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How Some Automation Can Help Contact Centers During Uncertainty

boost call center agent engagementWith vaccination programs rolling out across the world, employers everywhere have been wrestling with the conundrum of how to keep staff safe, whether or not to offer hybrid work, and when exactly to reopen their offices. Now, there is a new sea change to contend with - if Anthony Klotz is correct, the Great Resignation means there will be fewer employees to worry about for a lot of companies.

Klotz’s theory is that during a time of huge uncertainty, many workers unsatisfied in their jobs chose not to leave during the pandemic, seeing mass layoffs elsewhere and preferring to stay put; a pandemic-induced “better the devil you know” situation. The UN reported that 225 million jobs were lost in 2020 worldwide, so remaining in a role you didn’t love was preferable to the alternative. Now with the pandemic easing in many parts of the world, the great job shuffle is upon us.

In businesses and departments where maintaining a certain level of staffing is crucial to its ability to provide good customer experiences, a large churn of workers could have a huge impact. Disgruntled customers won’t have a lot of patience for waiting on hold or not receiving a response because there aren’t enough agents in the contact center.

What Will the Great Resignation Look Like?

The turnover in the US workforce was significantly lower year on year in 2020, with 6 million fewer resignations. According to employee analytics company Visier, the Great Resignation may have already begun, with resignation rates starting to rise in March, a figure backed up by Microsoft’s Work Trend Report which says over 40% of global workers are considering leaving their job this year.

One solution to offsetting a potential mass exodus of workers is introducing a hybrid work model that allows staff to split their time between the office and home. Saving time and money on commuting, lunch, and regular coffee breaks, as well as having more time with family has woken the world up to an alternative way of working.

73% of employees want flexible remote work options to stay. The desire for continued remote working when Covid restrictions are lifted has prompted the UK Government to consider the right for hybrid models to become law. Government legislation and measures put in place by companies can help meet the demands of a modern workforce, but it’s likely to impact some areas of a business more than others.

Let’s look at the contact center and how teams have had to adapt over the past 15 months. In January to July in 2020, there was a 47% increase in demands for remote working for center center workers. It presented an issue that initially seemed like a short-term solution, but is becoming a long-term reality.

Looking at the potential impact of both The Great Resignation and a desire for more flexibility in working locations, customer care operations need to investigate ways to adapt that still maintain the level of service that their customers expect. They will potentially have fewer human agents, and those who are available aren’t all going to have access to all the technology and equipment to help them perform their jobs.

How to Handle The Churn

There may be lessons to glean from the pandemic for how to handle this. At the start of the pandemic, at Conversocial we saw unbelievable surges in volume, and the first industry to be hit was airlines. There was a 2600% increase of inbound queries in just 10 days in March 2020 for one of our airline partners. The amount of agents and phone lines was finite and nowhere near enough to cope with such a huge increase. Another solution was required.

A high proportion of customer conversations fall into the same categories. It’s going to differ between industry, and brands within that industry, but using data to understand which are the most common queries means they can often be handled without the need for human intervention. In order to manage the volume surge, it was vital to understand what was driving the queries. Digging in, we could see t it was two particular requests that were disproportionately affecting the volume. Once you understand those top asks, finding a way to take as much of the pressure off the customer care team and handle the extra conversations at scale is the key to keeping customers happy. For airlines, especially at that time, most of the queries were cancellation or voucher related; in retail most customers want to track their delivery or in bricks and mortar stores – location or opening hours.

On a slightly smaller scale, with a reduced workforce split between home and the office, the solution is still the same - messaging channels and automation. Messaging channels are built to handle millions, if not billions, of conversations at any one time, so how well-staffed a contact center is doesn’t affect the ability to serve the majority of customer queries. It’s possible to completely automate certain sections of the process; for more complicated issues, it’s possible to deploy a service bot that can take the relevant information, like order number or booking reference, so the agent has all the required information when it’s handed over to them.

A new hybrid way of working is looking likely to become the norm, just as a global employment merry-go-round is starting up. Our data shows that brands across a wide spectrum of industries are still seeing much higher digital engagement than during pre-pandemic levels.

Customer habits are changing, so brands can’t afford to have any dropoff in their ability to service consumer needs. A cost-effective solution is to introduce automation to help manage the load. It could be just to fill in the gaps during a time of increased recruitment and training or during a fundamental shift in CX strategy that introduces service bots as an essential cog in the machine.