How to Modernize Your Contact Center: 4 Trends Driving Customer Service and Customer Experience in 2021

Kyle Smialek
Vice President, Operations
January 29, 2021

COVID-19 changed just about everything in 2020, and customer service contact centers are no exception. As the “real world” shut down and life shifted online, customers required new and more ways of interacting with businesses that rendered the traditional call center ineffective and obsolete. 

In a dynamic, digital world, a fixed number of phone agents simply isn’t enough.

Why Traditional Contact Centers Must Evolve Beyond Phones And Full-Time Agents

Traditional contact centers are inherently constrained by the number of available stations. Whether an organization uses an internal contact center staffed by a set number of employees or an outsourced model locked into a narrow band of volume, its ability to handle spikes and react to market changes is fundamentally limited.

Prior to COVID-19, that limitation wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t a game-changer. Organizations could rely on relatively predictable patterns, such as the December holiday rush and post-gift follow-ups in January. With reasonably accurate forecasts, they could plan ahead for their staffing needs, a process that typically takes place months before the anticipated spikes.

Not anymore. 

Businesses must now be prepared to shift on a dime, adapting virtually instantly to changing circumstances. 

Every city, state, and country faces its own particular combination of government restrictions and consumer behaviors, and all of those elements can evolve on a daily basis. From surviving through imposed lockdowns to the boom in online shopping, organizations need to be able to react fast to maintain their standards of customer service.

The COVID-Era Contact Center: Digitally Diverse And Business-Critical 

Two interdependent trends define the COVID era of customer service: 

  • The expectation of an always-on, digital customer support experience
  • the importance of that experience to consumers’ buying decisions.

The first trend began pre-COVID and has continued to accelerate. Even in 2019, 78% of customers reported that they preferred to use different channels depending on their context. That number has continued to grow as COVID forced so many interactions online. Now that the vast majority of the purchasing process happens digitally, consumers want to engage with brands via chat, social channels, email, and more. 

Why are consumers migrating to digital customer service offerings? 

In general, the digital customer experience is faster and more convenient. 

90% of consumers rate an immediate response as important or very important when they have a support question, and 82% expect immediate answers to their sales and marketing questions (“immediate” here means 30 minutes or less). 

In addition, a large number of consumers don’t want to talk to anyone at all. 40% prefer self-service options rather than communicating with customer support agents. 

No matter which channel they use to access customer support, however, the experience makes a significant impact on future buying decisions. Consider:

  • 51% of customers would never do business with a company after just one negative experience
  • 93% of consumers are more likely to purchase again from brands with exceptional customer service
  • 59% of consumers care more about customer experience when they decide what company to support or buy from than they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and another 38% care the same as they did pre-COVID (which was already high). 

Given these numbers, “waiting for the next representative” is no longer the cost of doing business: it’s a tremendous cost to the business.

4 Ways To Modernize Your Customer Contact Center In 2021

This brings us back to contact centers. Consumers now demand immediate customer support, on their preferred channel, which is rarely the phone. It’s clear that traditional call centers must evolve into modern, multi-channel contact centers that can adjust on the fly and keep up with today’s always-changing climate. 

What does that look like in practice? A successful modern contact center requires four things:

1. The ability to react quickly. 

It’s impossible to accurately forecast your agent needs in three, six, or twelve months in this dynamic, globally interconnected environment. 

Forecasting models that used to be reliable can no longer be trusted. That means that organizations must find a more flexible option for staffing their contact centers that enables them to react quickly -- in days, not months -- and across multiple channels.

2. Good talent. 

An exceptional customer experience depends on the people who provide it and the processes that support them. One upside of the COVID-19 pandemic is the current availability of high-quality workers. 

Tens of thousands of people are looking for flexible, remote work. Organizations that embrace a remote contact center model can build a strong bench that brings net-new skills into the agent pool.

3. A multi-channel approach. 

It bears repeating: modern consumers demand customer support that spans digital channels. 

The good news? 

Diversifying across the digital landscape benefits businesses as well. Highly skilled workers can span multiple channels at once, providing coverage across any vehicle that a customer may choose. With good talent, you gain the opportunity to create a contact center where agents can answer phones, emails, tweets, Facebook messages, chats, and more, wherever and whenever it’s required.

4. Automation and self-service. 

As mentioned above, a significant contingent of consumers doesn’t want to talk to anyone at all. 

Automation and self-service, often powered by AI, will continue to grow as efficient and often preferred outlets for customer service. Organizations that plan to modernize their contact centers should consider how to combine the best people with the best technology to optimize their customer service capabilities. 

Shiftsmart enables these imperatives and more with instant flex contact centers, powered by the modern workforce. With Shiftsmart, organizations can keep up with today’s rapidly changing circumstances, bring on the highest-quality workers, and ultimately provide a differentiated customer service experience that keeps customers coming back. 

Read the datasheet and visit our resource center to learn more about Flex Contact Centers from Shiftsmart, or get in touch to schedule a custom demo. 

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