Chapter 2: The Top 3 Strategies for Creating Competitive Contact Centers

Successfully connecting with customers and addressing their needs and concerns is essential for creating industry-leading customer experiences. Effective, well-equipped contact center agents are vital to executing a robust CX strategy. Advanced tools using artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and automation enable contact centers to more effectively train and equip agents to excel. This chapter will examine how these tools and technologies can optimize agent time, improve productivity, and help personalize customer interactions. The chapter will also discuss how organizations can benefit from specialized agents.

Changing workforce dynamics impact how contact centers optimize and retain the best talent, making the use of modern contact center tools crucial for optimizing operations. Such tools can prepare employers to engage the next generation of agents. For example, by 2030, 74% of the workforce will be of the millennial generation or younger,8 categorized by higher levels of education, greater diversity, and different work expectations than earlier generations. Another defining trend shaping the modern contact center workforce is the massive shift to a work-from-home status. While many companies are repopulating their offices and contact centers with agents, a Frost & Sullivan survey of 1,129 employers published in 2021 found that 83% expected at least 25% of their workforce to remain remote part- to full-time9 in the coming years. The versatile, scalable nature of new contact center technologies counteracts the challenges of managing remote workers and ensures that agents perform their roles successfully from anywhere.

The versatile, scalable nature of new contact center technologies counteracts the challenges of managing remote workers and ensures that agents perform their roles successfully from anywhere.

Empowering Agents, Improving CX

Contact centers can improve operations and CX through 3 strategies: optimizing how time is spent by both agents and customers, improving how agents are managed and coached, and leveraging subject matter experts (SMEs) and agent specialization.

Optimizing Agent, and Customer, Time

Successful organizations constantly seek ways to shrink average handle time (AHT), increase agent productivity, lower hold times, and improve CX by minimizing unnecessary interactions. One strategy for improving customer contact is ensuring that the business has broad and well- managed avenues to connect with customers. Exhibit 1 illustrates the range of channels through which customers now want to interact with businesses. Advanced contact center tools use omnichannel routing that enables agents to connect seamlessly and coalesce information from different channels into a complete customer profile.

Figure 1: Six Strategic Areas of Workforce Engagement

Organizations can also use technology to make these channels more effective. For example, AI- and ML-based tools can employ natural language processing and learn through their interactions, thereby consistently improving the accuracy of virtual agents.

However, focusing agent time on interactions that need human involvement can begin before the client even reaches out to the contact center. Data analytics- driven contact center solutions can create customer profiles that capture past purchases, service tickets, and interactions conducted across any channel. AI- based tools can learn from these histories and related customer behaviors, delivering a range of benefits: for the customer, advanced tools can anticipate follow- up needs to intelligently route calls and predict the best self-service options; for the agent, advanced tools can create intelligent summaries of a customer’s issues and journey to date, reducing the time needed to track down important information. Automation, guided assistance, extensive knowledge management, and robotic process automation (RPA) combine to limit agents’ data entry, keystrokes, toggles between applications, and information searches. Arming agents with succinct, important information also mitigates the need for the client to repeat their issue with every new interaction. Advanced AI- and ML-driven tools can even suggest a solution to a problem or provide recommendations for an appropriate upgrade or cross-sell.

In the cases where little history is available, smart, feedback-driven routing systems can still automate responses to frequent issues and funnel only more complex or sensitive topics to a human agent. Self-service options can quickly answer simple or common questions, reducing the queue—and hold time—to speak to a live agent for those issues that need more personal intervention.

Data analytics-driven contact center solutions can create customer profiles that capture past purchases, service tickets, and interactions conducted across any channel.

Overcoming Coaching Obstacles through Performance-based Measurements and Intuitive Tools

Companies are realizing that basing productivity primarily on legacy cost metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) can fall short of optimizing business performance. Managing remote employees adds further complexity to overseeing and measuring agent productivity. New productivity metrics are more closely tied to business outcomes and can apply to different workplace scenarios—whether in person, WFH, or hybrid—and include achieving higher first-call/contact resolution (FCR) marks; enhancing retention rates; and improving sales revenues, customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores (NPS).

Workforce management solutions leveraging advanced technologies such as AI and ML can also better track—and learn from—new productivity metrics, pinpointing agent best practices. Advanced desktop analytics, blended with insights gained from speech and text analytics, gives managers in-depth knowledge of agent performance, even in WFH situations where direct supervision can be challenging. Managers can use the insights to create data-driven productivity and process improvements that can be replicated across an organization. For example, managers can measure and quantify the best practices of an agent with high FCR and then use the information to create training or tools to replicate the agent’s success. Analytics can also provide insight into how effectively managers train new agents—notoriously difficult for remote work situations in particular—thereby enabling continued refinement of hiring and training processes.

Along with evolving productivity measurements, successful agents and customer outcomes also stem from good employee coaching. The recent shift to remote work has made it difficult for many contact centers to oversee, manage, and train staff. Frost & Sullivan research finds that training on new processes, tasks, or applications is a leading obstacle facing contact centers. In 2020–2021, the issue of training was second only to COVID-19-related issues.10 More engaging and intuitive tools help companies train workers more quickly and manage them more effectively.

How well an agent can connect with company tools, systems, and data is almost as important as the tools themselves. Cloud-based contact center solutions—especially when combined with data communication services—can provide the same voice quality, system access, security, and data speed, regardless of whether the agent is office-based or remote.

Agent Specialization and SMEs

Today’s demanding customers routinely have issues beyond the abilities of generalists. This development has driven leading contact center organizations to move away from staffing universal agents and focus instead on specialized agents—those who focus on a specific customer category such as frequent fliers—and SMEs. Stratifying agents by products, customer spend levels, or service needs can increase productivity, performance, and CX. In turn, this approach makes agents’ work more varied and interesting. The net result is higher levels of engagement as measured by voice of the employee surveys and dramatically lower attrition. New, advanced contact center solutions enhance this trend through sophisticated routing and analytics that channel the customer needs to the most qualified representative available.

However, increasing agent skills and specializations and adding new channels have made scheduling and forecasting more complex. Remote work complicates this already multifaceted picture, making it even more important that contact centers invest in excellent quality management (QM), consistent and effective coaching, and analytics to uncover issues requiring immediate action. Advanced workforce management tools can also address complexity by forecasting agent availability and creating responsive, automated scheduling. Analytics-driven, automated contact center tools are essential to creating a higher level of service through SMEs and specialized agents.

Optimized employee experience leads to satisfied customers. Every company must be both customer-centric and employee-centric because this directly affects satisfaction, loyalty, and business outcomes. EX + CX helps companies improve vital touchpoints to deliver a more engaging, unified, and desirable experience as needs, behaviors, and trends evolve. Advancements in technology provide opportunities to improve customer experience, drive agent productivity, and offer our workforces the precise tools they need, regardless of location or specialization.

Analytics-driven, automated contact center tools are essential to creating a higher level of service through SMEs and specialized agents.

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