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Post-COVID, a new kind of contact centre is coming

COVID-19 has lit a fire under the changes taking place in the contact centre sector. Automation and the cloud-based virtual contact centre have been coming for a while; post-COVID, they’re coming now.

Self-service, a trend that’s been gathering momentum for years, has suddenly become vital as calls to contact centres have skyrocketed. One company, CallCare, has seen calls shoot up from 300,000 to a million a month since the start of lockdown. A Channel Doctors survey found that in 15% of UK contact centres demand was up by 50% or more, while only 4% had had to let staff go and 18% were actually hiring during the pandemic.

And with many people having discovered online shopping for the first time, demand is likely to stay high after the pandemic. Automation, AI, self-service and social service will mean centres won’t necessarily need more staff to handle this influx – but they will need more skilled staff.

The new contact centre agent and the new contact centre

So how can contact centres and agents adapt to this change? One way is by transitioning to the cloud. The image of a call centre as a physical cubicle farm was already on the way out; now it’s becoming prehistoric. Cloud-based homeworking has been both successful and very popular with agents, so we can expect it to keep growing post-COVID, with more companies transitioning to cloud-based contact centres.

The new customer interaction

Automation brings an interesting challenge: the only callers who make it as far as a human are those who’ve tried and failed to solve their problems without one. This means complex queries and frustrated customers, requiring a high degree of knowledge and skill from agents.

This could lead to the phenomenon of staff in different business areas working as part-time agents to resolve queries in their area of expertise, or agents specialising in particular fields of knowledge or in advanced negotiating skills. Companies that use social service (enabling customers to answer each other’s queries on social media) may also want to hire someone to sort through social media comments and delete the unhelpful or unsavoury ones. 

For larger companies, it may be possible to find these skills in-house. Freelancers will be a better fit for small organisations, and could help the big companies manage sudden peaks in demand. The trend towards home working will make freelance call centre work an attractive option.

Speaking of home working, we’re also likely to see a rise in demand for video communication skills in call centres now that we’ve all become used to Zoom.

And finally... a new hope

As we move from the ‘panic stations’ phase of the pandemic to the rebuilding phase, we’ll see companies moving from using digital technologies reactively as a temporary means of coping to using them proactively, building strategies for the longer term. 

In general, that’s going to involve going virtual, finding the right structure for a move to the cloud, establishing how best to use systems and people to support business agility and scalability in the post-COVID world. It’s going to be challenging, but with more than enough customers and more flexible ways of working, the future of contact centres looks very hopeful.