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Three Trends in Customer Care Borne of This Year’s Disruption

road less traveled We did it. After twelve months of social and economic upheaval, uncertainty and stress, 2020 is just nearly in the rearview mirror.

For contact centers, like so many businesses, it was a year of unprecedented change and acceleration, providing an industry-wide reset to reflect, reassess, and rethink the way business is done. Managers and teams alike have learned that they could move faster than they ever thought possible to adopt new trends, such as the shift to remote work or integrating a balance between self-service and agent-assisted digital channels. Some trends have genuinely leaped forward by years.

In this year’s NICE inContact Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark study, we didn’t just see higher investment levels in four key areas of CX – websites, new channels, new and improved contact center technology and seamless communication – but an overall shift to a deeply integrated and digital-first experience. Contact centers aren’t just performing triage amid a crisis – they’re doubling down on growth and innovation.

So what does this mean for contact center leaders who are just about to enter the 2021 planning season? What can they learn from their peers to help shape next steps amid uncertainty? Here are a few key takeaways from this year’s study and what they reveal about the next stage of the contact center:

Omnichannel as a Work-in-Progress Opportunity

Year after year, achieving truly seamless omnichannel experiences remains a top priority for contact centers leadership. In fact, the study found that the primary focus areas for 2021 investments include access to new channels (43 percent) and improving seamless communication (35 percent). It’s a direct correlation with the balance of power in modern customer experiences – customers dictate the nature of the relationship, so contact centers need to meet them where they are.

Yet despite the sustained emphasis on omnichannel, few believe they’ve fully tapped its potential, with only 27 percent noting they currently deliver excellent omnichannel experiences. The comparison between the growing investment and relatively low self-review rates reveals a more complicated approach to omnichannel. It isn’t something that the majority of professionals expect to perfect over the course of a single year, but rather a continuous journey. Omnichannel development needs flexibility and agility, so contact centers can pivot as their customers’ needs shift.

Big Shift in How Agents Connect

This last year has changed the traditional calculus between supporting digital and traditional channels, with the coronavirus pandemic driving more customers to embrace digital – 62 percent of contact center leaders saw a greater volume of digital interactions. Naturally, this has contact center leaders questioning how best to train and deploy agents to address this shift.

The answer lies in how the growth of digital is shaping channel preferences. In 2020, there was a 15-point decrease in preference for agent-assisted channels among contact centers (72 percent in 2019 vs. 57 percent in 2020). Furthermore, preference for self-service increased by 15 points (28 percent in 2019 to 43 percent in 2020). This reversal reveals a new approach to the role of agents, shifting away from high-volume, low-impact interactions and towards a workforce that is highly trained in deeply complex issues. Consider reevaluating training programs for the coming year, as the top-tier agents of 2021 are going to be handling more complex and specialized issues than in the past

A New Promise of AI

In the wake of nonstop disruption, contact centers have come to appreciate agility and flexibility above all else. When uncertainty defines the landscape, being able to pivot and capitalize on opportunities in real time is the difference between stagnation and growth. In this need for agility, a new frontier in the role of AI in the contact center has emerged. Rather than simply powering smarter communication tools, AI can underpin operations to provide a deeper level of analysis.

From workforce strategy to operational monitoring, AI can enable unmatched insight into trends as they develop in real time. This is particularly promising considering the improvement other AI-powered contact center elements are still undergoing – the CX Transformation study found that 90 percent of contact centers believe chatbots need to get smarter before customers are willing to use them regularly. Simply because chatbots aren’t yet where they need to be, it doesn’t mean that AI cannot improve the contact center today. Consider evaluating new analytics opportunities, so agents and managers alike can pivot as needed.

Smarter Customer Experiences

We occupy a completely different world than we did on January 1, 2020. The lessons and growth, however, have accelerated the contact center in ways no one could have foreseen. In an environment where customer experience is disruption-proof, a new species of contact center – agile, digital-first, and omnichannel fluent – is much closer to reality than ever thought possible.