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Marco Ndrecaj, SSCL Government Director of Contact Centre Services, explores the impact of the past two years on Contact Centre services, how they have evolved and what the future holds.

Over the past fortnight I have been concentrating on transformational goals and targets for 2022, however, you cannot move forward without reflecting and taking learnings from the past.

One thing is for sure – the 2020 COVID-19 crisis has disrupted all facets of life. So how has this impacted Contact Centres, given that they play a pivotal role for a wide-ranging variety of issues?

Contact centres were among the earliest and hardest hit services. Calls, emails, webchats, SMS/Social Media messaging etc came pouring in as communities around the world struggled for information and help with everything from financial and/or medical advice, rearranging travel plans, to filing for unemployment benefits and obtaining emergency loans. Contact centres found themselves crippled by COVID-related challenges and particularly as COVID spread; increased shrinkage and attrition, increased volumes, recruitment challenges and the sudden need to embrace a working from home operation. This triggered widespread contact centre service failures, including endless busy signals and days-long hold times. The industry faced unprecedented challenges with no blueprints available…! Today – approaching two years into the pandemic – contact volumes and wait times remain high in many sectors.

The need for immediate rectification was encapsulated by an Albert Einstein quote that I’ve used many times. He was not a business leader, nor did he know much about Contact Centres in the late/early 1940/50s… Nevertheless, there’s no denying that he had one of the greatest innovative minds in history. He once said: “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.” For progressive organisations, the ‘raise above’ sparked an extraordinary transformational acceleration wave, creating innovative solutions that in “normal” times would have taken years to implement.

Although the dust is settling, we must continue focusing on the future – review our operations and transform accordingly to avoid similar disruptions when the next crisis hits.

I believe this is a prime opportunity for organisations to take their contact centre capabilities to a much higher level. The COVID-19 pandemic powerfully verified that typical business continuity plans (BCP) for contact centres are fundamentally flawed, and that standard contact centre operating models aren’t flexible enough to cope with highly unpredictable events. Organisations that simply tweak what they were doing before COVID will be missing out on the chance to shift to more adaptable and resilient ways of working.

We need to exploit technology and process innovations – only by doing this can contact centres ensure they never get caught by surprise again, whilst also enhancing their ability to serve customers more efficiently and effectively during normal times – whatever ‘normal’ means in the future.

Plans for gradual innovation towards the somewhat overused goal of creating the ‘Next Generation of Contact Centres’ or ‘Contact Centres of the Future’ no longer apply.

Ultimately, instead of procrastinating, organisations must turn to Artificial Intelligence (AI) -powered, cloud-based contact centre solutions to become the new hub of customer intelligence, as well as a catalyst of more personalised, in-the-moment, and profitable customer experiences. In 2022, understanding when human agents should take the lead and when AI can supplement excellent service will make all the difference. At high level, within SSCL we have successfully deployed Connect+ (powered by AWS) into our Contact Centres. Connect+ enables end-to-end integration from our multi-award winning ‘myHub’ to our state-of-the-art CRM & workflow tool ‘Service+’ within the Contact Centres. It supports Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Voice Recognition. Our cloud-based ecosystem enables the provision of a true Omni-channel solution, bringing together voice, self-service, email, webchats, chat bots and service requests into a single view of a customer, inside of a Service+ and the agent desktop. It will enable tighter integration across all channels, ensuring end-users can ask once and receive consistent responses, regardless of channel or context. It will deliver improved contact analytics, enable integration with an exploitation of Service+ and is the foundation for end-to-end automation of customer requests. The overall platform is adaptable based on customer specifications and being all cloud based it’s easily deployable and scalable giving flexibility to adapt to different operating models at short notice.

Because of the speed at which new technologies are emerging and innovative solutions are being implemented the next 3-5 years will completely revolutionise the contact centre and customer experience space at an industrial level. There is no more time for complacency.