Intelligent Contact Centers – At the Forefront of Customer Experience

Contact centers, traditionally thought to be mere cost centers aimed at solving customer queries over phone, are undergoing a metamorphosis. In today’s uber competitive environment, customer-focused companies have been quick to realize that these centers are a critical touchpoint of customer engagement, and how customers experience them hugely influences how they experience the overall brand. When a customer calls a contact center and is put on hold for a long time, or is passed from agent to agent without any resolution, his experience with the brand diminishes significantly. On the other hand, a smooth, frictionless experience wins a loyal customer. In fact, according to the Future of CX: 2022 report by Freshworks, speed of query resolution will be the most important CSAT driver going forward. So all customer-first enterprises are working to transform their contact centers into relationship hubs not just geared at solving customer issues, but rather to make the overall customer experience better and create a good lasting impression.

Also, with customers’ increasing usage of digital channels to connect with businesses, the need to upgrade and modernize contact centers is real. So businesses are investing in technologies that help them keep track of their customers’ journeys and enable them to proactively reach out to customers with timely updates, reminders, back-in-stock alerts, and more. This is especially important given today’s customers are an impatient lot, and do not flinch when it comes to abandoning a brand after a single bad experience. So enterprises are investing in technologies that are improving agent efficiency, streamlining workflows and creating seamless customer experiences – they are essentially working to make their contact centers more “intelligent”. 

Let’s Look at Some of the Key Features of Today’s Intelligent Contact Centers.

While remote work was still present before the pandemic, call centers would typically be a physical space where agents would solve customer issues over the phone or via text. However, post the pandemic, which not just necessitated remote work but also made it more desirable given the cost savings, employee flexibility, and other advantages of remote work, working remotely has almost become the norm. And with the future of work set to be hybrid, contact centers have had to evolve in a way that would support hassle-free remote working conditions. As a result, contact center leaders are increasingly using location-agnostic technologies that can provide the same high-quality support and productivity tools to an agent who may be geographically scattered – all they need is an internet connection.

A major reason for remote work for contact center employees is easy access to cloud technology. Cloud has been an increasingly popular choice for contact centers as it is easy to set up, offers unlimited scalability, supports remote work, does not require expensive infrastructure deployments, and is cost-effective for small and medium businesses. Also, it easily integrates with existing systems and supports all leading communication channels.

As per a Deloitte survey, 32% of surveyed organizations were running contact center technologies in cloud at the end of 2020, but 75% are expected to make the move within the next two years. Cloud-based solutions are easily scalable and have enabled contact centers to go remote quickly.

Customers now have a number of options when it comes to reaching out to companies. With the availability of various touchpoints including voice, text, social media, email, and so on, voice is no longer the center of customer support operations. In fact, many customers prefer to chat with brands rather than call them up. Others may prefer email. Today’s customers are, in fact, notorious for channel switching as they move forward in their journeys. Keeping up with these channel switches and maintaining the context of the interaction is key to customer service success. At many contact centers, agents have to open up multiple tabs on their screens and flip between them constantly to answer queries. In a six-minute service call, almost 75% of the time is dedicated to manual research. This increases average handling times and adversely impacts the customer experience. Customers also feel frustrated when they are made to wait or need to repeat personal information again and again to a new agent each time.

To avoid this, intelligent contact centers are investing in integrated platforms that provide a single, unified view of their customers’ journeys, no matter which channel they are interacting on. Agents can manage all chat interactions from a single interface. This reduces average handling times and increases first-contact resolution. Also, managers can view dashboards, reports, monitor service levels, hear call recordings and analyze their team’s performance, all from a single window.

90% of customers rate an “immediate” response as important or very important when they have a customer service question. 60% of customers define “immediate” as 10 minutes or less.

Many contact centers remain hamstrung due to a lack of automation. At traditional contact centers, agents often have to handle operations like call routing, logging call summary, and query resolutions manually. Despite the heavy number of incoming calls, especially post the pandemic, managers are often unable to assign tasks effectively to the most qualified agents. This results in frustrated customers and hapless agents who are simply not equipped to assist them. The result? High customer churn and agent turnover.

As a way out of these problems, many contact centers have embraced automation as a solution. Automating mundane tasks has spared agents from having to answer routine queries and instead allowed them to spend that time on valued customer interactions like offering cross-sell and upsell opportunities. It has boosted the performance of frontline staff and reduced attrition significantly. Customers have also benefitted as they are offered a host of self-service options that require little to no human intervention.

In 2021, Gartner found that 80% of the service industry leaders in B2B and B2C organizations rate migrating to self-service as their top priority, followed by upgrading contact center technology (79%) and automating customer service processes (77%).

Also, technologies like robotic process automation are helping contact centers to streamline their workflows. Robots can identify agents who may be sitting idle due to a reduction in call volumes and guide these agents through training modules, coaching, or involve them in other developmental activities. If the call volume suddenly picks up again, the agent is notified to resume work, and the training session is paused till the next opportunity arises. Robots are also helping agents to record vital information from each call that they can act on for future communication.

Some of the automation technologies being used heavily in contact centers are intelligent call routing, virtual assistants, and real-time data analytics.

Intelligent Call Routing: Smart contact centers are gradually moving away from manual call routing, a rather time-taking and inefficient process, to IVR call deflection. If it’s determined that a call needs to be routed to an agent, the IVR intuitively routes the most suitable agent’s soft phone. The RPA robot meanwhile verifies the caller’s identity and simultaneously looks up their background before displaying the customer’s historical records so the agent can help them from the get go without the customer having to identify themselves. The customers do not have to be put on hold at all, decreasing the average handling time. This skills-based routing or case owner routing has not just reduced wait times for customers who call, but has also resulted in a prioritized call list for agents. Thanks to technology, customers who call can even request a particular agent with whom they may have spoken earlier. This significantly increases chances of first contact resolution.

Intelligent automation integrates with other systems to monitor call volumes as well as agent’s workload. Contact centers can set relevant parameters according to their needs, and the software can trigger automatic responses that help agents always remain prepared to perform to the best of their abilities.

Self-Service Virtual Agents: Migrating contact volumes from assisted to self-service channels is becoming a top priority for customer support leaders. Web chats are becoming an increasingly preferred option for customers and AI-powered chatbots are helping them complete routine tasks by themselves without any human intervention. Such assistance is text-based and automated and is becoming increasingly common. Smart contact centers are able to reduce call volumes significantly via use of chatbots. Visual IVRs are also being used to greet customers with a number of menu options and users can simply pick their preferred option instead of typing in their entire query.

Automating Post-Call Updates: With RPA contact centers can enable call summarization and automatically log notes into CRM systems without the need for agents to input information manually. Agents can simple move on to attend to the next caller.

Real-time Data Analytics: In a traditional call center environment, the audio content from voice calls is recorded, transcribed, and analyzed after a call is over. While this has value in that it helps to identify common customer issues as well as agent performance, the issues cannot be resolved at the time of the call. Real time data analytics can be configured to gauge customer sentiments, behavioral analytics, etc., which can be used to immediately alert managers to escalations who can immediately take action to assuage the customers’ feelings. Also, managers can see if too many calls are on hold, or there are too many abandoned call rates, and take corrective actions immediately so that customers ultimately leave the call satisfied. Analytics can also help to improve an agent’s performance by providing context-based feedback – their average call handling time and other quantifiable metrics. Managers can identify which agents are doing great and which need more training.