Customer experience, digitalization, COVID-19 and the contact center

COVID-19 impacted the contact center industry enormously. Enforced lockdowns meant workers had to stay at home, and customers were largely forced to abandon brick-and-mortar retail and take advantage of e-commerce. Digital came to the fore more than ever. Contact centers were deluged with calls as consumers had to do almost everything online. How did we continue to ensure they got a good customer experience (CX)?

We had to undertake a rapid transformation. We had spent many years developing and investing in our digital strategy and tools to give our customers the service and CX they expect. And while all that work has not been undone, it was temporarily upturned practically overnight. The pandemic meant that we needed to immediately migrate our own and our customers’ contact center operations into the cloud or risk dissatisfied or even churned customers. If we weren’t able to help our customers deliver a memorable CX to their customers, they’d risk losing the competitive advantage they had spent time and resources cultivating.

It’s important to acknowledge the power of CX in today’s world. Customers expect greater personalization than ever before and are prepared to go elsewhere if they don’t get it. According to research by Salesforce, 76% of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. 84% said being treated like a person, rather than a number, is very important to winning their custom, while 59% said bespoke engagements based on historic interactions is very important to winning their custom. Digital transformation has been the bedrock on which these expectations have been built. And even in the face of a global pandemic, companies were expected to keep on delivering great CX.

What happened to contact centers during COVID-19?

To start with, the stay-at-home mandates in place around the world saw contact centers deluged with unprecedented call volumes. At the same time, contact center agents were forced to work remotely to attempt to limit the spread of the virus. These sudden changes, unforeseen in the day-to-day operations of contact centers, married to increased demand for information from consumers on issues like travel cancellations, COVID-19 advice and insurance claims, caused a surge in demand at contact centers. In some cases around the world, hold times for customer service increased by up to 34%. This naturally wasn’t conducive to delivering good CX.

Contact centers had no choice but to adapt

The tactics companies employed to deliver great CX had already been shifting and evolving long before COVID-19 arrived. And digital has been absolutely central to that. However, the pandemic placed added emphasis on delivering exceptional CX, with one report finding that 58% of consumers say COVID-19 had actually raised their customer service expectations.

With that in mind, I believe that companies must now focus more than ever on contact centers not being “just” a standalone thing. Customers expect service on their terms, and that means omnichannel: excessive hold times while agents try to find the right person to transfer them to is unacceptable. Your customers now expect your company to be a single, unified organization, and your internal siloes or staffing challenges do not matter to them, pandemic or no pandemic.

It is a significant challenge, but one that must be overcome. Research has found that only 1% of contact centers have a “perfect” strategy, and in addition to the issue of data being siloed in disparate systems, other complaints must be addressed. Customers often feel that companies don’t pay enough attention to their voices and also that they don’t make the most of data to enhance CX.

Tactics to maximize your contact center

There’s a range of actions you can, and should, take to give customers a better CX and get the most out of your contact center. Automation now plays a key role, with bots able to help by solving basic customer enquiries. Artificial intelligence (AI) is another essential in your modern-day contact center, and robotic process automation (RPA) can enable a faster-reacting service for customers. However, it’s also important to blend digital technologies in your contact center with human agents. Digital is best used to complement your human agents and to enable them to work better and smarter, not replace them.

Furthermore, at Orange India we have been focusing on how cybersecurity can be an enabler of CX and a competitive differentiator for companies. Adopting tools and strategies such as Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), flexible identity authentication, cloud-based cyberdefense and flexible application access can all enhance your CX. SASE redefines security for the cloud and lets organizations apply security policies on a per-session basis. It also offers secure access to private applications in public clouds and data centers, rather than access at network level, and can help companies detect and prevent attacks, including phishing, malware, ransomware and malicious agents attacking from the cloud. Flexible identity authentication reduces risk at password and sign-on level, flexible application access ensures secure remote access to your network and corporate apps, wherever your contact center teams are working from. Making sure your remote agents are operating as securely as possible is step one on the journey to ensuring your customers receive the CX they expect.

Digital CX must be embraced for today and tomorrow

Digital has enabled organizations more than ever and today powers the type of CX that customers demand – so you cannot afford to ignore CX as a business imperative. Research by Adobe found that 97% of business leaders believe CX management is essential to create loyal and long-lasting customer relationships.

Further to that, COVID-19 changed the contact center dramatically, and we must be agile and forward-looking enough to adapt. According to Gartner, before COVID-19 hit, nearly 7 in 10 (68%) customer service and support organizations worked from a traditional call center,” and less than 10% of staff worked from home. That’s now changed, and moving forward, Gartner forecasts that 71% of contact centers will be remote.

What this means in reality is that your contact center is probably more valuable today than it has ever been. Optimizing the CX your contact center gives to your customers is key: according to Deloitte, 85% of contact center leaders say CX is the number one factor driving their investment. COVID-19 forced a rapid re-evaluation and adaptation of contact center strategy, and it might happen again in future. Having the right strategy, tools and solutions in place can ensure that you continue to deliver a great CX to your customers, powered by digital.

If you would like to talk further about issues around digital CX, contact center, or any other digital transformation issues in India, please contact me.

Bala Mahadevan
Bala Mahadevan is CEO, India, at Orange Business. His role incorporates leading Global Communications Solutions and Global Services in India, and he is responsible for designing and executing business strategy to drive business growth in India.
Bala holds a Bachelor of Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, India. He is an accomplished leader with a track record of key contributions in various leadership roles, encompassing business transformation, leading global businesses having multi-location, multi-faceted technology environments, setting up off-on shore development & support centers and more. His intense and varied experience in the IT services industry has cut across various service lines, verticals and local-global geographies for over 30 years.