While the contract centre remains the number one way many businesses interact directly with their customers, these services now look very different from just a couple of years ago.

A growing number of digital options, a preference for self-service and the development of tools such as AI to enhance interactions have all meant that today’s contact centres need to cover a lot of ground. At the same time, customers now have a wide variety of different needs and expectations when they get in touch with a business, which firms will have to take into account when modernising their contact centre.

A growing number of potential touchpoints

One of the big challenges of the last year or so has been ensuring that contact centres are equipped to deal with queries across a wider range of touchpoints than in the past.

For instance, Forrester has forecast that in 2021, the use of digital customer service channels will increase by 40 per cent, as the trends created by the pandemic prove to have a lasting impact. Vice-president and research director at the organisation Ian Jacobs explained: “The lack of in-person services forced many consumers to use digital channels to interact with brands, and consumers will continue using these channels.”

This was backed up by research from Zendesk, which found 40 per cent of customers adopted a new channel in 2020. And many of these new channels are helping drive a push towards a more conversational customer experience that mimics the interactions people have with their friends on social networks like WhatsApp or SMS messages.

For instance, the use of social messaging apps grew by 110 per cent in the last year, which may present both a new opportunity and a new challenge for enterprise contact centres.

Delivering service where your customers are

As your customer base is likely to want to use a wider variety of solutions than in the past, this must be reflected in your contact centre offerings. A phone number, email form and live chat are no longer going to be enough. Instead, you need to be listening to your customers to find out exactly where they are, and reaching out to meet them on the platforms they favour.

While many people still prefer the personal touch of an in-person voice chat, those who favour self-service want to be able to find answers quickly – ideally within their first point of contact. If they aren’t able to get this, you need to ensure they can seamlessly move to a channel that can offer help in the same interaction, such as by having an agent take over from a bot in a live chat or offering callback services.

As a result, contact centre agents will need to be well-versed across multiple channels and have the full details of their customer’s query to hand at all times in order to deliver a seamless experience. Research by Microsoft suggests two-thirds of customers (66 per cent) use at least three communication channels to connect with customer services, and they won’t want to have to repeat information or prove their identity multiple times when they do switch platforms.

The right tools for the right queries

To do this, you’ll need to ensure you have all the right tools in place. For example, customers who favour self-service need to feel that their options are capable of meeting their needs. This means that chatbots should feature intelligent, AI-driven tools such as natural language processing to ensure they can understand what users want.

This is vital in solving anything more than the most basic queries, and getting it right not only ensures customers can get the answers they need on their first touchpoint, but frees up contact centre agents for other tasks.

While consumer acceptance of chatbots has grown, negative experiences with older, less capable implementations of this technology can be a poor reflection on your brand. Microsoft, for example, found only 26 per cent of people in the UK reported a bot had solved their issue without human intervention, while 41 per cent said it was completely ineffective and meant they had to resort to another channel.

Being proactive can also be a big winner for your contact centre. For example, Vodafone noted that in 2020, car insurance companies that reached out directly to customers who were doing less mileage in lockdown to offer discounts saw highly positive results. This preempted customers getting in touch and showed initiative at a time when many companies were being slow to hand out pandemic-related refunds.

To do this type of proactive communication, you’ll need effective analytics and AI tools to identify potential opportunities and find relevant customers, as well as integrations to get this information into the hands of your outbound contact centre agents.

This all needs to be considered as part of a holistic approach to the contact centre. It’s not only about the hardware and networking technologies needed to get in touch directly with customers. If you are to truly meet the needs of every customer, you’ll need an effective supporting infrastructure that gives your agents all the solutions they need, right at their fingertips.

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