With contact centers often employ hundreds of agents, the risk of exposing them to the coronavirus is the main reason why most have not returned to normal operations. In fact, the homeworking model, which was the most noticeable development since the beginning of the pandemic, looks like it is here to stay.
Hybrid working is here to stay
Before the arrival of Covid-19, only 3.8 per cent of the UK’s 812,000 call center workers were based at home, according to research group ContactBabel.
However, by November 2020, homeworking was almost twice as common among call center staff as the general workforce, with approximately three quarters of 139,000 agents surveyed saying they were home-based.
It appears very likely that homeworking looks set to remain in some capacity at the very least. Just four out of 107 call centers and managers questioned for The 2021 Contact Center People Engagement Survey, anticipated a full return to the office.
Throughout 2022 and beyond, it seems very likely that the prevailing model will be a hybrid one with some workers preferring to work from the contact center, some mixing office and homework, and others choosing to be fully home-based.
Related: Remote working is creating a ‘trust crisis’.
Cloud migration will soar
The ongoing migration towards cloud-based platforms and digitalization of operations will continue. It goes without saying that the pandemic supercharged this migration this process.
Throughout 2022, we would expect to see the cloud continue to mature, bringing benefits to customer-facing businesses. In addition, with more applications now available in the cloud, organizations will be able to deliver a joined-up customer experience almost entirely in that one environment.
To do this well, forward thinking contact centers will require optimized processes and systems that integrate with each other, so that the customer and the agent follow a pathway that feels instinctive.
Nevertheless, call centers still have plenty to do because many companies rushed their cloud migration back in 2020, in an effort to ensure business continuity. Looking ahead we expect contact centers to continue to focus on integrating systems for a secure network and a good customer experience.
The focus on employee wellbeing will increase
The pandemic not only put our health under the spotlight, but it also gave us time and space to reflect on what is important in our lives. This has led to employees demanding a work-life balance and the ability to prioritize their well-being.
In the context of contact center operations, we would expect businesses in 2022 to start paying even more attention to the human cost of the shift to cloud and hybrid working. Until now, most contact center tools have been engineered for people sitting next to each other in an office.
Moving forwards, businesses and organizations will find that they need software and processes more suited to the hybrid environment that support flexible working and being able to track, measure and reward good performance.
With agents spending significant amounts of time away from the office, there will also be a growing need in 2022 for tools and approaches that encourage employee wellbeing and engagement.
Many forward thinking and well-resourced organizations will have already put these processes in place, launching staff wellbeing initiatives to better engage with their employees. We would expect others to follow suit throughout 2022.
The reason why this is important is because without engagement and interaction of this kind, we are very likely to see sickness, absenteeism and staff turnover increasing within many businesses. Isolation is however perhaps the key issue leading to mental health concerns and it is vital businesses take steps to deal with this.
The use of AI will continue to grow
For many years there have been predictions around artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. However, its time has come as the investment in AI that can provide tangible benefits for day-today operations and long-term growth. The ability to push a lot of the routine, high-volume, low value contact center interactions to AI and robots is growing and that’s a process we would expect to accelerate further in 2022.
Contact centers still need competent agents to handle complicated, awkward and emotional matters, but for the most routine of interactions and even those involving some level of complexity, we will see a growing move to AI-enabled bots and automation.
Related: Leveraging AI in the next generation contact center.
Due to the rate of change in AI technology and its growing capabilities, we would expect chatbots and virtual assistants to become even more sophisticated during 2022 in their ability to understand customer intentions.
Natural language understanding and natural language processing proficiency are increasing all the time. These technologies can process and understand not just words and phrases but also context and sentiment, which means the number of problems they solve will continue to increase, as will the accuracy with which these problems can be resolved.
The world of contact center technology is certainly evolving at an impressive speed. While making predictions in previous years has proved to be very difficult, it is even so more thanks to the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Nevertheless, we expect to see these trends play a crucial part in shaping the contact center industry in the year ahead.
It is very clear that contact centers will continue to play a strategically important role for businesses as customer channels proliferate. After overcoming many operational changes brought on by the pandemic, contact centers are now focused on the future, which no doubt will be prove to be a challenging one, but one with lots of exciting opportunities.
Gary Bennett is VP Sales at Enghouse Interactive.
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