Tips for Future-Proofing the Digital Contact Center

Throughout the pandemic, the role contact centers played for businesses transformed significantly. To continue providing top-notch customer service during the pandemic, businesses had no choice but to invest in their contact centers or they'd risk losing touch with their customers. The importance of a properly equipped and well-funded contact center cannot be overstated in the current customer experience climate. As we look toward the future, the question remains: did organizations learn the lessons of lockdown and will they continue to invest in their contact centers, or will they revert to pre-pandemic practices.

Most consumers at some point have experienced poor customer service. This has a significant impact on businesses. In fact, recent research shows that one in three customers are willing to walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience. This highlights just how important it is for companies to get it right at every touchpoint of the customer journey. One slip-up or poor experience could cause a chain reaction of customers leaving, especially with social media making it so easy for customers to share complaints publicly online.

Customers are, however, willing to reward companies that get customer service right. In fact, 73 percent of consumers point to customer experience as an important part of their purchasing decision. Recent reports show that 43 percent of all consumers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience. As such, experience has overtaken price and product as the key brand differentiator. Delivering excellent customer service can give businesses a crucial competitive edge, but it remains to be seen how many get it right.

Only 43 percent of U.S. consumers feel companies provide good customer experiences. This should serve as a stark wake-up call for companies to re-evaluate which elements of the customer experience are most important to their customers so they can provide better support. Recent reports show nearly 80 percent of American consumers prioritize speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service as the most important elements of the customer journey. Not surprisingly, customers want to be seen, heard, and appreciated. But it's not too late for companies to realize the disconnect and change their customer experience models to meet these needs.

Support and Empower Staff.

While companies have also invested in new technology and automation solutions to help improve the customer experience, when customers have complex issues, they prefer speaking to humans. In fact, only 3 percent of U.S. consumers want their experience to be as automated as possible. New technology tools, such as chatbots, are useful as part of an omnichannel approach and to deal with simple problems. Still, it's not enough when 71 percent of Americans would rather interact with a human than a chatbot or another automated process.

Traditionally, contact center positions might have been regarded as low-skill job, but the role of a contact center agent is extremely crucial to companies, and the pandemic only confirmed this. As such, call center agents should be regarded as knowledge workers within a business and need to be supported appropriately.

To start, contact center managers must empower staff. This means trusting their staff to work remotely and to solve problems with autonomy. Analytics are giving managers new ways to track performance and manage staff. By embracing this technology, managers can give agents independence while still monitoring and analyzing customer sentiment, audio quality, and background noise.

Of course, to maintain or improve standards, managers must invest time in staff development. They must provide a comprehensive onboarding process that covers everything from company culture to training on how to best use the available technology. Additionally, coaching soft skills is important for contact center agents. Since customers prefer humans to machines, learning the right skillset to talk to customers directly affects company success. Customer calls typically revolve around more complex issues that customers are experiencing. Training and coaching can play a large part in helping staff understand how to provide the best solution to common customer issues, but it is also crucial that the staff is equipped with knowledge management tools to help them in tricky situations.

Make the Most of Equipment.

Equipping contact center agents with the right technology and products is vital. Agents need to be on the phone as consistently as possible, which means they need to have comfortable and professional headsets that will not give them headaches or exhaust them. The headset needs to ensure that a full day of audio exposure does not impact hearing adversely. Empowering agents with intelligent tools, such as professional headsets, is a smart way to up-level the agent's experience. Indeed, ensuring agents have the right technology can have considerable benefits to the customer experience overall.

There are many benefits of equipping agents with professional headsets. They offer users active and passive noise cancellation, as well as noise-cancelling microphones, which vastly improve the audio quality of a call. In addition, employees equipped with well-functioning technology designed for their roles will feel more valued.

A professional headset also allows software to work effectively. The better the audio quality, the more accurate analytics will be, in turn helping the agent improve and allowing managers to monitor performance more accurately. Insight on sound quality, conversation flow, and agent audio exposure can already be measured so that agents can deliver the voice of the brand, even if working from home.

If the right products are used properly, contact centers will see significant noise reduction, ensuring that both the agent and caller can understand each other better. Thanks to advanced microphone technology, agents also hear themselves as they would in a quiet environment, therefore adapting to speak more quietly. Because of this, the call feels more personal, allowing the agent and customer to discuss their concerns in a peaceful environment which will, in turn, improve customer satisfaction.

Moreover, with more contact center agents working from home, there is the potential for numerous distractions. In general, however, the noises in the home office are different than in an open-plan office. It tends to be less professionally oriented noise, like pets and children. For this reason, technical equipment, especially a headset with appropriate audio quality, is a fundamental prerequisite for a successful customer conversation.

Futureproof for Success.

The lockdown forced many contact centers to become truly digital. Contact center agents suddenly became remote workers after years of being tied to an in-office desk and phone. Cloud technology and unified communications platforms have made it possible for contact centers to operate remotely, freeing agents from the office. This model of working reduces operating costs while increasing employee satisfaction. The flexibility opens better opportunities for companies to find qualified employees and might help with retention.

The traditional contact center, where the staff was tied to a desk phone, should be a thing of the past. Businesses have invested in new technology, allowing for a more innovative, flexible, and professional contact center. Homeworking presents challenges to contact center managers, but if they use the technology in which they invested over the course of the pandemic, these challenges become opportunities. By pairing world-class hardware, such as professional headsets, with intelligent software, while also focusing on supporting staff,  contact centers can become a hub for customer service excellence as well as a bastion of employee care and development.

Anders Hvelplund is senior vice president of contact center solutions at Jabra.