“Hybrid work is messy and exhausting,” according to an article published in The Washington Post in April 2022.
Yet, few had strong cravings to return to the daily commute, go back to the hustle and bustle of the office, and reconnect with the person eating their smelly lunch nearby.
As such, many contact centers have doubled down on hybrid work, trying to find ways to numb the trials and tribulations it brings.
Technology is a critical enabler here. As such, we contacted a host of leading CCaaS providers, hoping to get to grips with the latest trends in how contact centers harness their platforms to support hybrid work.
These vendors put forward the following expert spokespeople:
- Dana Shalev, Director of Product Marketing, WEM at NICE
- Michael Wallace, Americas Solutions Architect Leader CXE at AWS
- Devon Mychal, Director of Product Marketing, Research & Insights at Talkdesk
- Lorrissa Horton, SVP, GM, & CPO of Collaboration at Webex by Cisco
- Andy Watts, Senior Account Director at Odigo
- Martin Taylor, Co-Founder and Deputy CEO at Content Guru
Below, they answer the following three questions, sharing insights that may help customer service teams combat the pesky problems they face on a day-to-day basis.
What Trends Have You Noticed In How Hybrid Contact Centers Use Their CCaaS Platforms Over the Past 12 Months?
Shalev: The move to hybrid work is partly due to employee demand for better work-life balance.
Businesses with hybrid contact centers have increasingly sought automation opportunities to further empower employees and reduce attrition over the last twelve months.
Such opportunities include AI-powered flexible scheduling and forecasting, giving employees power over their schedules while ensuring that business needs are met.
An AI-powered flexible scheduling solution allows businesses to monitor staffing levels in real-time while considering business rules and employee scheduling preferences to manage staffing levels. It also enables seamless staffing between agents working on-premise and remotely.
Wallace: Our customers have shown a desire to migrate beyond the physical requirements and adopt a more agile model where the agents, supervisors, and managers’ location is not a material consideration.
Such a trend has opened up their ability to hire agents from traditionally underserved markets, like those with physical handicaps, military spouses, etc.
Thanks to the benefits like this, few contact centers seem to crave a return to office models.
Mychal: While it’s not unique to hybrid contact centers, the adoption of digital channels has continued to increase and enabled them to operate with greater agility.
When demand is surging, hybrid contact centers can tap a broader base of part-time remote agents, deflect to digital channels, and keep wait times down.
Such a strategy has helped hybrid operations deal with increasing inbound volume while staffing fewer full-time agents due to turnover, budget cuts, and a tight labor market.
Interaction analytics and automated quality management have also proved invaluable as organizations look to understand agent performance and customer pain points at scale.
By providing AI-driven insights across the full breadth of customer interactions, these tools make it easier to identify skill and knowledge gaps, process inefficiencies, and compliance breaches amongst remote teams.
Horton: In the past, supervisors were physically in the same building with their agents so they could see them working and could help solve problems.
Whereas today with hybrid work, supervisors and their teams could spread out and work from different locations.
As such, supervisors have had to shift their thinking from overlooking agents to trusting them to do their jobs remotely. This has forced supervisors and businesses to be more data-driven while providing agents with online tools for cross-team communication, support, and onboarding.
Watts: After the scramble to offer hybrid, attention is turning to more intentional working practices to boost performance and mitigate the downsides.
Rising awareness and a desire to quantify the positive and negative impact of hybrid working on agents mean CCaaS solution analytics are helping monitor and measure wellbeing.
Companies are also looking to optimize CX by modernizing and unifying/integrating multiple solutions into hybrid-native applications. These offer agents a single access point to a wealth of customer service capabilities.
Playing to the strengths of this new working model, contact centers are redesigning office spaces to promote teamwork and reserving focused individual “cubicle work” for remote days.
After all, teamwork and collaboration are often best in-person, whereas targeted advice can be just as effective remotely.
Taylor: Pre-pandemic, multichannel contact capabilities were usually provided by amalgamating communication channels in the physical contact center. The customer experience (CX) was inconsistent, but overall, things worked just about well enough.
Unfortunately, such an approach failed once agents had to work from home, resulting in many contact centers limiting consumers’ channel choices.
With agents now permanently hybrid, an exodus from large on-premise telephone-based contact centers towards cloud-provided omnichannel platforms has begun.
These often include native WFO tools. The same design model applies to recording, auditing, and quality management, allowing managers in any location to analyze an agent’s performance, regardless of location.
From there, the contact center can apply predictive agent rostering to maximize efficiency and quality.
We also see increased use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI) tools, assisting the agent in the hybrid workplace.
Where do You Still See Opportunities for Hybrid Contact Centers to Better Utilize Their CCaaS Platform?
Shalev: Remote or hybrid workplaces are the new contact center norm, leaving many performance managers in the dark. Productivity and engagement levels, once easily assessed onsite, have become opaque.
Contact centers can better utilize their CCaaS platforms to provide robust performance data on employee skills and capabilities.
Managers can use this data to figure out upskilling opportunities to provide to top-performing talent to fill performance gaps on the team and be able to respond to every type of customer interaction.
Moreover, contact centers can proactively develop skills and capabilities with precise forecasting tools in areas with the most significant operational needs and opportunities.
Wallace: Agents, supervisors, and administrators can be onsite one day, work from home the next, and the tools provided by AWS are no different in any location.
Because of this, our customers do not have a hybrid service.
During the migration period, while moving from legacy services to Amazon Connect, we provide integration pathways. Still, the end state is a holistic migration to AWS and the elimination of segmented hybrid solutions.
Mychal: Many hybrid contact centers struggle with developing and retaining a high-performing agent workforce.
In the face of increased turnover and budget constraints, many managers are asking agents to ramp up faster. Moreover, remote agents don’t have the luxury of in-person training, oversight, and collaboration.
The two-pronged problem can increase stress, provoke negative customer conversations, and ultimately, lead to burnout.
Thankfully, hybrid contact centers have a significant opportunity to better utilize their CCaaS platform and leverage AI for real-time agent assistance.
Such solutions monitor and transcribe customer interactions in real-time, proactively providing agents with the correct answer or next best action to solve customer queries.
In addition, they reduce context switching by automating simple tasks and ensuring that agents can focus on interacting with the customer instead of searching for information.
Hybrid contact centers that invest in these solutions can expect various operational efficiency gains while reducing agent burnout and improving CSAT.
Horton: For businesses that wish to cultivate a thriving hybrid work culture and CX program through contact center technologies, there are opportunities in these four areas:
- SaaS Applications:Using the same applications in the office and at home is essential for remote working success. Businesses must get modern by moving to SaaS applications so information becomes easily accessible and agents stay productive wherever they are.
- Fleet Management of Tools:Agents must have the proper devices and tools at home to provide quality service to customers. This includes accessories like headsets, a robust network connection, and webcams.
- AI for Agent Wellness:AI can play a critical role in helping supervisors and agents better operate in this new world of hybrid work. It can provide insights to supervisors about potential issues for the agents without being there in person. Ultimately, this can help support wellbeing while improving contact center engagement rates.
- Automation:Automation helps companies scale processes while providing more consumer choice. An example of this goes back to the pandemic when companies like Best Buy automated and incorporated chat into the customer experience. Consumers may now buy online or via an app to pick up their products at the store.
Watts: There are impactful ways to mindfully manage hybrid workloads by adapting how contact centers use CCaaS features. Here are four excellent examples:
- Advanced Routing Strategies – Automatically analyzing inbound calls’ content, context, and sentiment ensures queries route to the best possible agent. It is not simply skill-based routing; it’s smarter. It factors in location, the potential for burnout, and case-loads, with the latter ensuring agents receive a mix of contact complexities to lower stress levels.
- Sentiment Analytics – Contact centers can use the same analytics that fuel advanced routing strategies “in-flight” to better understand an agent’s emotional state. The system may then automate downtime and breaks to diminish the risk of excessive stress or burnout.
- AI-Enhanced Knowledge Management – This provides a degree of backup at home and minimizes the scramble to manually search knowledge bases during a call.
- Workforce Management – WFM must evolve into intelligent scheduling, not simply calculating an FTE. Ignoring the distinction between home and office is not what hybrid work is about.
Taylor: To gain maximum value from their technology investments, organizations that have shifted to CCaaS must leverage the differentiation their platforms provide.
Especially in a hybrid workplace, omnichannel cloud is the enabler for enhanced customer experience. However, many organizations are underutilizing their tech.
An organization’s initial focus is often re-creating like-for-like functionality in the cloud.
Having completed a relatively heavy-lift IT migration project, teams inevitably want to take a breather and attend to other tasks. Yet, doubling down on their newly-acquired solution can open up a competitive advantage.
Indeed, there is no point in having the capability to engage customers through digital, spoken, and visual communications – and deploying intelligent automation and quality management – if the service delivered to the consumer is still only average.
It is down to decision-makers and managers to evolve their strategies rapidly enough to forge ahead and deliver exceptional CX.
What Should a Hybrid Contact Center Look for In a CCaaS Partner?
Shalev: A hybrid contact center requires a CCaaS partner that addresses its complexities, paying particular attention to its agents’ unique locations and skills.
On top of delivering cloud-native CCaaS, this partner should be an innovative and leading AI provider delivering the complete offering of AI-infused WEM solutions.
This should include an automated, AI-driven WFM solution with flexible scheduling and forecasting to ensure proper staffing regardless of where agents are located.
CCaaS partners should also deliver an omnichannel solution with added WFO tools that allow managers to leverage personalized coaching and gamification to help engage remote workers.
Choosing a CCaaS partner that offers these key capabilities enables hybrid contact centers to deliver differentiated customer experiences alongside improved employee engagement, performance, and retention rates for remote and on-premise agents.
Simplifying the CX stack is top of mind for many contact centers. The right solution provides a seamless experience for the agent and the end-customer, regardless of location.
Moreover, it allows businesses to meet customers where they are, no matter the channel, and provide a consistently excellent experience to agents, supervisors, and administrators.
Contact centers can also create intelligent, personalized end-customer interactions by keeping the solution open and extensible.
When evaluating a solution, prioritize the expectation of the modern customer that wants to have that seamless experience in any modality.
Mychal: When evaluating potential CCaaS partners, reliability, scalability, and a commitment to intuitive UX design are table stakes.
However, the last few years have demonstrated just how quickly contact centers can change when it comes to operating models, customer preferences, and the macroeconomic environment.
The right CCaaS partner should offer an end-to-end suite of cloud solutions and provide their customers with the flexibility to quickly adopt new capabilities as business priorities change.
Finally, hybrid contact centers should prioritize a CCaaS partner that is rapidly innovating.
This is particularly important for operations that wish to apply AI and automation to better understand their customers, improve agent performance, and increase operational efficiency.
Look for a CCaaS partner with a strategy that expands beyond short-term considerations and can help a business scale over time.
Such a partner can help the business reach more customers while improving customer satisfaction within a fixed budget.
In addition, consider its AI expertise. After all, the technology allows service operations to help agents deliver an overall elevated customer experience with the right data at the right time.
A CCaaS provider with deep AI know-how can turn this possibility into a reality, paving the way for a personalized journey for each customer across every interaction channel.
Watts: Avoid transferring a legacy mentality when migrating to new solutions. Partnerships must be built with flexibility and future-proofing in mind.
Disparate systems or a single “one size fits all” off-the-shelf solution do not put customer and agent experience where they should be: front and center.
The more open the architecture of a CCaaS platform, the easier it will be to integrate next-generation applications and best-of-breed technologies.
CCaaS should be the framework for building an ecosystem to maximize flexibility and contribute to business success.
The ability to cherry-pick the best features for customers and integrate them for expanded agent capabilities without complexity is critical.
Nevertheless, the open framework has to be high-quality, scalable, secure by design, and cloud and omnichannel native.
Taylor: Hybrid contact centers should opt for CCaaS technology that is cloud-native and built from a single tech stack. This matters because, while the number of engagement channels in today’s landscape is huge, many new channels will be added in the next few years.
No one can predict what these new channels will look like, but customers will want to engage through them, and the solution will need to integrate with them.
As such, CCaaS technology must be architected in a coherent, modular way so that clients can easily add new channels and functionalities.
Exceptional CCaaS vendors will have a deep-rooted commitment to research and development and a deep base of high-quality engineering, not just slick marketing.
Choosing carefully and often paying more is worth it to ensure quality and reliability.
Miss out on our previous CX Today roundtable? Check it out here: Powering CX With CRM