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The Impact of COVID-19 on Contact Centers: And the Road to a More Resilient Future
Yatindra Mahajan Practice Head – Networks and Contact Center Services | April 17, 2020
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On 31st December 2019, Chinese health authorities alerted the World Health Organization (WHO) of unusual cases of pneumonia of unknown origin. In the first fifteen weeks since these initial reports, COVID-19 has managed to tighten its death grip, claiming more than 80,000 lives.

With the situation worsening and governments restricting public mobility through lockdowns and other quarantine measures, supply chains have weakened, and trade channels have become abrupt. Although the eventual economic damage due to the pandemic is still unknown, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) projects global income to reduce by as much as USD 2 trillion.

This worldwide socio-economic disruption has required enterprises to adopt unorthodox work methods in order to maintain business continuity in these uncertain times. Mandated by public policy in most regions, employees are now required to work from home while handling these large spikes in interaction volume about impact to services and products post COVID-19.  

As the primary customer service interface under COVID-19 circumstance, the demand on contact centers has broken traditional staffing forecast models. This combined with an abruptly implemented distributed operations, has caused a steady decline in key performance indicators (KPIs). As a result, in most instance, contact centers wait times have increased by several times.

The Future is Now: Ushering in the Next Generation of Customer Engagement

With contact centers reeling under ineffective business continuity plans in the face of unprecedented circumstances, enterprises need to break out of legacy infrastructure to develop a more agile approach to customer engagement. The success of customer engagement has always been determined by speed and accuracy of request addressal. But the new model of operations, precipitated by the COVID-19 crisis, is increasing wait times while also diluting the accuracy of resolutions, thus forcing enterprises to relook at their customer engagement platform.

Contact centers are no stranger to technological innovations and adoption. In fact, a 2020 survey by Saddletree Research revealed that more than 40% of contact centers have begun leveraging call routing through the cloud and more than 48% had adopted at least one core application of the cloud. However, integration of ML and NLU into contact centers with AI led solutions such as Google’s CCAI is truly revolutionary. The focus in is on three areas – a self-service conversational bot that can be trained on specific knowledge bases, agent enablement that prompts real-time suggestions during customer conversations and analytics that identify customer sentiments and objectives thus improving contact outcomes.

In order to transform, contact centers need to ensure seamless integration of these modern technologies with traditional contact center solutions. Additionally, agent “experience” has to consider a distributed work from home operational model, the platform needs to have mobile and softphone integration capabilities through legacy and digital channels. Also, introduction of AI technologies along with traditional application integrations requires comprehensive software development enablement. Hence, platform modernization along with a focus on three aspects of experience – customers, agents and developers are needed for a modern customer engagement platform.

The ongoing pandemic has highlighted three important aspects that the enterprises should address immediately:

  1. Enhanced call volumes - The key to building resilience lies in the adoption of AI-enabled automated customer engagement solutions. By leveraging a cloud hosted, AI-based customer engagement solution, enterprises can deliver customers with an unfaltering experience at significantly lower wait times. AI-powered bots are capable of language and context interpretation. By leveraging ML algorithms, they can either facilitate the entire customer journey leading to resolution or redirect to a relevant human agent. As a result, customers receive a holistic experience with shorter wait times & faster query resolutions.
  2. New “normal” of agents working from home – Having a permanent model that supports “work from home” agents is among the many steps that will have to be taken post this pandemic. A distributed work from home operating model can be scaled through Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) strategies. Integrations through cloud telephony can enable direct call routing to traditional mobile phones or directly to smartphones applications delivering a consistent support platform. This can also provide modern communication channels such as social media, video and WhatsApp for a better user experience while addressing, risk, governance, security and compliance mandates like HIPAA, GDPR, PCI & CCPA.
  3. Employee Helpdesk for COVID response - With the COVID-19 outbreak spreading at an unprecedented rate, HR teams need a platform to address employee queries through a channel of the employee preference – be it social media, chat or call. The platform should be quick to launch, provide digital channel availability, conversational workflow designs and custom integration options. Leveraging tenets of AI to enable problem resolutions through bots, the platform should allow HR teams to use their mobile phones rather than requiring a “full blown” agent desktop solution.

A 2020 survey by Saddletree Research revealed that more than 40% of contact centers have begun leveraging call routing through the cloud and more than 48% had adopted at least one core application of the cloud.”

Implementing contact center solutions and/or a modern contact center platform can also help leverage industry development leapfrogging inhouse engagement capabilities. Google’s COVID-19 bot (https://cloud.google.com/solutions/contact-center/covid19-rapid-response/) that can be integrated into mainstream platforms such as Cisco, Genesys and Five9 is a recent example. 

The Need for Urgency

The COVID-19 outbreak has exposed glaring weaknesses in business models across various sectors. But, it has also provided an opportunity to leverage previously untested solutions such as a larger work from home employee base and AI solutions to handle customer and employee queries. The contact center area is an apt place for this transformation. Contact Centers are a key “shop window” for most businesses and the measures taken now will define the quality and effectiveness of future customer contacts. A future of more meaningful customer engagements driven by AI led conversations, AI augmented agent support and real-time deeper insights beckons – are you ready?

HCL’s Contact Center Practice works with customers to reimagine their customer journey through a combination of platform modernization and experience transformation across customers, agents and developers. We have recently launched a “rapidly deployable” HR response helpdesk solution allows enterprises to establish and integrate these features in a short lead time of 3-5 days. The setup also allows enterprises to host inbound, blended chat, and outbound call termination across the globe along with 24x7 support.To get your cloud enabled COVID Helpdesk off the ground, mail us at: covid19rapidcc@hcl.com