5 Trends Driving the Future of Customer Service in 2021 and Beyond

2020 ignited radical shifts for contact center operations with the move to a remote work environment. Our customers say this trend is more of a permanent transformation that uncovers trends that include more flexible operations and greater efficiencies in leveraging contact center data. Here are five trends that we see shaping the contact center industry in 2021 and beyond:

Trend 1: The Remote Agent Model Is Here to Stay, Permanently.

Historically, many IT teams discouraged remote working for customer service teams, but it was quickly proven that virtual contact centers could work and offer a significant upside. The average annual cost to physically house a call center agent is approximately $8,300 per agent in the United States. If a 200-person contact center decided to move only half of its agents to home offices, that translates to $830,000 in annual real estate cost savings.

Working remotely also opened the doors to reach talent and hire beyond a specific geography. For example, call centers based in rural locations with limited local talent pool can bring in quality agents from anywhere in the world.

Trend 2: The Role of AI Will Be to Support Human Agents, Not Replace Them.

Despite many years of buzz, it's worth acknowledging that artificial intelligence cannot entirely replace one-on-one human interaction in customer service. Many interactions with chatbots or other entirely automated tools only drive the escalation of customer issues rather than resolving them at the first touchpoint.

Instead, AI is best used to assist and manage agents. For example, AI-powered technology can reduce handle times by auto-populating call notes or automatically logging agents into or out of applications to further save time.

AI will provide an added layer of support as a management tool to keep agents on track in remote environments. AI also enables better connectivity for customer service teams and enables agents to receive consistent communications and information they need to excel in their role in serving customers.

Trend 3: A Swift Migration to the Cloud

Call centers have been notoriously slow to move to the cloud. In the past, this has not been an issue when centers used on-premises technologies. With fully remote call centers, companies must reconsider their approach to the cloud.

Call centers can no longer rely on on-premises data with a decentralized workforce. Often their information is locked in data centers while operations remain outside of the office. Moving to the cloud offers more flexible operations, easier access to data, and substantial cost savings, but only if call centers can tap the right partners to make the most of the shift.

Trend 4: The Emergence of Predictive Analytics

Call centers generate an enormous amount of time-sensitive data that must be gathered and analyzed in real time to effectively manage their operations. Without real-time capabilities, Insights gathered on a Monday might only be contextualized later that day or week. This is not impactful as the time to act has passed and call center conditions have already changed.

Looking beyond 2021, we will see call centers take their analytics a step further to go beyond real-time analytics and into predictive analytics. This will leverage real-time data at scale to offer preventive support to both agents and customers, moving call centers from reactive to proactive. Instead of waiting for a customer to call with an issue, centers can leverage historical data to reach out preemptively.

The same approach can be used to identify agents who struggle or might be experiencing burnout earlier to reduce attrition rates. A smarter mindset on data will revolutionize how call centers operate and, in turn, companies will see higher customer and agent retention.

Trend 5: Real-Time Technologies Will Be Applied to the Back Office.

We will also see companies increasingly apply call center technologies to their back-office operations. They will start to leverage back-office data in real time to cut down on wasted hours and better track employee activities.

This part of the business has not been managed with the same technology investment as the call center, leading to inefficiencies where back-office employees might struggle with certain tasks or spend time in non-work applications. Now, companies will be able to use AI-powered technologies to drive productivity gains in the back office, leading to significant savings to the bottom line.

2020 served as the inflection point for call center transformation. The shift to remote work unlocked new uses of technology and opportunities thought impossible before. We are now at the tip of the iceberg, as successful call centers will continue to innovate and think differently about improving their operations in the new year and beyond.

Matt McConnell is CEO of Intradiem.