NICE Event Highlights Critical Nature of Contact Centers During Pandemic

While many business operations all over the world shut down to address the COVID-19 pandemic, contact centers found opportunity, Barak Eilam, CEO of NICE, said at his company's Interactions virtual conference Tuesday.

"The entire world changed in March; there were new fears and challenges," Eliam told the virtual audience, estimated at 20,000 people. "At the same time you found new abilities to innovate things that you had never done before. Many long-term myths were shattered."

Additionally, business operations emerging from the pandemic showed that customer service is essential for any business continuity plan, Eliam added. While other parts of businesses could take time to readjust long-term plans in the wake of the pandemic, customer service operations had to change immediately, with agents moving to remote offices and learning to operate in a distributed environment.

"Customer service is no longer mission-critical, it's critical to the mission," Eilam said. "You didn't just overcome the crisis, you found a new way to do business."

Quickness and agility were the keys to success, Eilam added.

"We know that between 60 percent and 80 percent of contact center agents are currently working from home. And we expect that at least 30 percent of those agents will remain working from home even after there is a vaccine for COVID-19," said Barry Cooper, president of NICE Enterprise Group. "This hybrid mode of operation requires extreme workforce agility. This requires organizations to enable their entire workforce to work from anywhere, at any time and on any channel. Extreme workforce agility is the next frontier of employee engagement."

With that in mind, experts outlined some best practices they are seeing in contact centers.

Sales, service, and marketing have become closely intertwined in successful contact centers, said Sheila McGee-Smith, founder and president of McGee-Smith Analytics. She expected this transition to happen, but the pandemic just caused it to happen more quickly.

The move to cloud solutions for the contact center also accelerated due to the pandemic.

Yet many contact centers are still struggling with issues that hinder their performance. Chief among them is system integration, made harder by the work-from-home environment. McGee-Smith offered the following best practices for contact centers to follow:

  • Bring sales and marketing together, a natural step since they are already interrelated.
  • Integrate the way buyer personas are developed.
  • Have marketing work with sales to get a clear understanding of each other's work, technological capabilities, etc. Too often the disciplines are siloed.
  • Use a single tool for sales and marketing. Too often companies use different tools, with little or no integration.
  • Make sure whatever tool is used, it routes interactions to the right person, whether that is someone in sales or customer service.
  • Connect social media with sales and service
  • Managers should reach out to agents via team chat. This will replicate the deskside chat lost by moving from a central office to isolated, remote locations.
  • Empower employees within the context of customers' relationships with the business, empowering agents to waive a charge for a high-value customer but not for a low-value customer.

Sarah Wesen, executive director of Frontline Call Center, advised using tools that minimize screens and clicks for agents. In the office, they typically can work with multiple screens, while working remotely, they typically only have one, she maintained.

And then, it is always important to keep agents engaged, added Jill Blakenship, Frontline's CEO. She recommended proactively reaching out to agents not waiting for agent feedback to ensure they stay motivated.