By Aaron Lumnah, Senior Manager Marketing Demand Generation

As we approach the end of an unprecedented  year, taking a moment to look ahead to what’s on the horizon is a great way to kickstart strategies that will help to future-proof the delivery of a great customer experience.

One thing is for sure: the pandemic has ushered in an extraordinary period of transformation and innovation for contact centers everywhere–whether that was the overnight migration to homeworking, the increase and reliance on remote shopping and customer support, or the surge in use of digital channels.

Assessing what changes are temporary and which will endure requires some deep critical thinking. However, as we navigate the so called ‘new normal’ unleashed by COVID-19, it is clear the recent pandemic has accelerated many of the trends already in motion before the crisis first hit.

Let’s take a look at some of the developments set to reshape the future of the contact center in 2021.

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1. The Rise – and Rise – of the Contact Center

Overnight, the global pandemic thrust the contact center into the limelight. At a time when lockdowns and social distancing changed everyone’s lives, call and contact centers had to deal with a massive uptick in customers looking for support and help.

No longer viewed as a Cinderella operation, the coronavirus crisis has elevated the contact center into a key customer touchpoint. Brand reputations now depend on the speed and accuracy with which customers are served.

Indications are that having experienced the convenience of digital transactions, consumer preferences have been changed for the long term. In response, contact centers will need to re-evaluate their processes and channel mix to deliver the customer experiences and services that win the lasting loyalty of customers.

2. Voice Rules

A recent survey of 6,000 customers in 12 countries found voice is still the #1 preferred form of customer contact. Indeed, those aged 25-34 were the most likely to reach for the phone, bucking the perception that millennials prefer digital channels first and foremost, followed by those aged 65 and over.

To cope with rising call volumes, organizations are turning to new technologies like voice-enabled chatbots and conversational AIs to handle routine calls or remind customers about scheduled payment and appointment events. But fully autonomous technologies can’t solve every problem – sometimes people just need to speak to a human.

As the go-to primary escalation channel when digital channels fail, customers still view voice communications as the best way to get highly complex issues resolved. For this reason, organizations are increasing their use of new assistive AI technologies that enhance and elevate the work of human agents – so the humans can respond faster and more effectively to customers.

3. Giving Customers a Choice of Channels

The coronavirus outbreak has sparked a massive move from physical to digital transactions at all levels of society – impacting everything from the way we pay, to how we bank, and shop.

Even before COVID-19, changing consumer preferences were already having an impact on how contact centers deliver customer service. Forward-thinking companies had already begun initiating live chat and digital self-service options that enabled customers to engage on their terms, at a time and place that works best for them – including out of hours and on the move.

According to a recent global CX research study by NICE inContact, 62% of contact center leaders reported that the coronavirus crisis generated a significant increase in digital interactions, with 46% seeing an upturn in self-service as customers tried to defer mortgage or credit card payments, cancel airline bookings, or locate missing shopping orders.

In a post-COVID-19 world, delivering digital-first experiences will be a must have. Because the pandemic has helped to create truly omni-digital customers who want to conduct their entire journey with a business online. In 2021, organizations will need to adapt quickly to the demands of customers who increasingly expect to encounter convenience, ease and ‘basic’ digital capabilities whenever they need to communicate or interact with a brand.

4. Work from Anywhere – It’s the Future

When the coronavirus outbreak first hit, many organizations had to pivot at speed to a remote-based model to keep agents safe and maintain business-as-usual operations. For smart companies, that meant replicating the contact center technology environment at home. That included providing systems with secure environments to agents, so they could transact with confidence and maintain the privacy of sensitive customer data and payment information.

With work from home measures set to endure for months to come, addressing key regulatory and compliance issues will be key for organizations that want flexible working options that will enable the workforce to supportperiods of peak demand – or extend customer value by offering ‘round the clock’ service.

5. Dealing with the Rise in Cybercrime

The increased digitalization of customer interactions and increased reliance on remote access means that contact centers are now firmly in the sights of fraudsters.

Cutting-edge security measures such as voice verification, call forensics, and highly secure voice and payment channels are increasingly becoming a must-have. This comes especially as many agents are now working remotely, beyond the corporate perimeter, on personal smartphones or home PCs.

Organizations that take card payments are obliged to meet the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) when it comes to securing cardholder data. For contact center leaders that means addressing any areas of potential weakness and putting in place the necessary procedures and solutions that ensure agents and customers can be confident that they are fully protected.

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6. On the Horizon – PCI DSS v4.0

Get ready for the release of a major update to PCI DSS. Due to be released in mid-2021, organizations will need to be poised and ready to implement the controls that ensure they are compliant with these new PCI DSS requirements.

The updated framework will cover everything from prevention practices for protecting against Account Testing Attacks to more stringent requirements in relation to the way cardholder data is stored and transmitted.

As ever, our expert advisors are on hand to help you navigate your payment compliance challenges as you evolve your contact center operations to cope with changing customer demands.

The Contact Center of the Future: Formulating a Strategy for What’s Ahead

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