The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted contact centers (we wrote a book on it). Of course, that’s a dramatic understatement, since companies are still scrambling to meet accelerated digital transformation plans and an industry-wide shift toward a distributed workforce. As businesses and customer lives start to return to normal, we’ve identified six call center trends that are shaping the industry for 2022.
These trends affect all areas of your contact center: your tools, employees, processes, and customers.
In our recent webinar, we talked with Jeremy Starcher, Mindful’s Head of Business Development, and Jay Power, Mindful’s Head of Solution Architecture and Engineering, to get their takes on these 2022 contact center trends.
Check out the video below, and keep reading to learn how to streamline and improve your contact center operations so you can provide a fast, efficient, and modern support experience for your customers.
1. Omnichannel support has become the standard that customers expect.
Customer expectations of support have changed. Call centers used to provide support just over the telephone, but contact centers are adopting omnichannel as the new support standard. Now, many customers start their support journey online—looking on your website, sending an email, or contacting your support team via social media.
But it’s not enough just to have a support presence across all these channels. Consumers in 2022 expect their journey to be connected.
A HubSpot study of customers found that repeating themselves to multiple support representatives was the joint-biggest source of frustration for respondents. When customers pick up the phone to speak to your support team, they expect to continue their support journey, not have to start over.
To give your customers the best experience, contact centers must minimize friction for customers interacting with agents across multiple communication channels. Mindful makes it easy to transition support conversations across channels, so agents can engage with customers wherever it’s most convenient.
2. Call volumes have continued to rise, so contact centers are thinking beyond voice.
Call and support ticket volumes have remained above pre-pandemic levels throughout 2021. This volume continues to increase pressure on contact center agents (causing call center burnout), so companies adopted strategies to increase agent productivity and capacity.
Contact centers will be tackling rising call volumes by reducing the number of incoming calls and improving average handle time. Some strategies we’ve seen our customers use:
- Improve self-service options such as online FAQs, knowledge bases, or help center articles. Enhancing your self-serve channels is an obvious top choice, but it’s still worth noting.
- Provide a handoff to voice when self-serve is exhausted. By providing a clear next step to talk to a human at a digital dead end, now the brand can capture the customer’s experience leading up to that point, schedule a call at a time that works best for both customer and brand, and equip the agent with that context for improve handle times and first contact resolution.
- Switch to an outbound or scheduled contact center model. Customers book callback slots with support agents at a time that works for them, which manages call volume every day so you can pair customers to agents without any hold time at all. And the best yet: Agents aren’t in outrageous demand, feel less stressed at work, and can actually go home on time.
- Apply AI and automation so that when customers schedule a call, they automatically receive some preliminary questions via text message. Their responses can be analyzed by AI, and self-serve alternatives (links to a customer portal, help article, etc.) can be delivered, potentially resolving calls before they even take place.
Companies are starting to adopt strategies to remove callers from the queue altogether, saving voice interactions for customer queries that are high value or sensitive. This trend means businesses are rethinking their entire support setup. Rather than hiring more agents to keep up with rising call volumes, companies continue to explore options to redirect customer queries to channels that are easier to scale.
3. Contact centers have become revenue drivers.
Contact centers are often perceived as a cost center and a necessary expense, but companies increasingly recognize the contribution that high-quality support can make to their bottom line.
One way contact centers can drive revenue for businesses is to support customers making high-value purchases. Invoca surveyed 500 consumers and found that 87% of respondents said talking to a person on the phone about their questions made them feel more confident in making high-consideration purchases. For high-value or complex purchases, speaking to a contact center agent gives customers a chance to ask final questions and check the products they’ve chosen are right for their needs.
With the right information and training, your support agents can provide the contact center equivalent of, “Would you like fries with that?” Once your agent has solved the customer’s question or problem, they can offer additional services or products related to the customer’s needs—for example, accidental damage coverage or a service plan. By doing so, contact centers can drive revenue from upselling and cross-selling to existing customers and improve customer retention.
This trend is important because it fundamentally shifts the way companies perceive contact centers and their support agents. If you’re still seeing contact centers as a cost center, your business is missing out on an additional source of revenue.
4. Contact centers have adopted AI to improve efficiency.
Artificial intelligence (AI), including natural language processing (NLP), will transform and modernize many tools and processes contact centers use every day.
Traditional interactive voice response (IVR) systems have long been a source of frustration for customers. IVRs are difficult to navigate—think of how many buttons are pressed to even get to a dial pad on an iPhone—and force the customer to listen to many different options, most of which don’t apply to the customer’s situation or needs.
But conversational IVR is growing in popularity. Conversational IVR uses AI, NLP, and machine learning to analyze what the customer says and route their call to the correct department. This saves time and reduces frustration levels, providing a better experience for both customers and agents.
AI and NLP can also simplify updating customer records. For example, many contact centers use tools to record and transcribe calls. They use NLP to extract contextual data from customer calls. Then they can automatically categorize calls as complaints, tag service requests, or group calls about a common issue.
AI safety net
We expect more contact centers to adopt AI-powered tools in 2022. Increased automation and AI-powered tools save customers valuable time and let agents work more efficiently. But, as customer experience advocates, we want to highlight the risk of failure: How many customers will have a negative experience while your AI gets tuned?
We see this all the time: Budgets are skyrocketing to procure and implement AI and ML technologies, but often at the cost of the customer experience. It takes time for AI to learn from and understand customers. It requires data input to improve its intelligence. And, while it’s doing so, customers need a simple, streamlined onramp to connect with a human.
This is why seamless cross-channel transitions are so vital to a loyalty-building customer experience. If a customer is interacting with an AI chatbot and reaches the end of the AI’s depth, this is the perfect time to automatically invite the customer to schedule a call with an agent. The customer gets to control the transition (schedule a call as soon as possible, or when they’re more available), and bypasses the frustration of starting over.
In the current era of AI, dead ends are inevitable. Make sure you don’t sacrifice the customer journey for AI exploration by offering a customer-controlled point of transition.
5. Remote work has given agents more control over how and where they work.
Contact centers are known for being high-stress environments. They have a reputation for “high levels of turnover, absenteeism, employee burnout and emotional exhaustion.” But the shift toward remote working has given agents more control over their work environments and increased freedom to change roles in search of better work conditions and experiences.
Historically, agents had to live close to their contact centers. As a result, changing jobs often meant relocating, adding risk to an already stressful situation. But remote work means that call center agents can move to any company that offers better hourly pay, benefits, or calmer work environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic made remote work commonplace for contact center agents—and that shift is here to stay. According to Zendesk, “many agents still haven’t gone back to the office; some will likely not return.”
Remote work affects your hiring plans and employee retention strategies. Contact center managers should proactively improve agent work experience by increasing pay, balancing workloads, or creating predictable environments. This will help improve retention and help attract remote employees looking for new opportunities.
6. Customer experience design has started to include contact centers—not just digital channels.
When designing the customer experience, companies have previously focused on digital channels and the path to acquiring and converting new customers. As a result, businesses typically focus on sales and marketing—and relegate the post-sale experience to “less important” functions.
But companies are starting to recognize the importance of support and service to the customer experience. Microsoft found that 90% of respondents indicated that customer service is important to their brand choice and loyalty. In 2022, forward-thinking companies are bringing their support function into their customer experience design.
For many companies, contact centers are the face of a brand’s customer experience. When customers contact companies for support, phone is still the most popular channel—preferred over email, live chat, or chatbots.
Including contact centers in your customer experience design helps to bridge the gap between different contact channels and departments (more on bridging the gap in this webinar). It enables companies to create a holistic, joined-up experience for their customers—from their earliest touchpoints to post-sales support.
This trend is significant because it recognizes the full customer journey, not just acquisition and first sale. If you’re leaving contact centers and support out of your customer experience design, you’re ignoring a large part of the customer journey and missing the chance to build long-lasting customer relationships.
Companies need to recognize the role of contact centers and support departments in maintaining customer relationships and driving customer retention. These trends indicate a fundamental change in the role and business value of the support function within businesses.
Customers and support agents have already seen this in action: Customers are happier than ever to walk away in the face of bad service, and remote work has given agents the flexibility to move to new companies where their contribution is recognized and valued.
Companies need to reframe how they think of contact centers and adopt tools and processes that empower agents to do their best work in stress-free environments. Worried about meeting this year’s trends? Watch a demo or reach out to see how Mindful can meet your existing and future needs.
Note: This article was originally posted in January 2022. It has since been updated to include our 2022 Contact Trends Webinar.