For most contact centers, surviving the first months of COVID-19 required swift operational reboots that began with major work-from-home (WFH) transitions.
The strain of balancing the need to protect employees from the coronavirus while maintaining business continuity continues for contact center leaders. As call volume, customer anxiety and agent stress all still soar, what you once managed can now feel overwhelmingly un-manageable.
Throughout the crisis, we have worked with contact center leaders to help them meet the challenges of these unprecedented times. We’ve seen that the organizations that are not only surviving, but beginning to gain the momentum necessary to thrive long-term, have consistently prioritized nine contact center best practices that withstand the test of time—and a global pandemic. These contact center best practices create the enduring customer experiences necessary for brands to thrive now and long after this crisis ends.
Contact Center Best Practices for 2021
1. Uncompromising Focus on Customer Experience
An uncompromising focus on customer experience is the most critical best practice for any successful contact center. Brands that set themselves apart by creating exceptional customer experiences rise above the competition. Every time.
That includes a global pandemic. In fact, customer experience has never been more important. Crisis presents the uncommon opportunity to deliver customer interactions that build unshakable loyalty.
Now is the time to get the most out of every customer interaction and deliver loyalty-building customer experiences. Here are four tips to get started:
Address long hold times. According to Harris Interactive, even before the pandemic, 77% of customers said it took too long to reach a live agent by a contact center phone number. One solution is to leverage your interactive voice response (IVR) system to get callers’ phone numbers and use a virtual hold system to call back. To elevate customer interactions, now is a good time to look for every way you can leverage your IVR to free up agents for the most complicated needs requiring human touch.
Avoid asking customers to repeat information. Consumers want integrated experiences. Across every channel—call center phone number, chat, email, SMS, social media messenger—use contact center software to provide agents with a complete history of customer interactions across channels.
Optimize the customer experience journey. To improve the customer experience, map the current flow and look for ways to improve. Leverage solutions to easily map and modify new flows as needed.
Monitor agent calls for coaching opportunities. Monitor interactions to identify exactly where experienced agents are delivering great service while uncovering opportunities for call center training and coaching. You’ll improve customer experience metrics like average handle time and first call resolution.
2. The Cloud
A cloud contact center solution is the default choice for contact centers focused on improving customer experience, and its benefits have never been clearer than now. In these uncertain times, the cloud has proven to be a critical and direct way to future-proof your contact center and elevate customer experience under any condition.
Despite the cloud’s benefits—and much interest and talk about making the move—many contact centers have been slow to adopt. In fact, according to Gartner, 90 percent of global organizations still use on-premises call center software.
But the effects of this pandemic have shown it takes a cloud solution to adapt in a constantly changing world. With the cloud, contact centers can burst to scale and maintain business continuity in crisis regardless of where agents work. And that’s good news for customer experience, agent productivity and the long-term survival of your organization.
3. Native Workforce Optimization
No longer a nice-to-have, native workforce optimization (WFO) software is becoming a contact center requirement for optimal customer experience. When stress is high and change is certain, fully integrated WFO software is the most effective way to ensure workforce satisfaction, stability and productivity.
Components of an effective WFO system include:
Workforce Management (WFM) for intelligent staffing and scheduling based on real-time forecasts and historical data.
Quality Management for call center recording software and screen recording to effectively monitor, evaluate and coach agents.
Performance Management for setting personal targets, benchmarks and achievements for each agent to deliver positive customer interactions.
A primary benefit is the elimination of multiple systems and interfaces. Native WFO makes it easier for agents and supervisors to learn and quickly gain efficiencies.
4. Smart Quality Management
Quality management (QM) is a key contributor to improving the customer experience because it pinpoints where your team is doing well, as well as areas for improvement. Comprehensive contact center quality management solutions like CxEngage Quality Management record agent calls, capture desktop screens, evaluate customer interactions and identify coaching and training opportunities to improve customer satisfaction.
To get QM right, follow these tips:
Establish a framework for success. Before recording and analyzing calls, clearly document the goals of your quality management program.
Communicate the benefit to agents. Knowing they’re monitored can cause stress for agents already working under extreme conditions. Assure them that coaching and training will improve customer interactions and make them more successful. Encourage their feedback, which keeps them engaged.
Get the complete picture. Monitor all calls, but take a closer look at those with VIPs, high-dollar values and those where customers are following up on an issue. These customer interactions provide the most valuable insights into improving the process and identifying where coaching and education is needed most.
Calibrate regularly. Gauge your QM process for consistency. Ask evaluators to review the same call and compare for better data and success.
5. Support and Motivate Agents
Businesses worldwide have been laser-focused on supporting—and keeping—customers during the pandemic. But resilient brands know that beyond customer satisfaction, supporting their employees through the anxiety and uncertainty is equally critical for business continuity and long-term survival.
When employees feel supported, they perform better, making it easier to maintain business continuity in crisis. Employee care programs also have a long-term impact on employee engagement, turnover rates, productivity, loyalty and retention, all of which have measurable financial benefits.
6. Unified, Omnichannel Service
In an always-on, mobile-first world, omnichannel should sound like an obvious contact center best practice. The rise of social media, constantly-in-hand mobile devices, and a thirst for choice means customer experiences that win loyalty are ones that meet customers where they are.
With every service channel you open, you’re offering more convenience. But people expect all channels to reflect your best service levels and efficiency. If systems are riddled with siloed data sources and unintegrated applications, customers get vastly different experiences by channel. That inconsistency leads to an overall negative customer experience.
Ensure your mobile apps, websites, text, chat, email and agent desktops operate as one coordinated system within a omnichannel contact center.
7. Metrics Focused on Customer Experience
Historically, the focus for contact center metrics has been on improving agent behavior with the intention to positively influence customer service outcomes. However, it’s possible to achieve high-quality performance scores while still delivering a negative customer experience.
Incentivizing agents to achieve contact center KPIs like low average handle time, for instance, is widely used. But it can have unintended consequences, such as driving agents to quickly end interactions before customers’ issues are resolved to their satisfaction. A high average handle time can also mean agents are struggling to access the right information.
Contact centers that adopt customer experience metrics that drive loyalty and service win. Before, after and during crisis.
8. Smart and Efficient Self-Service that Augments, Not Replaces, Agents
Self-service across channels makes good economic sense and is often preferred by customers for routine, uncomplicated issues. But not all issues can be resolved through self-service. In fact, simply embracing self-service for the contact center’s financial benefit—to deflect phone calls, for example—can backfire.
For customers, it’s a nightmare when they are stuck in an IVR system and struggle to get to call center agents when needed. When customers are dealing with problems they can’t easily solve on their own, make the transition to an agent easy. That transition can be a great opportunity. Or a colossal failure.
With the right technology, it’s possible to pivot to a live agent who is aware of the customer’s historical service journey across channels. This empowers agents to quickly soothe frustration and deliver customer loyalty-building interactions that surprise and delight.
9. Stay Open to Change
In a world that’s rapidly evolving in unprecedented ways, don’t lose focus of time-tested contact center best practices amid the chaos. At the same time, stay open to new approaches and emerging technology.
For example, chatbots powered by artificial intelligence can be measurably helpful in handling surges in contact volumes. And the move to omnichannel cloud contact center solutions have accelerated for good reason.
Choose what you embrace to meet challenges thoughtfully, and don’t expect to fully return to how the world operated pre-pandemic. As you consider technology (and services) solutions, such as the cloud and more sophisticated WFM, AI or new digital channels, work with partners with both technology and contact center experience.
Technology for Cloud Contact Center Best Practices
To learn more about how the cloud can help your contact center apply call center best practices during and after COVID-19, request a demo of CxEngage today.
Contact Center Best Practices FAQs
What are some best practices in customer service?
The most successful contact centers consistently choose cloud solutions, include native workforce automation, use smart quality management tools, support and motivate agents, and focus metrics on customer experience.
How do I run a successful contact center?
To run a successful contact center, choose tools and practices that focus on improving the customer experience. This includes how you train and motivate your agents to the features in the software you use. When you consistently deliver positive customer experiences, you build the lasting loyalty necessary for the long-term financial success of your organization.
How do you manage a contact center?
To successfully manage a contact center, train, measure, and incentivize your contact center agents with the goal of always delivering positive customer experiences. The long-term success of your contact center depends on delivering loyalty-building customer service.