Cloud Helped Small Businesses Connect Amid COVID-19

Stay-at-home orders stemming from the coronavirus pandemic dramatically changed consumer behavior, causing stores to temporarily shutter. It should be of no surprise, then, that America's small business community has absorbed the biggest impact of this crisis. Yet, in the wake of COVID-19, small businesses across the country have displayed incredible agility as they attempt to navigate the abrupt turbulence. These companies are addressing the urgent need to protect customers, all while providing safe and productive work environments for their employees. This has required contact centers to go fully virtual, with thousands of agents transitioning to working full-time from home. Customer experience (CX) leaders have quickly learned how important continuity is in times of crisis.

The contact centers that have adapted to the changing circumstances are experiencing the most success. Here's how they do it:

Replicating the Agent Experience at Home

Contact center agents are on the front lines of customer service. In times like this, it is paramount that agent working conditions at home are comparable to those in the office. Agents understandably expect the same tools and resources that they use in their day-to-day work in the office to be available to them at home. Moreover, consistent communication between agents and their managers is always vital, but becomes even more critical as they deal with new issues and first-time contacts caused by unforeseen circumstances from the pandemic.

Unfortunately, many small businesses today are still heavily reliant on hardware housed in physical contact centers. These organizations will struggle to seamlessly transition agents to work from home, as it will be difficult to migrate hardware to individual homes. As a result, they will need a more ad hoc approach to replace and simulate the environment that existed pre-COVID-19. One quick fix that circumvents this problem is browser-based applications that can integrate with important tools, such as CRM software, and, therefore, provide agents a suite of solutions to carry out their responsibilities. Cloud contact center software can faithfully reproduce the agent experience at home, giving small businesses the ability to deliver uniform service.

Supplying Managerial Oversight

After transitioning to work from home, managers must find a way to keep a healthy pulse on their operations, which presents obvious challenges when everyone is fully remote. Even the most intuitive interfaces that simplify the agent experience cannot eliminate the need for managerial oversight. Small businesses that have dropped antiquated customer service systems in favor of modern cloud contact center software are in the best position to safeguard the ever-essential manager-agent relationship. This software can empower managers to maintain their supervision over agents through quality management tools to listen in on live calls remotely, monitor performance, and rollout spot training when necessary, as they would when working shoulder to shoulder. Managers can also have easy access to workforce management tools, giving them intelligent data that can help forecast call volume and set employee schedules that promote a healthy work-life balance.

Since the advent of communication technologies, physical distance has no longer been a hinderance to business management. Why should that change now? Modern contact center platforms that use artificial intelligence and machine learning optimize managerial tasks, unlocking the true potential of small businesses by elevating the productivity and performance of their greatest assets—their people.

Embracing Fiscal Responsibility

Even in times of normalcy, small businesses tend to run leaner and prioritize revenue over all else. This becomes amplified during times of economic uncertainty. Recognizing fiscal inefficiencies in the contact center allows CX leaders to make desired improvements, which can help buoy those that are just trying to stay afloat. Inefficiencies, such as prolonged handle times or poor first-contact resolution outcomes, can add up and harm contact centers' financial outlooks. With intuitive reporting tools, contact centers can control costs, ensuring their customer service arms are profitable. When stay-at-home orders do finally conclude, cloud platforms can help small businesses reduce costs in the contact center by eliminating the need for on-site technicians to maintain and operate systems.

Preparing for the Future

COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way we do business, perhaps permanently. Social distancing, for example, has accelerated the use of ecommerce, converting the agnostic who have shied away from digital transformation. And customer support has proven to be an essential service for small businesses hoping to preserve and even grow their core audiences. When the dust does settle, organizations that adopted cloud technologies will be better positioned to adjust to the new normal, not to mention any future events that might call for unprecedented flexibility.

Mark Ungerman is product marketing director at NICE inContact.