Each year, new trends emerge that contact center executives must pay attention to, and 2020 is no different. For that reason, we thought it would be helpful to share our views on seven trends we believe will impact centers this year and the foreseeable future.

Some, such as the use of AI, are perennial, having spanned several years, while others may have yet to appear on your radar. Regardless, all are worth considering.

1. The unemployment rate will continue to drive increased costs, higher attrition, and lower quality of hired agents.

The historically low U.S. unemployment rate, currently hovering around 3.5 percent, is having a detrimental effect on employee retention, especially among low wage, entry-level positions like those found in contact centers.

In those cases, turnover rates spike as competition for labor increases. With employees having a broader range of new employers to choose from, the companies they leave will be faced with a reduced range of replacement candidates.

Coupling that with rising wages produces a domino effect: Reduced profit margins mean companies will have to dip into a less talented labor pool, which, in turn, will impact productivity and decrease quality scores.

It may also mean companies will invest less in domestic or in-house contact centers and opt instead for lower-cost alternatives, such as nearshore or offshore outsourcing providers.

2. Companies will look to the “last frontier” for English-speaking agents.

Current nearshore and offshore markets are exceeding acceptable market saturation rates concerning English-speaking and bi-lingual agents. The available geography for native English speakers is drying up, forcing companies to look at previously unconsidered or emerging locations for outsourcing.

The continuous deployment of and advances in artificial intelligence will provide brands with massive amounts of data on their customers while at the same time presenting the challenge of making sense of the data to improve customer experience.

Deriving value from all that information will demand the use of advanced analytics that integrate data across channels and link insights to action, capabilities many contact centers currently lack.

4. KPIs will change.

Ten years ago, Average Handle Time and Cost per Call, both contact center-focused metrics, were the top KPIs. Today, with the focus shifting to improving customer experience, those have less bearing.

Instead, contact centers are transitioning to First Call Resolution and Customer Satisfaction as their top priorities. A newer metric, Agent Satisfaction, is also making its way into the arena.

5. Omnichannel will become the norm.

A white paper on contact center trends by Fonolo, a call-back technology company, says that consumers are becoming digital-first and able to use at least ten different channels to communicate with a company. Not only that, but the consumer also expects those channels to be seamless.

“The ‘connected customer’ doesn’t want to know who or what is responsible for the issue; they just want a single point of contact to resolve their issue, and fast,” the white paper asserts and recommends that contact centers unify customer communications across channels to provide that seamless experience.

6. High-tech and high-touch will find balance.

AI, chatbots, and other technologies are gaining prominence, especially among larger brands, a trend that won’t change in 2020. Case in point, a survey by Oracle of 800 marketing and sales decision-makers found that 80 percent plan to use chatbots this year.

That doesn’t mean human agents will become obsolete, however — I related in an earlier post that 83 percent of consumers prefer human interaction over digital channels when trying to solve customer service issues — it just means their roles will change.

Even though we are still in a transitional period regarding the use of technology, expect a balance to be struck, if not this year, certainly soon.

7. Companies will connect empathy with customer service and profitability.

One vital aspect of an agent’s skill set, which has yet to be replicated by machine learning, is the ability to express empathy. Companies are beginning to connect the dots between empathy, customer service, and profit.

For example, the Global Empathy Index found that the top ten companies in the index increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom ten and generated 50 percent more earnings.

That’s why, when onboarding new agents, Transparent BPO has always placed value on training for behaviors, not just metrics. We believe that building a positive connection with the customer, learning to listen, speak the customer’s language, and express empathy are critical to improving CSAT, customer loyalty, and better ROI.

A recent client case study of an online pharmacy startup showcases the value of that approach.

The company’s leaders hired us to help them meet some aggressive sales goals. Along with training on medications and insurance plan names and coverage types, our agents also trained on soft skills, including customer empathy and listening ability, to support an older consumer demographic.

As a result, we increased conversions to enrollments by 29 percent, raised outbound lead conversions by 58 percent, and boosted the quality score to 98 percent, outperforming a previous vendor.

Conclusion

These seven contact center trends certainly aren’t the only ones to consider. A quick Google search will reveal several articles containing timely information. That said, we hope you will take these to heart when making decisions regarding customer service, support, and sales in 2020 and beyond.

Originally published at Transparent BPO

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