While 2020 forced many rapid cultural, physical, and technological changes within contact centers, a new report released today by Observe.AI finds that many contact center leaders feel resilient and optimistic about the future. The report, titled, “Post-Pandemic Contact Center Report: Understanding the New World of Work,” shows that nearly 64% of leaders see their contact center as a revenue driver, and 85% are optimistic that they will be in the future. With this focus on revenue generation, nearly three quarters (72%) are hiring more this year, while the industry as a whole commits to building resilience by investing in new technologies and processes that place an emphasis on prioritizing and improving agents’ work experiences.
“Rapid transitions, especially on a global scale, raise crucial questions and we wanted to understand: how will contact center leaders keep their agents—their foremost brand representatives and growth drivers—coached, engaged, and motivated to deliver exceptional experiences,” said Swapnil Jain, CEO, Observe.AI. “What we found is a renewed commitment to humanizing the contact center, particularly the agent experience. Leaders who invested heavily in Contact Center AI and workforce engagement experienced tremendous success. Now, looking forward post-pandemic, we see more adoption of hybrid work use cases around collaboration, coaching, measuring performance, and keeping teams connected.”
Observe.AI commissioned Zogby Analytics to conduct an online survey of 251 U.S. contact center business decision-makers across multiple industries including Finance, Retail, Insurance, Collections, Travel and Hospitality, and Healthcare. The size of contact centers represented ranged from 75 to more than 250 people.
Top findings from the report include:
- The Future Of Work Looks Different, But Not As Different As You Might Expect. As of early 2021, 63% of contact centers operate on a hybrid model, while less than one-third (29%) remain fully remote. Once vaccines are widely available, this number of fully remote contact centers will drop to 7% with the vast majority continuing on with a hybrid model. This decline in fully remote workers could be attributed to concerns around security—75% of contact center leaders are still somewhat to very wary of their ability to protect customer data while teams work remotely.
- AI Continues To Rise, But Challenges With Technology Remain. Nearly three quarters (71%) of contact centers already use artificial intelligence (AI) for a variety of applications and are experiencing benefits—more than 90% agree that AI has enhanced their ability to collaborate, 85% say it has created more transparency, and 77% stated it has helped bring down their overall costs. That said, contact centers are not always using it to its full potential. Missing key functionality, such as accurate natural language processing (42%), and requiring too much manual work, such as compiling reports (41%), are considered to be the biggest challenges with existing contact center technologies.
- Agent Experience Is A Key Area of Focus For Enterprises. Nearly half (49%) of surveyed business decision-makers believe that agent experience has a “strong” impact on KPIs and an additional 44% believe that it has at least “somewhat” of an impact. Contact centers are making changes to improve the agent experience. This includes keeping agents more engaged through regular conversations (58%), providing more personalized coaching and support (57%), and automating workflows to improve agent productivity and time management (54%).
- Contact Center Leaders Feel Confident About The Future. 64% of leaders see their contact centers as revenue drivers, and 85% are optimistic that they will be a revenue driver in the future. Nearly nine out of 10 survey respondents say they felt at least somewhat resilient by the end of 2020, and are setting their sights on growth.
- Businesses Are Humanizing The Contact Center: Rather than focusing on automation through Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and chatbots, the majority of contact centers (72%) are hiring, looking to fill roles like agents and quality assurance specialists.
- In 2020, Support Needs Grew Across Every Channel, As Did The Pressure On Agents. More than 80% of contact centers experienced at least “somewhat” of an increase in support requests across multiple channels, most notably phone (78%), email (65%), and website (56%). This increase put pressure on agents, with two-thirds (75%) of leaders noting their agents experienced anxiety throughout 2020. The pandemic also impacted the customer experience with only 34% of leaders feeling that customer satisfaction rates exceeded expectations.
- Technology Will Continue To Make Contact Centers More Adaptable, Particularly In Areas Like Contact Center AI And Agent Engagement. Contact centers are using analytics technology to measure the effectiveness of their quality assurance operations (68%), customer experience (59%), agent performance (55%), and compliance (53%). In addition, as they look to add new technologies, many are considering agent analytics (35%), self-service (32%), speech analytics (31%), and natural language processing (31%).
- Businesses Are Committed to Improving the Agent Experience. Contact centers are adopting workforce engagement, workforce optimization tools, and quality assurance (QA) automation. Currently, 57% of respondents automate their quality assurance technology partially and 36% automate it fully. Looking at 2021, 61% plans to keep it partially automated and partially manual. Beyond QA automation, many respondents also plan to prioritize agent experience (54%), focus on agent coaching (50%), and improve planning and budgeting (31%).