Why Every Company Needs a Modern Service Center and How to Get There

Last month, I found myself in a Starbucks parking lot frantically waving my phone in the air, desperate for a WiFi signal. With no luck, I had to drive to another Starbucks before I could finally connect and get some work done. I had moved to a new home the previous week, and my internet still wasn't set up. Without a good connection at home, I had to hit the road to do my job. It took five customer service calls, three trips from a technician, and an in-store visit before my WiFi was functioning. The experience was a glaring reminder of how much more the service industry could do to create a better experience for customers and why it's so important that we get it right.

Building a service center fully equipped to meet today's demands has never been more critical. According to recent research, 80 percent of customers say the experiences companies provide are as important as the products and services they offer. Service interactions have become a key touchpoint in creating the personalized and connected experiences that customers crave.

Increasingly, customers prefer this engagement to be digital, with 88 percent reporting that they expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to the pandemic. As service has shifted from a cost center to a profit center, the industry faces heightened expectations to deliver high-quality engagement through whatever channel the customer chooses (e.g. phone, email, customer portals, messaging, or chatbots). Yet organizations face these mandates while juggling stressed customers, a distributed workforce, and a quickly evolving environment.

To live up to the demands and opportunities it faces, the service industry needs a shake-up. A modern service center meets customers where they are, engaging on their preferred channels, with the right agent at the right time. It empowers team members with personalized opportunities for continuous learning so they have the skills they need to be effective across multiple channels. It integrates data from disparate systems into a single source of truth for contact center operations, enabling a consistent and seamless experience. It allows workforce planners to create real-time forecasts that account for an omnichannel, multiskill environment that enables agility in times of rapid change. And it deploys machine learning to automatically detect outliers and help planners create reliable forecasts.

In most companies, though, workforce management is not set up to power the service center we need today. According to Call Center Helper, 85 percent of companies lack full confidence in their existing workforce management tools.

Here are the two biggest pain points we see among workforce management solutions:

1. They rely on disconnected data and systems.

The modern contact center requires aligning the expectations of all stakeholders: customers, executives, managers, and agents. Operational efficiency and high-quality customer experiences are impossible when centers depend on disparate data and disconnected systems. Gathering and making sense of information is still a labor-intensive process for many service organizations. According to Salesforce research, half of service leaders say manual labor and data entry is a pain point with their current workforce management solutions.

Many service centers also lack integration between their workforce management tools and other technology, including the CRM software that manages customer information, the routing software that assigns cases, and telephony services.

Manual data entry is time-consuming and error-prone. It only allows for static forecasting, meaning planners can't account for unexpected power outages or real-time trends from marketing campaigns. Disconnected data also makes it hard for planners and other stakeholders to get a complete picture of the health of the service center, dynamically update forecasts, or pivot in periods of rapid transition. And it leads to inconsistent and frustrating customer experiences, like the one I had with my internet service provider. Manual processes and stand-alone tools hold companies both large and small back from optimizing operations.

2. They aren't prepared for an omnichannel, multiskill environment.

With evolving customer expectations, service demand is less predictable. The same customer might want to text, tweet, or call, depending on the day and issue. As the number of channels has exploded, agents' skillsets have also become more varied. No longer limited to plug-and-play agents able to do anything, planners have to balance customer demand against the expertise of different employees, a growing number of which need to fluidly handle multiple channels at once. The agent might tackle one phone call or five chats at a given time, each with different expectations on handle time.

The pandemic has further increased the challenges of shift management, with agents working on more distributed teams and flexible schedules and some centers shutting down. Meanwhile, self-service and AI-powered chatbots are increasingly taking on straightforward service cases.

In this context, a single-channel mindset no longer allows service leaders to plan effectively for the realities of today's contact center. Routing and workforce management tools must be tightly integrated to ensure the right work is distributed to the right agents. Agents need to have access to continuous data about customers regardless of channel, to ensure that the experience remains seamless, unlike my internet saga. Workforce planners need to respect agents' skillsets in assignments while also providing opportunities for continuous learning and growth. That includes offering regular in-shift pathways for building skills and preparing agents for how their roles will evolve. Failing to adapt to a multichannel environment means companies risk burning out employees and alienating customers.

Far too many service teams are struggling with red tape that prevents them from achieving true operational efficiency and providing high-quality customer experiences. But as digital transformation occurs at an unprecedented pace, organizations have the opportunity to innovate. The right workforce management tool can help teams get rid of lingering inefficiencies, engage customers, and become more agile, proficient service providers.

The call center of yesteryear is not coming back, and the all-digital world is here to stay. Businesses that adapt to these changes by modernizing their service centers will be the ones poised to thrive.

Melissa Matross is senior vice president of product management at Salesforce.