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A Cloud Foundation Enables a Contact Center Work From Home Strategy

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Clearly in the last few months, contact centers were focused on ensuring the safety of their employees by moving everyone to work from home very quickly, while trying to keep operations going seamlessly. Through this experience, many in the contact center industry have learned a lot about the advantages of a cloud foundation to enable more than just the initial move - it also is now proving to be able to support contact center employees working from home for the long term.

As the crisis unfolded, what we saw was an immediate and successful move to working from home because of the simplicity inherent in a cloud foundation. What do I mean by that? It’s because it extends your contact center capabilities to home, and the only things employees need is internet access, a simple computer, and a web browser. And since security is built into the browser, the IT support staff doesn’t need to install or manage any VPN hardware. So cloud contact centers merely told their employees to take their computers home and just log in according to their assigned schedule. As a result, customers continued to get the service they had to come to expect.

The IT support staff also plays a critical role in a traditional contact center through managing things like application updates on the desktops as well as troubleshooting hardware issues. But now with that team also working from home, a cloud foundation enabled them to be super agile in this new environment. A cloud foundation is built for business continuity and resiliency which includes the applications and associated hardware being centrally managed in a data center. As a result the IT team can continue to easily access it from their homes just as they did when in the office.

What is also very important is that a cloud foundation has multiple points of redundancy, so should there be a major hardware or software issue in a data center, agents’ desktops are quickly repointed to another datacenter that will enable them to continue to provide customer service without interruption. This is particularly important in a crisis situation, when even things such as the reliability of electrical power, telecommunications or data center staff can be impacted. So the ability to have your agents served by a data center in a location outside the crisis-impacted area provides an additional layer of protection.

This crisis is real for all of us. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear a story about someone trying to reach a contact center and they were put on hold for hours, or worse get a recording saying they should try again at another time. This is because of spikes in call volumes across the board, including critical services such as banking and healthcare that are very important. What I see is that those on a cloud-based foundation are best able to address these call spike situations because it is elastic and not limited by a specific server capacity. As a result it can easily scale up to respond to interaction volume spikes. I recently heard the CEO of a large wireless provider say daily call volumes since the crisis started are now double that of Mother’s Day, the busiest day of the year! You know that many of those calls are going into a contact center. If you have a cloud-based foundation, you can easily handle that.

But when you dig deeper into this, you realize there are even more benefits than meets the eye. As we know, it’s quite common for contact centers to schedule agents to handle an expected interaction volume, and in the case of spikes you may bring on team leads, supervisors and even trainers to handle the additional volume. But when you talk about these huge increases in volume – this is not enough. This is where the combination of a cloud foundation and agents working from home really enable contact centers to continue to service their customers.

If you think about it, a contact center is a fixed number of desks that is geared for the peak number of interactions and agents required to handle them. Let’s say you have a contact center of 750 agents where about 40% are in the office at one time, so you need 300 or so work stations. When you have drastic spikes in volumes that may mean you need everyone online at once!

What’s great is that in a work at home environment you are no longer limited by workstations because everyone has their own home office space! What also makes this critical is we also see a change in when volumes are occurring. As you know, many schools are closed so kids are home with their parents, most of who are also working from home. As a result, what we are seeing is interaction volumes move from typical business hours to well into the evening after the kids are in bed. Where those volumes used to be between 9am and 5pm, they are now squeezed between 8pm and midnight; more volume in half the time! This puts huge strains on traditional contact centers, but as you can see, this can be solved with agents at home on a cloud foundation.

Thus far, I have covered what I think of as the hard “infrastructure” of a cloud-based solution. But to continue to meet business KPI’s there are many other critical applications that a contact center requires, such as flexible routing, scheduling, as well as quality and performance management. These become even more critical in an environment where customer demands are higher than ever and agents no longer have the face-to-face support they received in the office from their co-workers and supervisors.

So how does the functionality of these applications change on a cloud foundation with agents working from home? Well quite simply, it doesn’t! The applications that you had in the office and the way they function is exactly what happens when employees are at home. Take routing - as I had said before interaction volumes are really volatile, so being able to manage them across both voice and digital channels is critical.

Cloud allows you to do that, and what is really amazing is you can also easily integrate new channels like social and messaging, so you can provide your customers additional ways to interact with you. And of course, you can also manage a single customer interaction across multiple channels to provide a seamless customer experience. This can only be done with a cloud foundation.

So what does all this mean for an organization currently using an on-premises infrastructure, and what approach do I recommend for those wanting to transition to a cloud foundation as a long term approach? Those organizations with on-premises solutions and well-rehearsed business continuity plans were able to move agents to home, although with some delay. Unfortunately some organizations didn’t have a plan and had to cease interacting with their customers completely. Those that did transition are generally operating with much more limited capabilities than they had in the past because things like quality and performance management were done manually.

If you did have to cease operations completely, you should first focus your efforts on routing. For those that did transition, first focus on quality and performance management. We are past the initial stages of this crisis and therefore emotions are accelerating further for both customers and employees, as frustrations about restrictions on movement as well as financial issues come to the forefront. This can result in a decrease in customer satisfaction and increase in customer churn. A cloud-based foundation starting with quality management and performance management enables organizations to automatically score 100% of the interactions and provide automated feedback to agents without the need for a supervisor. Organizations can then focus on employee engagement to better deal with these new circumstances through coaching and learning programs to drive performance and improve business KPI’s. This is just one example, but there are many more based on each organization’s unique circumstances.

It is clear that a cloud foundation is certainly the only way to rapidly ensure business continuity and a successful agent-at-home approach during a crisis, and as an ongoing business strategy in a world that is constantly changing.