Current state of the contact centre

By Brendan CrawfordAugust 7, 2023

The world has never moved faster, particularly when it comes to the business environment. In the rush to meet deadlines, achieve KPIs and navigate the minutiae of day-to-day life, it is increasingly easy for executives and managers, let alone their staff, to get so caught up in the here-and-now that they lose sight of the bigger picture.

For those in the contact centre market, this article is a chance to take a moment to reflect on where the industry is and where it is headed. By taking a deep-dive into the current state of the contact centre market, the aim is to explore the challenges being faced, the wins being enjoyed and the opportunities that abound, along with showing leaders how they and their teams can use innovation to improve customer experience.

The past couple of years has been a time of unprecedented change for contact centres, with full-time remote work and digital transformation just two factors that have swept through the industry. What has not changed is the need to meet customer and agent expectations and that requires a commitment to staying across the industry’s talking points and trends no matter how busy life gets.

The contact centre of 2022

In recent months, global research hub CCW Digital conducted a survey of leaders responsible for the likes of contact centres, customer experience and customer service to shine a light on the contact centre industry as it stands today. With input from organisations of all sizes in most major industries, the 2022 Customer Contact Industry Review reported various key findings including:

  • Work-from-home has risen to the forefront over the past two years, with 60% of companies feeling they have successfully established or improved their remote work strategy

  • The majority of companies feel they have been ‘somewhat successful’ at achieving the pivotal contact centre goals of reducing effort and increasing personalisation

  • Modern labour issues, such as ‘The Great Resignation’, make for the biggest challenge area

  • CSAT remains the standard for assessing performance, with customer satisfaction and retention metrics the most important barometers for today’s contact centre functions

  • By 2025, roughly half of contact centres expect to handle the majority of customer issues entirely in digital channels

  • Improving agent workflow ranks as the top focus for AI investments.

The positives

While it is human nature to focus on issues and concerns, there are many reasons to feel positive about the current contact centre market. As highlighted by CCW Digital’s opening finding, a majority of contact centres have emerged from the biggest global crisis of the past decade with definitive strategies for a distributed workforce.

The global pandemic caused untold chaos when it emerged but 60% of contact centres say they have now successfully established or improved their strategy for engaging remote and hybrid workers. Furthermore, only a small minority of businesses reported plans to revert back to an on-site model, reinforcing that while the remote work boom was borne out of necessity, it is now seen as an opportunity to better serve agents and customers.

Another ‘win’ relates to two of the key contact centre objectives – reducing effort and increasing personalisation. With digital transformation offering many opportunities to create easier and more convenient experiences, it is little wonder it has been high on the priority list of contact centre managers. While only a fifth of survey respondents reported being ‘very successful’ in reducing effort and increasing personalisation, this was complemented by the two-thirds who have been ‘somewhat successful’ in doing so.

The challenges

It is one thing to consolidate positives. It is another to recognise challenges and take the necessary steps to transform them into wins of their own. Without doubt, one of today’s greatest contact centre costs is an unstable labour market weighed down by rising wages, evolving agent expectations and social phenomena such as the ‘Great Resignation’ and ‘Big Quit’.

More than 60% of contact centre teams have highlighted labour challenges as a concern in 2022, increasing the pressure on business leaders to create positive environments that stem the flow of agents looking for opportunities elsewhere. Similarly, every effort must be made to facilitate roles and foster workplaces that are appealing to potential candidates as the competition for talent has never been greater.

The results of CCW Digital’s survey also highlight the role technology – or more so lack of it – can play in creating challenges for contact centres. More than half of respondents (56%) see a failure to automate enough low-value work as a key challenge, while disconnected technology (41%) and disconnected channels (40%) also rank high on the list. Along with creating more work for already harried agents, failing to embrace tools and solutions that improve efficiency and accuracy can result in poor customer experiences at a time when consumer expectations have never been higher.

The opportunities

Not surprisingly, the future of customer experience lies with more technology, not less. The survey revealed that about half of contact centres expect to handle the majority of customer issues entirely in digital channels by 2025. Improving agent workflow also ranked as the number one focus for artificial intelligence investments.

Given the mounting financial strain on businesses, there is growing pressure on contact centres to enhance customer experience while simultaneously reducing operating costs. Technology offers opportunities to achieve both, with examples including:

  • Artificial intelligence: one example is cloud-based intelligent call routing solutions like Oration by Convai that use AI-powered speech recognition and language interpreter technology to direct calls to the most appropriate agent without the caller having to navigate a menu hierarchy or re-explain their query to an agent when they get through. A game-changer for CX and operational efficiency, it invites callers to explain their reason for calling in their own words and cutting-edge software then determines their intent and automatically routes the call to one of seemingly endless outcomes.

  • Self-service: one of the leading contact centre technology trends is self-service, with 73% of customers having indicated they want the ability to solve product or service issues on their own. Such options include checking account balances, making payments or bookings, and accessing information via email or SMS links and allow customers to complete tasks at any time of the day or night and without waiting on hold and then navigating conversations with contact centre staff. Crucially, it means contact centre staff can also focus on higher-priority work.

  • Data-driven decisions: contact centre managers have never had more access to data that provides insights into agent performance, optimising their workforces and driving customer retention. Digital tools and solutions that incorporate analytics and intuitive reporting dashboards can show both real-time and historical metrics, allowing business leaders to more proactively manage the customer experience. From average handling times and customer satisfaction levels to the average cost per contact in a call centre, there are endless opportunities to compile the data and garner the insights needed to address emerging concerns, target new markets and ultimately nurture more satisfied customers.

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There is no doubt contact centres face challenges as the world emerges from the global pandemic and into a new period of uncertainty underscored by inflation and global labour shortages. That said, there is also much to be optimistic about. Remote and hybrid workplace structures have been bedded down. Digital transformation is on in earnest. Innovation means the next industry-shaping technological solutions are not far away. The contact centre market has come a long way in a relatively short period of time and the only certainty is there is still a lot of upside ahead.

Omnichannel and multichannel contact centres may both use more than one physical or digital channel to communicate with customers but it is what separates them that makes them unique. Discover why it is essential that organisations know the key differences and which best suits their needs to ensure success.

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