Shrinking budgets, growing attrition, and a scramble to deliver safe and secure working environments. The State of the Contact Center in 2020 is a far cry from where we expected it to be this time last year.
Do you remember back in March when we were all going around saying, “When this is all over…?” And everyone had a weekend booked full of pub quizzes on Zoom?
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Now that seasons 3 & 4 of ‘The Pandemic’ is all but confirmed, we thought we’d give you the chance to slip out of your ‘work’ sweatpants early, add a splash of brandy to that afternoon coffee, and cozy up to our latest CX industry report: The State of the Contact Center in 2020. You can download the complete report for free here.
We sought out industry experts and leaders far and wide and asked them how Contact Centers — and the CX industry as a whole — fared in the first few months facing COVID-19.
Here’s what we found.
Contact Centers Adapted Fast
The overarching theme that emerged from our research was the staggering changes made due to the pandemic. Contact centers look very different today than they did at the beginning of the year.
In last year’s Contact Center Trends 2020 report, we predicted that there would be a mass migration to the cloud over the coming years. The crisis accelerated this trend, as Senior Analyst of Ryan Advisory, Peter Ryan, told us,
“My view is that the home-working model has been latently gaining steam over the past few years, but the pandemic has thrust it into the limelight. That so many CX professionals have been able to incorporate this approach into their operations is impressive, to say the least.”
— Peter Ryan, Snr. Advisor Ryan Strategic Advisory
In ‘unprecedented times’ (buzzword of the year), businesses must act in unprecedented ways to survive. And the customer support industry has outdone itself in this regard. Especially if you consider the ‘unprecedented’ contact volume that many were experiencing.
Some fared better than others.
“Companies who had invested in migrating to more flexible applications and architectures and who had the foresight to deploy technologies that enabled them to process large spikes in calls thrived — while those who did not, found themselves scrambling or unable to provide the level of support to meet their customer’s expectations.”
— Rod Rodier, VP of Sales, Lightyear.ai
Contact Center Budgets Are Shrinking
In stark contrast to recent years, many of the contact center executives we spoke to were not very optimistic about their budgets.
One of the most positive trends we identified in the last few years was that contact center and CX budgets were rising. Sadly, this seems to have halted.
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Although North American CX executives seemed to be more optimistic than their European counterparts, it wasn’t by much.
As bleak as this news may sound for the industry, we like to look for the silver linings.
“We’ve all heard the saying “necessity is the mother of invention.” It’s also at the heart of innovation and ingenuity. Many companies have been able to streamline and optimize case routing, service calls, and even handle common service calls through virtual methods that greatly reduce costs and improves resolution time, which all leads to better customer experiences.”
— Flavio Martins, CS & CX Expert, winthecustomer.com
Perhaps, now that budgets are tighter than ever, we will finally see companies start to treat CX like the revenue driver it is.
Data Security Issues a Pressing Concern
Another central theme in our conversations was a real concern with data security. The shift to remote working created a swathe of new infrastructure issues for contact centers, with data security heading that list.
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It appears that this situation will not reverse entirely if and when ‘this is all over.’
“60-80% of agents moved to work at home during shelter in place, and ~30% will continue to stay home once there is a vaccine.”
— Sheila McGee-Smith, President, McGee-Smith Analytics
That’s one of the more conservative predictions we heard. Many more people believe that we’re likely to see more than half of agents continuing to work remotely.
The rapid shift to remote working compounded many of the data security issues that contact centers were facing, primarily related to legislation like GDPR & CCPA. Many of the contact center managers we spoke to are expecting more legislation like this in the coming years.
Agent Attrition Woes Worsen
Another trend that we saw bucked by the pandemic was agent attrition and turnover. We noticed one major issue: how quickly executives forgot the importance of CX in a crisis…
“Two things stood out to me: How many CX professionals got laid off at the outset of the pandemic – and then how quickly they were hired elsewhere. Suddenly, customer insights became the golden ticket! The hope is that the following are lasting: (1) the employee experience will be top of mind for CEOs and executives; (2) customer insights remain the most-sought-after information by the C-suite, which means that customers are also top of mind.”
— Annette Franz, CEO, CXJourney.
Previous years indicated that agent attrition issues were (albeit gradually) fading. But most, if not all, contact center executives reported that recruitment and turnover were both a serious challenge and an investment priority in the coming months.
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This surprised us at first. Undoubtedly, many of the typical ‘agent woes’ may have been mitigated by remote working. But the impact of the COVID-19 would have been felt more acutely by many of them, for far more human reasons.
“Contact center agents had to up their listening and their empathy beyond what they had ever faced before. Thus, COVID-19 tasked the agents to sustain others while they were likely worried about their own safety and families. All those who have suffered personal losses may find themselves questioning if they want to stay in the contact center industry.”
— Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach, katenasser.com
That said, it’s clear that contact center executives are well aware of the issues they face staffing their contact centers. Almost all managers identified it as a priority issue and were very vocal about investing in solutions, such as providing better training and growth opportunities, improving benefits, and increasing flexibility with working arrangements.
What Next for Contact Centers?
Quite rightly, many of our industry-experts and analysts were wary of concrete predictions for the future; the last year has made any predictions for the next year seem futile.
We will, however, still do our best to help you plan for the year ahead.
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Next month, we will build on these insights in our annual Contact Center Trends Report for 2021. We may not be sure about the future, but we will certainly take an educated guess.
And if you download this report today, we’ll put you on a priority list to receive the 2021 Trends Report before anybody else.