Published: May 12, 2021 | Comments
Over the past year there were three distinct phases of change within these centers. One was adapting to a remote workplace, the second was implementing new technology to enhance the customer and staff experience, and finally the current shift is the rise of the gig worker. And while these changes were caused by the pandemic, they have now resulted in permanent adaptations to the modern contact center.
Let’s review how each phase has played out, and how technology has augmented the human element of our industry.
Phase 1: Evolving for Remote Work
When working with a global company, there is no one policy or solution that is applicable globally. The organizations that are successfully navigating the pandemic have not tried to set a single global process, but instead have focused on empowering local site leaders to support their staff. Whether through a discretionary crisis fund for supervisors to offer financial support to staff that need it most, or flexible time-off options for staff to adjust their lifestyle to the new reality, the best policies have focused on contact centers’ greatest asset - people.
Once the physical safety of agents was accounted for, the next challenge was ensuring all staff had the most effective technology configuration. Moving the majority of employees to remote workstations required new equipment, security measures, and connectivity. Many agents took their workstations home, but the equipment needed to be assembled and connected to enable them to work. Personalized and mobile technical support became an instant necessity.
Phase 2: Enhancing the Staff Experience with AI
Real-time feedback and in-person, human-to-human interactions have traditionally been crucial aspects of efficient and effective operations. Without a supervisor stopping by an agent’s desk to check in and give support, or peers to provide encouragement for a job well done, it can be difficult to pinpoint when an employee is struggling to provide help. This lack of visibility showed leaders that the remote workforce would greatly benefit from human-aware technology to emulate and improve the in-person support structure.
Advisors needed (and continue to need) the support of new processes and technology that can help them be better. Particularly this year, we found that team members benefited most from emotional support and coaching that aids them in their day-to-day jobs, and helped to alleviate stress. We leveraged our SecureCX platform to provide agents and supervisors a real-time engagement capability at their desktop, including agent and team leader dashboards and real-time access to supervisors or other aids.
We also have relied on an AI Coaching System, which not only provides managers with insight about their staff in real time, but also helps take the cognitive and emotional burden off individual advisors. The system offered system-generated, personalized coaching during each customer call.
It’s no surprise that workers are struggling to consistently perform with high energy and empathy during this draining pandemic. However, now that technology can objectively prove the impact on workers, organizations have a greater responsibility to find solutions to enhance the staff experience for the individual’s well-being and the success of the company.
Phase 3: Empowering the Gig Economy
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2017 that 55 million people in the U.S. were freelancers or gig workers. This represented approximately 34 percent of the U.S. workforce and, at the time, this number was projected to increase to 43 percent in 2020. While the past year challenged the livelihoods of gig workers, the combination of augmented intelligence and flex work will ultimately make the contact center one of the most gig-friendly industries in post-pandemic life.
Brands initially resisted hiring gig workers due to concerns around security, supervision, and experience, but these concerns can be addressed with advancements in technology. Now, brands can provide a level of coaching and insight that ensures consistency and safety to staff at any time, from and to anywhere. Successful contact centers are diverse in every capacity, including gender, ethnicity, remote vs. brick-and-mortar, geo-diversity, gig vs. permanent worker, and more. By extending their talent pool, providing flex options for gig workers, and leveraging cutting-edge, human-aware AI technology, companies are creating happier staff and, ultimately, happier customers.
As is the case for many industries, the pandemic forced an acceleration of AI and technology adoption in the contact center. Global differences forced organizations to adapt in nuanced ways, but one constant was the increased significance of technology that supports human workers. Moving forward, we’ll continue to see the contact center evolve, becoming less static, more gig economy-friendly and WFM friendly, and more AI-supported. What won’t change, however, is the unique value that human connection brings to customer experiences. It’s up to industry leaders to provide the processes, tools, and technology to ensure staff feel supported and have an environment in which they can thrive.