Driven primarily by the impact of the pandemic, 2020 has been a year of dramatic change in the way contact centres are run. We’ve seen the kind of evolution that you might expect to happen gradually over 5 years compressed into 5 months, as companies were forced to embrace remote working for the majority of their employees overnight.

The positive news is that 2021 is unlikely to be a year of such radical disruption. But we will see businesses coming to terms with turning interim remote working tools into longer-term solutions that will support a new form of ‘business as usual’. This will mean moving from the initial patchwork of methods used to deliver home working to a more solid, enterprise-level and cloud-based strategy that fills in any gaps and enables expansion. At the same time, organisations will need to meet the changing needs of both customers and agents moving forward.

Here are some of the main trends we can expect to see over the course of the year:

1. Mental health and well-being will become a priority

Working remotely can take its toll on the wellbeing of agents as they are away from the face-to-face support of colleagues and supervisors. The situation is made worse because callers are often more demanding and assertive as they try to deal with their own pressures from the pandemic.

All this means that supporting the mental health of agents is likely to be a major priority next year. Technologies such as real-time speech analytics can help by tracking and measuring the emotion in agent-customer interactions and allowing supervisors to better understand stress levels and intervene where necessary.

Of course, mental health is about much more than technology and companies will have to review and adapt their working culture and processes to ensure they can support a fully remote or hybrid remote working model.

2. Security and compliance will need to be reviewed and reinforced

With most people working from home, maintaining data security and compliance becomes much more difficult and we’ll see a bigger focus on getting this right in 2021.

Security is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, and hackers and fraudsters often see inexperienced homeworkers as a prime target.  Agents need to aware of the dangers and to ensure security is as tight in their homeworking set up as when they are in the office.

Businesses must reiterate that the same processes around confidentiality and security must be followed by remote workers for instance. And staff will need to be even more vigilant about protecting access to their devices and ensuring password security if they are working from home.

Additional rules should be established to protect the privacy of both personal information of customers and the agents themselves, such as making sure that customer calls cannot be overheard and that agents switch their cameras off when talking to consumers.

3. Cloud technologies will be cemented into the contact centre

The sudden acceleration of remote working due to the pandemic has forced contact centres to embrace the cloud. However, lots of these enforced interim solutions either didn’t cover every part of the functionality required or had to be manually stitched together – which impacted productivity and agility.

Now there’s a need to plan for the longer-term which not only includes ensuring that more complete cloud solutions are in place, but also implementing the concept of the connected enterprise – where experts and specialists in IT, service and social media, to name just three examples, can be added to a customer conversation when required.

One trend we can expect to see is increased uptake of cloud-based back-office collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams in the contact centre. There are advanced solutions from contact centre technology vendors that now integrate closely with Teams and enable businesses to take (and route) calls seamlessly, record interactions, monitor for quality and performance and scale to meet changing needs.

Integrating the contact centre into Teams, for example, can allow front office agents to handle calls more effectively, by seamlessly engaging with back (or middle) office experts who often have the information required to help customers with complex or specialist queries.

4. Video will become even more pervasive

In 2021 we’re very likely to see further growth in video within contact centres. Video will play a central part in in a wide variety of applications from collaboration, remote team meetings and staff training to social group video calls for supporting staff well-being and team bonding.

Expect to also see greater use of video calls with customers as this supports more engaging interactions. It is particularly helpful for demonstrations and ‘how-to’ explanations such as when an agent in a retailer needs to demonstrate the benefits of a particular product or a field engineer needs to explain how to complete a minor repair or reboot, for example.

Explainer videos for frequently asked questions are also increasingly being posted on company websites or social media platforms to help reduce incoming calls to technical specialists.

5. Voice of the Customer will become a default strategy

Organisations have always recognised the important role that the Voice of the Customer can play in creating a customer-centric business that is continually improving to meet customer needs. The pandemic has made VoC even more important in driving quality customer experiences and it is sure to play an even bigger role in 2021.

The key is to ensure you are collecting VoC data from multiple channels and using the insights to understand changing customer needs – and use that to adapt how you operate and innovate. You must be agile in changing times to better meet customer requirements.

Overall, we all hope that 2021 will be less traumatic than 2020. Key to success is for businesses to take stock of all the changes that have happened and focus on ensuring that any short-term solutions put in place due to the pandemic are fit-for-purpose for the long term, both for customers and agents. Only then will they be able to deliver the high-quality, innovative experiences and levels of service that consumers demand moving forward.

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