from separate systems was a manual process that could take all day and required above average spreadsheet skills. When time is of the essence, such as the start of a crisis, this level of data inflexibility does not provide the agility necessary to rapidly diagnose a problem and develop a response.
Fortunately, modern technology has eliminated the need for contact centers to rely on such outdated practices. Data storage is cheap, computing power is plentiful, and advanced analytics software makes even the most complex data analysis available to end-users.
Interaction analytics tools, as previously discussed, can analyze all of your contacts from every channel. It uses natural language processing, a form of artificial intelligence, to read and interpret voice and written interactions. This allows it to zero in on common keywords and determine customer sentiment.
These abilities mean interaction analytics tools can perform the following highly useful functions:
- Quality monitoring. Because it can analyze 100% of contacts, interaction analytics can provide a much more representative view of quality than traditional sampling processes. This is fairer to agents and facilitates better decision making.
- Contact categorization. Knowing what's driving contacts allows leaders to quickly spot new problems. Additionally, the trending information analytics tools provide let contact centers know if changes they have implemented are effective.
- Customer sentiment. How are customers feeling about your crisis response? Are they angry? Frustrated? Grateful? Relieved? Interaction analytics can answer this question by determining customer sentiment. You'll know, overall, how customers feel and you can drill down to find individual customers who may need special attention.
As useful as analytics tools are, it's only one of aspect of data-driven management. Contact centers also need to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that they can track and manage to. KPIs are closely tied to organizational objectives and inform leaders how the contact center is performing in support of those objectives.
KPIs are elevated metrics. A contact center may monitor numerous metrics to keep operations on track, but only a handful should be elevated to KPI status. When deciding which metrics should become KPIs, contact centers should ask questions like the following:
- Does this metric directly support our organization’s mission and guiding principles?
- What impact does this metric have on our mission, taken to its logical extremes?
- Who is the audience for this metric? What are they expected to do with the information?
- What decisions will be made based on this measurement?
KPIs might be altered during disruptions to bring executive focus to crisis-driven metrics. For example, KPIs might be temporarily expanded to include volume of certain call types or average queue times, both measurements executives might not typically monitor.
Focus Area 4: Crafting Your Response to a Crisis
Contact centers will be more successful in responding to a disruptive event if they have plans in place beforehand rather than making it up on the fly. In fact, an ICMI study found that 96% of organizations that had crisis communications plans when the pandemic hit felt like they were at least somewhat effective. Only 73% of those without plans in place felt effective.
Granted, it's difficult to predict every possible crisis, but you can at least brainstorm to identify the most likely ones. They could include power outages, weather events that affect your contact center or your customers, promotions or media events that drive up volume, website outages, and, yes, global pandemics. Consider your industry and geographic location when developing the list of possible disruptions.
Once you have this list, you can develop your contingency plans. Think about what tools you'll use to respond. For example, could you scale up or add resources to support channels you would expect customer will use more in crisis? Expand or adjust a voice or chat bot to give impacted customers more support options? Also think through agent staffing. Do you have at-home agents that can log-in when a blizzard hits? Or maybe you'll have a BPO waiting in the wings who can supplement your capacity.
Developing communications plans in advance is also critical to crisis management success. You should think through and document:
- Who will be notified of a problem?
- How will they be notified?
- When will they be notified?
- What will you tell them?
Summing it up
Effectively weathering storms (both the literal, as well as the figurative kind) requires contact centers to have the right processes, technology, and plans in place, all designed to enable maximum agility. Organizations need to be able to quickly identify problems and determine the root causes. Good knowledge management practices will ensure agents and customers have the information needed for issue resolution. Analytics and having the right KPIs will ensure decisions are data-driven. And having business continuity and crisis communication plans in place will ensure contact centers are prepared for anything.
For more information about preparing for disruptions, download our toolkit Ahead of the Curve: Building Agility, Proactivity, and Intelligence into Contact Center Operations. You can also hear what industry experts say about contact center agility by watching our on-demand webinar, Ready for Anything: How Proactive Contact Centers Stay Ahead of the Curve (https://www.brighttalk.com/webcast/15907/459966/ready-for-anything-how-proactive-contact-centers-stay-ahead-of-the-curve).