Contact Centers in a Crisis: Lessons Learned in 2020

6 minute read

2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year. The onslaught of change and disruption has seemed never-ending. And as a SaaS vendor, we experienced both the positives and negatives of these changes. 

Some customers put new contact center initiatives on the backburner as they worked to put out fires elsewhere in the organizationOthers jumped through hoops to get solutions like computer-telephony integration (CTI) and knowledge management software in place A.S.A.P. in order to deliver on new customer and agent needs. 

In a conversation I had with Gartner about strategies to rapidly deploy knowledge management solutions to help with the industry disruption caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, the analyst shared that a Fortune 500 customer he was working with had a project with a multiyear evaluation and implementation plan get done in 30 days.   

To use a swimming analogy, some organizations sunk early-on in the year and have been trying to get their head above water ever sincesome have tread water the whole time, and others quickly resumed honing their swimming skills. 

Let’s talk a little more about what we have seen and heard from real customers and industry experts this year on where their focus has been, and how that is setting companies up for 2021. 

1. Remote Contact Centers 

One of the first and biggest shifts that hit contact centers (and almost all areas of the business) this year was the overnight shift to remote work. The priority quickly became establishing an in-person or in-office level of service, remotely. Some organizationwere prepared, others weren’t.

We saw some customers with phone systems that were unable to work outside the corporate network, clamoring to find providers that could. They were taking calls on cell phones, free VoIP services, and whatever else they could get their hands on. It’s no surprise that data analysts picked up on a massive uptick in instances of both customers and reps saying “I can’t understand you” during the month of March

On the flip side, we saw other customers transition to remote work locations very gracefully with little disruption to their operations or service levels. 

The major difference here? Whether or not cloud infrastructure was in play. 

2. Spikes in Call Volumes and Changing Channels 

We’ve all sat on hold listening to messages about Covid-19 and longer hold times. The pandemic has caused a perfect storm of customer service issues, with some call wait times exploding from seconds to hoursThis has forced many customer service leaders to rethink their channel strategy.  

Two of our customers, one in the technology and one in the telecommunications space, became laser-focused on getting their multi-channel strategy firing on all cylinders early-on in the pandemicThey are also examples of those organizations that pretty quickly resumed honing their swimming skills” and focused on growth. 

What does firing on all cylinders mean for these organizations?  It means supporting the channels their customers want: phone, email, chat, social, text, and bots. And not just supporting them, but supporting them well.  Big difference! Part of that story is deciding which channels you think you can support well and doubling down. Another part is removing channels you can’t support well, either indefinitely or until you can invest the time or resources to get them right.   

For omnichannel to work, you’ve got to support the customer journey across all of your channels. If a customer starts with a bot, moves to chat, and then reaches out via email the next day, you need to have the systems in place to provide all of that insight to the support representative. 

Webinar CTA: 2021 Contact Center KPIs

3. Constant Change and Ambiguity 

A saying we know all too well is “the only constant is change”. And one of the departments that has been the hardest hit by all of this change has been digital customer serviceCall volumes not only spiked, but the nature of the calls also became increasingly more difficult for agents to navigate. Customer emotion and anxiety became heightened, and many agents weren’t equipped to handle this.  

The crisis has intensified certain needs, as outlined by the 2020 EY Future Consumer Index. Clarity, assurance, accessibility, and convenience are all the new consumer expectations, into next year and beyond.  

  • A lack of clarity on politics and vaccines has left customers looking for clarity in the everyday things they can control.  For example, “what’s the status of my order and when am I going to get it? 
  • We are looking for assurances we can stand by in our daytoday activities despite the fact we feel like we can’t get assurances on the big picture issues in life. 
  • Given the current constraints we’re all under, like being unable to shop at brick and mortar stores, a huge emphasis has been put on accessibility.  As a consumer, I expect you – the business – to provide me new ways to interact with you because I no longer have all the choices I had. 
  • This leads us to convenience.  If I can’t interact with you in the ways I used to, I need equal alternatives. 

The impact? 

Only 21% of consumers are currently forgiving brands and stores whose service has been disrupted by COVID-19.*

Another 43% say quality of service has become a bigger priority for them compared with a month ago.*

In other words, consumers are no longer accepting of the pandemic as an excuse. 

 *2020 EY Future Consumer Index

What Does Customer Service Success Look Like in 2021?

Adjusting to the new world of customer support and changing customer expectations was a big theme for contact centers in 2020 and is probably not one that will go away anytime soonIt’s important that we tackle these challenges now and get our heads above water so that we can set ourselves up for success and resume driving organizational growth. 

As we approach the end of the year, now is the perfect time to reflect on our new dynamics, assess what is working well for us and what isn’t, and get the right tools and technologies in place to help deliver on our go-forward strategies. 

Join me for an upcoming webinar where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on how contact centers coped this year as well as new opportunities to ignite agent productivity, delight your customers, and excel in our new-world realities. 

Register today! 


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