Top Contact Center Priorities for 2021, the Year of Recovery

Hope is riding on the shoulders of the year 2021. The arrival of vaccines to combat the coronavirus is the first step in what could be an extended business recovery, one that is likely to experience periods of exuberance as the pandemic fades slowly into a bad memory.

Contact center managers around the world are asking what this means to them, their organizations, and their people. DMG conducted a survey in November and December to see if we could find answers. As we figured that few people would have the patience or willingness to participate in a lengthy survey about their 2021 goals and priorities, we asked our international audience of corporate, IT, and contact center leaders three brief questions that were intended to take less than five minutes to answer. The responses are telling and reflect the strength, courage, innovation, and commitment of these essential service organizations.

In the survey, DMG asked: "What are your top contact center priorities for 2021?" The question invited participants to select all answers that applied, and they did. The top five responses were as follows:

  1. Improve the customer experience (65.8 percent);
  2. Improve customer-facing self-service capabilities (44.7 percent);
  3. Improve productivity (36 percent);
  4. Reduce operating costs (34.2); and
  5. Implement/enhance work-at-home programs (29.8 percent).

There were 13 additional responses and a few write-ins, including updating systems, adding new channels, improving employee engagement, investing in artificial intelligence, undertaking digital transformation, and migrating to the cloud. At first glance, it appears to be business as usual for contact centers, but when the data was analyzed by category, it reflected a different story. Thirty-four percent of respondents prioritized digital transformation; 25.8 percent selected initiatives dedicated to employee engagement; 20.7 percent are concentrating on productivity/cost savings; and 18.1 percent selected the customer experience (CX) as a priority.

The pandemic has significantly changed the priorities of enterprises and their contact centers. In prior years, contact center digital transformation essentially involved adding digital channels. It still does, but it has evolved and accelerated and now includes improving omnichannel self-service, integrating front- and back-office departments, and enhancing security and compliance.

Employee engagement is another category where contact center priorities have changed a great deal in the past few years. In 2018, employee engagement ranked eighth in importance in DMG's survey of annual contact center goals, but it was a stand-alone category for which there was little action. A lot will happen in employee engagement in contact centers in 2021. Managers are enhancing work-at-home programs, as 86 percent of them (based on a separate question) plan to allow contact center employees to continue to work from home. Many contact center leaders plan to invest to reduce agent attrition and revamp agent onboarding processes, which will contribute to retention efforts.

Improving productivity and realizing cost savings continue to be priorities for contact centers. Contact centers are people-intensive organizations in which the volume of inquiries has increased annually for most of the past 30 years. While there was a substantial shift in the nature of interactions in 2020, where a growing percentage of customers demonstrated a preference for self-service, followed by digital support and, finally, voice as the channel of last resort, contact centers must find ways to make their departments and resources (live and automated) more productive or they won't be able to afford to provide a high level of support. This brings us to the last category, improving the CX. This is a priority for contact centers, which are increasingly realistic about the many tasks and activities that must occur throughout their company to achieve this goal.

The pandemic has altered the contributions of and outlook for contact centers and, in doing so, is speeding up their transition to the future. It has forced enterprise and contact center leaders to take a realistic view of contact center staff and their contributions to customer satisfaction. Enterprises are making changes and investing in the initiatives and technology needed to keep these essential departments operating productively and cost-effectively, positioning them to deliver a consistently outstanding customer experience.

Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting, is an expert on contact centers, analytics, and back-office technology. She has 30 years of experience helping organizations build contact centers and back-office operating environments and assisting vendors to deliver competitive solutions. She can be reached at