Sentiment analysis – what contact centres should consider
A potentially powerful tool for contact centres looking to make informed changes to their services in order to enhance the customer experience, is sentiment analysis.
Sentiment analysis provides a means by which customer and agent emotions within interactions can be quantified. This can relate to interactions that take place on the phone or through alternative channels, with the purpose being to uncover processes, behaviours and situations that cause strong levels of sentiment, whether positive or negative.
Learning more about such processes, behaviours, and situations is crucial for organisations operating contact centres. After all, if companies do not have insights into these areas, they could overlook key aspects of their service that have a real impact on the customer experience and business outcomes.
Through the use of analytics and large data sources it is possible to search datasets as a way of identifying and inspecting the types of interaction that have the greatest effects on customer sentiment.
Is the use of technology for detecting sentiment actually necessary?
This is a very fair question for organisations to consider. It would seem obvious to many observers that agents – particularly those who have higher levels of empathy and experience – should be capable of identifying callers’ emotions. So, would using technology for the purposes of sentiment detection represent a redundant investment of time and money?
There might have once been an argument for that. However, in today’s era of artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled analytics, it is now possible for the sentiment and emotions of millions of calls to be assessed in light of their ultimate outcome.
This, in turn, allows for the identification of real-life situations where there is an increased likelihood of a negative outcome, so that steps can be made to help ensure a more positive outcome before it is too late.
There are, however, certain downsides with language models
As useful as 2020s language models can be for the identification of ostensibly positive and negative words and phrases, there are still fairly obvious limits to their sophistication.
Current language models are, for example, less able to identify sarcasm or other non-straightforward forms of communication. Nor are they as capable as human beings when it comes to identifying the actual meaning in a series of comments seemingly alternating between positivity and negativity. If, for instance, a customer said to an agent that “I’m happy that the product has finally arrived, which is good, but not exactly great”, the human agent would be able to pick up the nuances of such a sentence.
There is, however, scope for the further training of sentiment models to make them more effective at noticing changes in tone, volume and speaking rate, as well as instances of the customer and agent talking over each other, and even silences or subaudible noises that can indicate emotion, such as a snort of disgust.
What about the process of analysing detected sentiment?
Presuming that efforts have been made to score each of a contact centre’s interactions on a sentiment scale from highly positive to highly negative, it is also possible for nuances within those interactions – for example, the conversation starting positively and ending negatively – to be selected for analysis of the root cause.
Although sentiment analysis captures and analyses every interaction, it is generally believed to be of greatest use at an aggregated level, rather than as a means of judging specific individuals. Many organisations appreciate the ability that sentiment analysis gives them to identify the processes, interactions, and subject areas that are bringing customers the greatest stress and negativity. Sentiment analysis also allows for trends to be observed over time, so that the organisation can gauge the effectiveness of any business or process improvements it has made.
With the potential applications of sentiment analysis for contact centres including – but by no means limited to – the discovery and categorisation of the products, processes and topics that most frequently provoke the strongest positive or negative reactions, as well as quality assurance and even the consideration of agent morale and motivation, it can undoubtedly be a very potent tool.
Would you like to read more about the latest research and statistics that will be of relevance to your efforts to optimise the customer experience your organisation’s contact centres provide? If so, you are welcome to download and peruse our reports for various key national and regional markets here at ContactBabel.
Call centre salaries were on the up in 2022 – especially for experienced agents
According to recently released contact centre research, agents working at such sites saw major increases in their salaries over the course of 2022.
In the case of new agents, the rise was reportedly 9.7%, although an even higher increase of 11.3% was reported for the salaries of experienced agents.
It is believed that such increases have been largely driven by inflation and competition for agents – who have many different options in the jobs market. It should be noted, too, that the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and National Living Wage (NLW) have also recently gone up, and contact centres have responded to this.
What else do we learn by drilling further into the figures?
Significant rises in contact centre salaries were seen across the full range of staff. Those operating at team-leader level, for example, saw their salaries increase by 9.6% on average, while respondents’ average contact-centre manager salaries showed a rise of 7.4% in 2022.
These are approximately double the salary increases that 2021 saw, and it is likely that inflationary pressures were largely responsible for them.
As a consequence of such rises, the mean average salary of a new agent in 2022 was £21,876, while experienced agents earned £25,164, and team leaders/supervisors commanded a salary of £31,706 – again, taking the mean average figure. Contact centre managers, meanwhile, earned as much as £46,778 on average.
There were also interesting findings from the research by vertical market, with it being revealed that respondents’ agents in the manufacturing sector were, again, paid the most during 2022. Those ranked among the lowest-paid on average were insurance, retail and outsourcing agents, although it should be noted that this only includes basic salary, and not the sales-related bonuses that are especially relevant to some businesses in these industries.
Considering call centre salaries by size band, it is usually the case that contact centres defined as “small” – those with fewer than 50 seats – tend to pay better salaries to agents than “large” contact centres, which are defined as those with 200 or more seats. This could be attributable to the fact that a small increase in the salary of each agent would equate to a big change in bottom-line costs for a larger contact centre. However, that gap has been smaller in recent years than the historical norm, and in 2022, it almost disappeared.
A quarter of respondents – 25% – also said they did not offer any bonus to sales-focused agents. At first inspection, this might seem slightly strange; however, deeper analysis reveals that such a reluctance to reward sales directly is principally confined to service contact centres, which account for the biggest proportion of the respondent base. All of the sales-focused operations actually did offer sales bonuses in 2022, but a mere 18% of service-oriented centres did so.
The relationship between agent morale and pay
Respondents also had 12 options put before them for improving morale, and were asked to choose the top three that they thought were most likely to improve morale (although it should be noted that this question did not ask the actual agents for their own thoughts on this).
The most popular, number-one choice was increased salaries, which sadly might not be a realistic option for most contact centres. Nonetheless, it is interesting to observe that there is a correlation between contact centre salaries and attrition (and by extension, morale). Contact centres that have less than 10% attrition over a three-month period pay new agents an average of 9% more than contact centres that have a three-month attrition rate exceeding 10%.
Looking beyond salary factors, the respondents believed that empowering agents to make decisions that help customers was very positive for morale; 41% of them placed this factor in their top three. Respondents also expressed a strong view that improving the technology available to support agents would also positively affect agent morale.
Would you like to read more of the latest contact centre research, touching on salaries and other human resources issues, to help guide your organisation’s decisions? If so, here at ContactBabel, we offer a range of relevant documents and guides for you to download and peruse.
The rise of automated web chat and conversational AI in UK contact centres – and the attendant cost benefits
Most people who have ever reached out to a contact centre in the UK will be highly familiar with web chat as a customer service channel.
Web chat sessions – also sometimes referred to as ‘instant messaging’, or IM – offer a live or automated assistance option to those who may be browsing a given organisation’s website.
Although – like email – web chat has existed for many years, only in relatively recent times has it begun to grow volumes to the extent of becoming a mainstream channel for interactions between businesses and their customers, especially in vertical markets such as retail.
So, why have so many organisations embraced web chat?
The sheer familiarity of the format of web chat to so many of today’s customers is one boon as far as organisations are concerned, but so – inevitably – is cost.
One of the key ways in which web chat helps to reduce such costs, is by enabling more than one chat session to take place with customers at the same time for each agent. The time that a customer spends reading and responding to the agent’s latest message allows the agent to deal with other customers concurrently.
Although some providers of web chat solutions have said that agents can deal with four or more web chat sessions at a time, it is an open question whether this represents a sustainable model for the agent, or provides the customer with a sufficiently high quality of service.
Having said that, the merits of web chat for contact centres are clear. This channel generally works well for customers in terms of giving them an immediate response, while the fact that multiple concurrent chat sessions can take place for each agent helps to make it a potentially lower-cost channel than voice for businesses.
Indeed, recent UK contact centre research has indicated that the mean average cost of a web chat (£3.19) is lower than that of a phone call (£6.26) or even an email (£3.68). Bearing in mind that around half of web chat work is still not automated, this would seem to offer a lot of long-term promise for contact centres anxious to reduce their costs.
Web chat might also be seeing increasing use for more complex work
Until recently, web chat was mainly carried out by human agents, with very limited use of automation.
However. while only 5% of web chats in 2015 had any automation involved, this percentage had grown to 50% by 2022. Such automation has mostly taken the form of automated chatbots initially handling the customer’s query, before handing off to live agents when appropriate; however, there has also been a very significant increase in recent years in the use of fully automated AI-enabled web chat (also known as virtual agents or conversational AI).
It seems that web chat is now being used for more complicated queries. For years, the subjects of web chats have often been simpler than queries made via telephone, although there is some evidence of this changing. It has been found that nearly one quarter of web chats, for example, take longer than 10 minutes to complete, as opposed to only 9% of phone calls.
Would you be interested in learning more about the latest UK contact centre research, including in relation to the use of web chat and conversational AI? If so, you may be interested in downloading the “Inner Circle Guide to AI, Chatbots & Machine Learning”, which draws upon surveys conducted with hundreds of organisations in the UK.
What’s driving the strategy of US contact centers?
It is fascinating and instructive to look over the findings of recent research into the strategic priorities of contact centers in the United States.
When such contact centers were asked to assign an importance score to various drivers for strategic contact center change – with a zero score indicating a “very unimportant” factor, and 100 a “vitally important” one – customer satisfaction unsurprisingly achieved the highest average score, of 70.
Looking at the below rundown of drivers for strategic contact center change ranked by score, the next three highest-ranked are especially interesting: agent attrition (64), new technologies (55), and reducing service costs (46).
At a time when recession is looming and cost pressures are already high, contact centers across the US are clearly entering an era that will necessitate them doing more with less.
Alongside this factor, we are seeing ever-greater technological advancements, so it seems probable that in the months and years to come that businesses will look to move more of the work where human agents don’t add extra value towards automated self-service.
Do the top drivers for change differ between contact center sizes?
For the purposes of the aforementioned US contact center research, the sizes of the participating contact centers were also recorded. This allowed for the findings of the survey to be organized by contact center size, and it is insightful to see the differences and consistencies across the three contact center size bands of ‘Small’ (<50 seats), ‘Medium’ (50-200 seats), and ‘Large’. (200+ seats).
Contact centers in all three of these size bands regarded customer satisfaction as the most important factor driving their strategy, while agent attrition levels were consistently ranked as the second most important factor.
There is less consistency apparent in prioritized strategic factors among different contact center sizes as one works down the list. It is clear, for example, that medium and large-sized contact centers place greater emphasis than their smaller counterparts on a perceived need to reduce service costs and the management of customers’ changing channel preferences.
Meanwhile, the fact that agent attrition levels rank as the second most important driver for change across all three size categories underlines how inevitable it is that technology will be used to an increased degree in order to counteract this concern.
To discover more insights like these from the latest US contact center research, readers are encouraged to download our “2023 US Contact Center Decision-Makers’ Guide”, which draws upon polling conducted among hundreds of organizations around the country.
Rising salaries and falling performance exert pressure on UK contact centres
Organisations around the UK – and across all vertical market sectors – have had to deal with escalating pressures from various sources in recent times, and the evidence points to the situation with call centres being little different.
In particular, the latest call centre data analysis points to a lethal combination of climbing salaries and difficulties in even returning to pre-pandemic levels of performance.
Pay packets are spiralling
New agent salaries have been firmly on the up at UK contact centres in recent times, reportedly by 9.7% since 2021, bringing the mean average salary of such agents to £21,876 at the end of 2022.
Experienced agents, however, saw an even bigger rise in their pay packets, of 11.3% meaning they took home a mean average salary of £25,164. At team leader level, average salaries were reported to have gone up by 9.6%, while contact centre managers’ salaries rose by 7.4% compared to the situation in 2021, hitting £46,778 on average.
These increases in wages are all hovering around double the rises in 2021, which suggests that they are likely to have been largely driven by inflationary pressures, although at a new agent level, the effect of the increasing National Minimum Wage / National Living Wage should also be considered.
But it is becoming difficult for call centres to keep on delivering performance
2022’s performance metrics for UK call centres were also insightful, albeit worrying for many organisations attempting to achieve the optimal customer experience.
Average speed to answer, for instance, has gone up from a mean of 106 seconds in 2021, to 120 seconds in 2022 – far higher than the pre-pandemic figures of around 30 seconds. This has been fuelled by the difficulties that some call centres are still having in relation to the pandemic and its after-effects, particularly in staffing. The median speed to answer has increased, too, which indicates this rise is a widespread one, not being driven by a relatively small proportion of operations.
Other signs of reasons for concern in the most recent call centre data analysis include call abandonment rates having increased again, from 8.2% to 9.1%, as well as the mean and median costs of an inbound call being considerably above the historical average.
Contact centre performance metrics
All in all, the metrics offer plenty to think about for UK organisations that are keen to get the best out of their contact centres in an environment that continues to be difficult.
There is much more to be learned about the current state of the UK contact centre industry, for those who download our “2023 UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guide”. This free-to-access document contains far-reaching call centre data analysis that will assist your organisation in making the most informed decisions in 2023 and beyond.
For companies requiring more in-depth detail of HR, salaries, attrition and performance metrics by size band and vertical market, “The 2023 UK Contact Centre HR & Operational Benchmarking Report” is available.
What are the potential merits of visual IVR and routing menus for contact centers?
When it comes to call center telecommunications, many interactions with a customer begin with interactive voice response (IVR).
This begins with an initial welcome and instructions on how to proceed through the routing menu. This announcement is generally less than 15 seconds in length. That said, our recent US call center research has suggested that this depends on the size of the contact center at hand, the number of departments, and the skill-sets and offerings of the business.
After, customers can choose how to proceed with either speech recognition or, most commonly, either audio-only dual tone multi frequency (DTMF) or visual menu routing.
How user-friendly is audio-only DTMF IVR?
From a customer perspective, with audio-only DTMF IVR, there are limitations as to how user-friendly the experience can be.
This is because there has to be a compromise between functionality and usability. Optimizing functionality increases the segmentation, and thus the number of options available, making the customer interaction longer and inevitably more vexing.
On the other hand, optimizing usability can limit call centers to a single level of options, which runs the risk of users not being connected to the right agent – another frustration.
For this reason, 72% of large contact centers and 68% of service respondents display three or more routing menu levels – whereas 49% of small contact centers and 100% of sales respondents opt for one or two levels.
Similarly, larger contact centers offer more IVR options, with 54% of large (200+ seat) contact centers providing more than seven.
This is another area where frustration might arise, as users will have to listen to a significant amount of options. However, this is where visual channels can go a long way towards alleviating such pain points.
Advantages of visual IVR
Some studies have shown that a caller can navigate a visual IVR menu between four and five times quicker than a DTMF IVR menu. In addition to this, visual IVR offers businesses the opportunity to better assist their customers, improving overall customer satisfaction.
Some of the key benefits of visual IVR for businesses and customers are as follows.
- Reduced costs thanks to improved call avoidance, accuracy of routing, first contact resolution and call transfer rate
- Cost-effective, as can leverage existing IVR investments and scripts
- Opportunity to gather more contextual information, assisting agents in better assisting customers.
- Greater granularity of routing and improved functionality
- Reduce the effort needed to access a solution, both with the system itself and the information provided by the agent
- Lower wait times overall.
To learn more about visual IVR and routing menus, and how the visual element can improve customer services significantly, you can download the full research report from the ContactBabel website, giving you the necessary insight and statistics to allow you to make the most informed decisions.
What does the use of digital customer service channels tell us about what US contact centers’ priorities should be?
A key theme among the findings of surveys of United States contact centers has been the emergence of all manner of digital customer contact channels in recent years.
But in an age in which there is intensifying talk of the ever-greater use of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) across so many aspects of businesses’ operations, it is worth asking whether there has been an uptick in the use of such solutions lately, and what broader implications this could have for contact center strategy.
Web chat looks likely to be used more and more, as traditional letter communication declines
Recent US call center research involved organizations being questioned on how they thought a range of inbound channels would change in their contact center over the coming 12 months (presuming the respondent’s contact center uses the given channel).
How do you think inbound channels will change in your contact center in the next 12 months? (if used)
It was found through this line of questioning that 29% of respondents expected web chat to see greater use in their contact center during the next 12 months, and a further 48% anticipated a slight increase; only 6% of respondents anticipated the use of web chat actually going down at their contact center.
Ranked not too far behind web chat in usage expectations was self-service telephone contact, with 25% of those surveyed expecting it to go up greatly, and 40% expecting it to increase slightly. By contrast, when it came to live-agent telephone contact, 39% of respondents said they anticipated a slight decrease in its usage at their contact center, although a similar proportion (36%) thought usage of this channel would actually rise slightly over the coming year.
Meanwhile, the traditional media of letters is expected by 16% of respondents to be used less frequently at their contact center over the next 12 months, with the remaining 84% not thinking that their contact center will use letters either more or less often as a customer service channel, often because they receive almost no letters anyway.
A key message to take away from these findings is that channels are generally being augmented, rather than replaced. That, in turn, will mean businesses having to accept the need to develop an omnichannel approach, as this is what their customers are expecting.
Seemingly cheaper channels aren’t saving as much money as might have been expected
Traditionally, decisions by businesses to invest in a specific channel for contact with customers have often been driven by cost considerations. However, history shows that initially anticipated cost reductions through such moves haven’t always been delivered.
Back in the late 1990s, for instance, when email began to emerge as a customer service channel, it was thought that it would prove to be a low-cost alternative to voice. But in practice, it often turned out to be a merely low-quality alternative to voice. It also commonly took as much time and effort (and therefore, expense) to answer an email as it did to answer a phone call.
Looking at data gathered from much more recent US call center research, it is interesting to see that although there does appear to be some cost differential between telephony and digital channels, there is not as dramatic a gap as many observers might expect.
Cost per inbound interaction (phone, social media, email & web chat)
So, why are digital channels not proving themselves to be as much of a money-saver as might have been anticipated? Well, one factor is likely to be the fact that many businesses are still using a relatively low level of automation.
It should also be noted that if email is used and the query is not answered satisfactorily with just one response, the customer will need to send further emails, and perhaps reach out through other channels, such as telephone. Such additional emails and phone calls can quickly drive up the cost higher than would have been the case if the customer had simply called in the first place.
Even putting aside whether automation is or isn’t embraced by a given contact center, 31% of survey respondents state that more than half of the social media requests they receive require another channel before the query can be effectively resolved. Other digital channels also see this pattern, albeit somewhat less strongly.
And with customers preferring not to have to re-explain issues or re-enter information when they move between channels, it is clear that organizations simply must embrace an omnichannel strategy for achieving the most seamless experience that drives up customer satisfaction.
The omnichannel genie is, in effect, “out of the bottle”, and cannot be put back by an organization even if it might wish to backtrack – or at least, not without serious damage being caused to the customer experience.
Would your own organization appreciate further insights like the above to help guide its strategic decision-making? If so, our “2023 US Contact Center Decision-Makers’ Guide” is available to download right now, with important lessons for those that wish to optimize their own contact center operations for the 2020s.
Agent engagement, morale, and empowerment – and the implications for your contact center
It goes without saying that no one wants to work in a despondent environment – and those that do find themselves in such a situation will quickly become disengaged.
Agents with low morale deliver lower engagement and performance, as well as higher rates of absenteeism and turnover. As such, improving morale is good for business and the team supporting it.
Our latest research into US contact centers suggests that contact center morale is, on average, generally positive, with 68% of respondents reporting “good” or “excellent” morale. This is higher in large 200+ seat contact centers (80%).
On the other hand, 32% of respondents reported either “poor” or “average” morale. The concentration is highest when it comes to medium-sized (51-200 seat) operations, where 18% stated that agent morale was actively poor.
This shows that there is still room for improvement across all contact centers – but particularly within small or medium-sized contact centers.
With this in mind, here were the most popular responses when respondents were asked what would be likeliest to help boost morale at their contact center.
28% believed higher pay would boost agent morale
When contact centers were asked what single factor could most boost agent morale, higher pay was the most popular response. That said, raising salaries is not entirely realistic in most contact centers – and, whilst keeping the same staff, technology and process, higher pay is arguably unlikely to make much of a difference after the initial enthusiasm has worn off.
Still, it is important to note that there is a direct data correlation between higher salaries and lower agent attrition.
Instead of a raise in salary, 12% cited incentives such as a bonus, prizes, or rewards as another way to help improve team morale.
Flexible working practices
14% of respondents felt flexible shifts would improve morale – and 14% more backed opportunities for home working. When compared with the fact that only 2% suggested better facilities and working environment, it seems respondents believed it was the flexibility of the working practices that could particularly improve spirits.
Information and knowledge management
The research found that only 3% of respondents felt more, or better, training would boost confidence – and only 9% said it would boost performance.
Instead, 14% felt better technology was required – more specifically, a single unified desktop, knowledge bases, dynamic scripting, and so on – which would allow agents to find all the necessary information in one place.
From this, 27% believe improved knowledge management would boost agent performance, and 24% said the same of a unified omni-channel agent desktop.
13% said agent empowerment was crucial for improving morale. This encapsulates everything an agent might need to better make decisions to help customers, including necessary systems, processes and organizational culture.
Not only this, but improving agent empowerment can also help improve the first-contact resolution rate, and thus both agent performance and customer satisfaction.
Are you looking for greater insights into how to improve agent engagement and empowerment? If so, you can download our research report on the topic from the ContactBabel website, giving you the data you need to begin improving morale, performance and ultimately, customer satisfaction.
What are some of the customer identity verification processes that contact centres are best advised to put in place for fraud reduction?
An increasing number of customer experience journeys in the 2020s begin with some form of identity verification process. Such customer security processes are about two factors: whether the person reaching out to the contact centre is who they say they are, and whether that person is allowed to do what they are trying to do.
Until just a few years ago, many businesses relied on trusting that the customer was who they claimed to be – to this end, the contact centre might have only asked for a name and address.
Since then, however, identity verification processes have come to be seen as critically important. As a consequence, for most calls that are not initial enquiries, the contact centre will now need to verify the caller’s claimed identity by requesting further information that only the real customer would normally know. This is known as knowledge-based authentication, or KBA.
Amid heightened identity-theft risks, traditional challenge/response approaches may no longer be enough
The above might have seemed a sturdy enough approach to identity verification by many call centres, at least until recently. But is it enough in an era in which we hear of more and more instances of fraudsters being able to access customers’ personal information, such as mother’s maiden name, date of birth and even payment card details, as can be stolen from websites?
Indeed, research has found that fraudsters answer knowledge-based questions correctly a large majority of the time – a sure indication that many organisations need to further optimise their identity verification processes in ways that look beyond the traditional challenge/response method.
What solutions are available to call centres looking to improve their identity verification?
Identity verification processes used by today’s contact centres are typically based on one or more authentication factors that fall into the following generally accepted categories:
- Something the customer knows – e.g., their password, PIN, or other memorable information
- Something the customer is – a biometric such as a fingerprint, voiceprint or facial recognition
- Something the customer has – a tangible object such as a PIN-generating key fob, the three-digit or four-digit code on payment cards, or a registered phone to which an SMS or another authentication code can be sent
Combining these factors allows for the creation of a more complex, and potentially more secure two-factor or three-factor (2FA/3FA) authentication process. However, it can also often be quite inconvenient and time-consuming for customers.
It might therefore be beneficial for the customer experience if there is an ability to rely on previously enrolled voice features, or to have the calling device, location, and other factors assessed pre-call. This would free up the customer from having to remember various pieces of information, or to carry around a code-generating device.
The threat landscape is changing rapidly, and contact centres need to evolve their approaches just as quickly to keep pace with it. To this end, your organisation might look more seriously at such potential methods as voice verification systems and ‘phoneprinting’, the latter otherwise known as call signalling analysis.
A voice verification system uses spoken words to generate a ‘voiceprint’, with each subsequent call able to be compared to a previously enrolled voiceprint to verify the customer’s identity. Call signalling analysis, meanwhile, is the process by which the metadata surrounding a call can be looked at. This enables the identification of potentially fraudulent and suspicious calls that the business can then choose to handle differently.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have also come into their own in recent years, being incorporated into the most sophisticated fraud detection solutions to identify fraudulent transactions and analyse cases where legitimate users fail the authentication attempt. This can feed into improvements of both security and the customer experience.
Would you like to gain further insights into how your contact centre can optimise customer experience and security?
Ultimately, a contact centre will be able to achieve the strongest security by putting in place multifactor authentication around voice biometrics, device authentication, shared information about fraudsters, and customer behaviour such as keypress analysis and call patterns.
Our 2023 “Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guides” are now available to download for both UK and US-based organisations. The “Fraud Reduction and PCI Compliance” chapters within this could contain invaluable lessons for your business’s efforts to enhance security arrangements and the all-round customer experience.
What solutions, approaches and business processes do UK contact centres use to reduce the risk of card fraud?
After being presented with a multitude of different methods, the results from a survey of over 200 UK businesses indicate that, on average, a call centre employs 3.6 techniques to reduce card fraud and thus support Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance.
Some of the most common card fraud reduction solutions, approaches and business processes are summarised below.
That said, it is important to take into account that many of the below methods do not, by themselves, fully make a given contact centre’s operation PCI-compliant.
‘Pause and resume’ or ‘stop-start’ recording (used by 59% of UK contact centres)
With ‘pause and resume’ or ‘stop-start’ recording, contact centre agents can prevent sensitive authentication data and other information from entering the call recording environment.
‘Pause and resume’ can be agent-initiated or be fully automated; however, the PCI DSS standard is interpreted as preferring automation over manual intervention, in order to avoid human error.
Improving manual processes and agent training (43%)
Training is provided to call centre agents to help reduce the risk of social engineering fraud, and to educate them on how they can best handle sensitive information.
Dedicated payment teams (12%)
A dedicated payment team will be completely separate from the customer service agents, and are the only agents authorised to handle any payments. That said, this can cause an increase in wait time due to queueing.
Third-party cloud-based payment solutions (40%)
A third-party payment solution means that no card data is ever passed through the contact centre itself – be it the infrastructure, agents, or data storage alike. This also mitigates the legislative risks involved, as it allows card payments to be taken without having to invest heavily in the necessary internal technology or processes to be PCI DSS compliant.
IVR payments – post-call (5%) and mid-call (18%)
Payments can be taken using automated Interactive Voice Response (IVR), again eradicating the human risk element. The most popular option is to do this mid-call (otherwise known as agent-assisted IVR), as it allows the customer to ask further questions to the agent post-payment.
DTMF suppression (43%)
If a caller submits card details via their keypad, in theory, the Dual Tone Multi-Frequency (DTMF) tones – and therefore the cardholder details – could be identified, and thus copied. DTMF suppression, however, alters the tones to mask the card details, effectively neutralising the risk.
With tokenisation, cardholder data is collected using DTMF. The tones are replaced with a neutral or silent tone, yet the number is sent elsewhere to be replaced with non-sensitive data. The tokenised DTMF is sent to the payment process, where it is then decoded back to the original data, which is then forwarded to the payment service provider (PSP).
Secure payment link (10%)
This is known as a self-service card fraud reduction method, as all the organisation needs to do is send a secure link via SMS, email, or WhatsApp. It’s then down to the customer to ensure it is a legitimate link and fill out their own card details.
This is simply a top-level overview of the findings surrounding UK PCI DSS methods. For more information and detail, please download the “Inner Circle Guide to Fraud Reduction and PCI Compliance” report from the ContactBabel website.
How effectively is your contact centre recognising and handling ‘moments of truth’ in customer interactions?
In a recent article of ours, we wrote about the Customer Interaction Cube, which provides a structure setting out no fewer than eight different types of customer interaction, based on factors including the emotional importance, urgency, and complexity of the customer’s query.
Even the structure outlined by this 2x2x2 cube, however, can only ever represent a relative simplification of the various forms that customer interactions take.
The Customer Interaction Cube can undoubtedly be invaluable for helping organisations to estimate the possible future volumes and resources they will need if they are to cater to their customers’ needs effectively.
However, there is also greater complexity to the situation than this, not least that – depending on the circumstances – even seemingly similar types of customer interaction might need to be handled quite differently.
A query about product delivery, for example, could be a very urgent request or a very-far-from-urgent one, which could have implications for exactly how the customer interaction is handled.
‘Moments of truth’: what they are, and why they are important
McKinsey has referred to what are known as ‘moments of truth’ in customer interactions. These are moments that frequently arise when the customer has a high emotional stake or has come across an unexpected problem.
It is the kind of situation in which the exact outcome – and how the customer’s query is handled – can play a big part in whether they become long-term advocates of, and loyal to, the given company.
Although ‘moments of truth’ happen relatively rarely as a proportion of all customer interactions, it is crucial for organisations to be able to recognise them and handle them appropriately. After all, these are powerful opportunities to win or lose a customer’s satisfaction and loyalty not just now, but potentially for a long time to come.
So, what approaches will help organisations achieve great results from ‘moments of truth’?
Looking back at the Customer Interaction Cube that we mentioned earlier, will hopefully help give you a sense of some of the interaction types that are especially likely to be ‘moments of truth’.
Knowing in advance what these look like will enable you to do some degree of planning for them – for example, by arranging for them to be handled by your contact centre’s most experienced and empathetic agents. However, it can also undoubtedly be difficult to predict the kinds of customer interactions in which ‘moments of truth’ come into play.
So, how can you detect moments of truth as they happen? One option could be using real-time speech analytics solutions that can help indicate a measure of stress in the customer’s voice. This could then be flagged up to the agent handling the call.
But on the other hand, a suitably skilled agent should be able to recognise such stress in the customer’s voice without having to depend on technology. So, what other steps can your organisation take to optimise its approach to ‘moments of truth’?
One route we would certainly suggest is ensuring your organisation gives its customers the benefit of a true omnichannel approach, whereby the same consistently high standard of service and knowledge can be expected through every channel the customer might use to contact you.
Of no less importance, though, is giving your business’s agents the freedom to act in whatever way is appropriate to the given situation.
In the event, for example, of a ‘high-emotion’ interaction occurring on social media, related to something that can’t be handled on that channel (perhaps due to its complexity or a need to go through security), the agent should be able to make their own decision to place an outbound, real-time call to the customer, instead of simply advising them to call the contact centre.
The above suggestion might sound jarring to those organisations accustomed to their contact centre operations running on a highly structured command-and-control basis. However, when agents are given carte blanche to deliver in ‘moments of truth’, such momentary and occasional relaxation of the business’s usual procedures might be more than worthwhile given the rare opportunity these ‘moments’ present to drive up customer satisfaction and lock in the customer’s loyalty.
Would you like to read further insights like this, which are borne out of in-depth and specialised research for contact centres? If so, you might be interested in downloading ContactBabel’s “2022-23 UK Customer Experience Decision-Makers’ Guide”, or the equivalent US version.
Introducing the Customer Interaction Cube, and the eight types of contact centre interaction
Whatever the specific vertical market a given organisation’s contact or call centre operates in, there are two main influences that will need to guide its decisions: the commercial activity within that sector, and the preferences and requirements that customers have in relation to contacting the organisation.
Yes, the nature of the given business vertical market does need to be taken into account; however, it is also crucial to consider how urgent, complex, and emotionally important each particular interaction is.
When customers call a bank’s call centre, for example, the person who simply wishes to check their bank balance will likely have very different preferences and needs to the person who is urgently calling to check how their mortgage application is progressing.
What is the Customer Interaction Cube, and why is it needed?
With there being various types of customer interaction that organisations need to handle, a structure known as the Customer Interaction Cube has been developed. This structure provides a means of categorising contact centre interactions on the basis of their urgency, complexity and emotional input as far as the customer is concerned.
The existence of the Customer Interaction Cube, accounting for high and low levels of interaction urgency, complexity, and emotional input alike, enables organisations to be more informed in their decision-making.
They can use it to, for example, analyse the volumes they receive of each type of customer interaction, cross-referencing it with other variables such as the times of day they receive certain types of interactions, and customer demographic preferences. This process, in turn, can help ensure the appropriate levels of resourcing are allocated to different channels, in order to improve the customer experience and lower the cost of service.
The eight types of interaction that make up the Customer Interaction Cube
The Customer Interaction Cube takes the form of a 2x2x2 structure, effectively covering eight types of interaction through the various combinations of high and low urgency, complexity, and emotional input.
Distinguishing between these different types of interaction is important, given that different interaction types may be best suited to different channels. So, there could be benefits for both the organisation and the customer in ensuring certain interaction types are matched to a suitable channel.
But what are those eight interaction types, what would be good examples of each given interaction type, and what channels might be best suited to handling the given type of interaction? Below is a summary.
- Low emotional importance, low urgency, low complexity
If a customer is carrying out casual research into a product or simply wishing to give a meter reading, such interactions could be considered ‘low’ in relation to all three of the above parameters. Self-service might therefore serve as an ideal primary channel for such interactions, followed by web chat.
- Low emotional importance, low urgency, high complexity
Good examples of this type of interaction include finding out about proposed planning or house building, and seeking out instructions on how to program a TV remote. Email could be an effective primary channel for this interaction type, with phone as a secondary channel. Customers may well want to visit a physical store or branch as well.
- Low emotional importance, high urgency, low complexity
If a customer needs to top up their mobile credit or check that a payment has been made, this type of interaction might be most suitable for self-service, with phone or web chat contact as a secondary channel.
- Low emotional importance, high urgency, high complexity
A customer interaction may have this combination of characteristics when they are seeking out details of how to make an insurance claim, or trying to understand mobile roaming charges ahead of their imminent trip to another country. Web chat or self-service tends to work well for this type of interaction, with a possible secondary channel being phone contact.
- High emotional importance, low urgency, low complexity
A customer attempting to book train tickets for an important engagement would be one example of this interaction type and might be best served via self-service, although phone could still be an important supporting channel.
- High emotional importance, low urgency, high complexity
If a customer has a complaint about incorrect billing, phone contact with the call centre might be a suitable first step, with email a secondary channel.
- High emotional importance, high urgency, low complexity
A simple question about an imminent desired purchase – such as when they can expect their ordered item to be delivered – would be a good example of this type of interaction from a customer. Web chat could represent a good primary channel for such an interaction, and phone or social media a secondary one.
- High emotional importance, high urgency, high complexity
An obvious example of this type of interaction would be a household emergency necessitating a call to 999, with phone contact being the primary channel, and web chat a possible secondary channel.
One more thing…
As we touched on above, the task of deciding how different types of customer interaction can be most suitably handled is more complicated than simply understanding – and responding to – these eight types.
Other variables, such as demographics, time of day, and whether certain channels are more easily accessible to some customers than they are to others, will impact on the decisions your organisation needs to make about the suitability of channels.
To learn more about this and many other aspects of how your organisation can refine and improve the call centre experience, please feel free to download our “2022-23 UK Customer Experience Decision-Makers’ Guide”, or the equivalent US version, from the ContactBabel website.
The role of first-contact resolution as a major driver for customer experience
When it comes to striving to ensure the most positive customer experience (CX) at call centres, first-contact resolution (FCR) ought to be a key topic of conversation. After all, surveys of both organisations and customers have unearthed plenty of evidence of FCR being a primary factor in positive CX – yet its importance hasn’t always been fully understood by decision-makers.
It should be acknowledged, however, that first-contact resolution rates can be easily misinterpreted by some observers, which underlines how crucial it is to view them in context.
What do we mean by FCR rates being easy to misinterpret?
One example of an FCR rate on its own not necessarily telling the whole story, is that a given organisation might put in place improvements to its processes, only to see its FCR rate fall.
This may seem to be the opposite of what the business would expect or hope for. However, it should be accounted for that if the organisation had previously been handling live calls that would have been better suited to self-service or avoidable through the improvement of the firm’s marketing communications, eliminating such ‘easy’ calls would cause a drop in the FCR rate.
Yes, if customers call your team to ask questions that could have been easily answered on the company website, and those questions can be answered quickly and accurately by your customer-facing staff, this will have the effect of driving up your first-contact resolution rate.
But your organisation won’t want its FCR rate to be kept high in this way, given the costs of handling high levels of ‘easy’ calls and the negative impact it would have on other performance metrics, such as queue length and rates of call abandonment.
First-contact resolution, then, needs to be considered alongside other factors
It should hopefully be clear from the above that while your organisation’s first-contact resolution rate is certainly a crucial one to study, this is the case because it relates to both all-round customer experience and the wish that your organisation has to avoid unnecessary calls.
High FCR rates for your organisation, looked at in isolation, might actually be masking underlying problems with a high level of unnecessary calls.
If, then, your organisation can successfully cut out many of these unnecessary calls – for example, by providing more relevant and useful information on your company website, or re-engineering your firm’s self-service application in line with customers’ needs – the calls that are left will usually be those of a more complex nature. This situation will cause your business’s FCR rates to fall, at least initially – so, that is something you will have to anticipate and prepare for.
Are senior decision-makers fully aware of the importance of FCR rates?
The saddening answer to this question is that it would seem in many cases that they are not. Again, this is borne out by research; when survey respondents were asked to identify a single CX metric upon which their board or senior management team most judged the success or otherwise of the CX programme, FCR rates were picked out as the key metric for senior management by a mere 7% of respondents. This is despite, as we touched on above, customer and business survey results having highlighted FCR as the most important factor in influencing customer experience.
This lack of acknowledgement of the importance of first-contact resolution was also reflected in how infrequently agents were rewarded for good FCR. When respondents were asked whether their customer-facing employees were financially rewarded based on any CX factors, it was found that 30% of businesses rewarded agents based on quality scores, and a quarter of them did so based on the cross-sell/upsell rate. However, only 12% did so on the basis of the first-contact resolution rate.
Would you appreciate gaining greater insight into the relevance of first-contact resolution to your organisation’s efforts to optimise customer experience? If so, our “2022-23 UK Customer Experience Decision-Makers’ Guide” can now be downloaded from the ContactBabel website. This report contains in-depth information in relation to various aspects of CX, to help your firm make empowered decisions. There’s a US version available too.
What does CX mean to a customer? A comparison of customer and business views
While the vast majority of organisations aim to provide the best possible customer experience – or at least claim to do so – it is not always straightforward to determine what elements most contribute to making such a positive customer experience a reality.
Nonetheless, the question has to be considered, given how this shapes organisations’ investment and resource prioritisation.
So, what has recent research uncovered about the specific factors that are regarded as especially important to customer experience, from the perspective of businesses and customers alike?
What do businesses consider to be the key customer experience factors?
One recent survey asked organisations to rank eight factors on the basis of what they believed to be most important to a customer when contacting an organisation.
Mirroring the findings of many previous ContactBabel research surveys, it was discovered that first-time resolution was clearly regarded as the most important factor impacting upon customer experience. More than half of those questioned – 54% – ranked this factor in first place, while an additional 36% of the research participants put it in their top three overall.
The businesses surveyed also considered a short queue time or wait time for a response to be important, with some 53% of them placing it in their top three. Meanwhile, polite and friendly employees were ranked as a top-three customer experience factor by 45% of the organisations questioned.
More in four in 10 – 44% – of business respondents said that having the issue dealt with by a single employee was of top-three importance to the customer experience. Top-three status was also given to “choice of channels” as a customer experience factor, by 37% of firms polled.
Do the customers themselves share firms’ views on CX factors?
It is a fascinating question and one that, here at ContactBabel, we sought to investigate ourselves. Having commissioned a poll of 1,000 UK consumers, we discovered some significant differences in opinion between organisations and customers on the question of which factors exerted the greatest impact on customer experience.
As happened with the aforementioned business survey, the customer respondents were asked to state the three factors that were of most importance to them when they contacted an organisation for customer service. The factors that were presented to them were the same that had appeared in the business survey, to ensure direct comparison.
One thing that the consumers did have in common with the businesses questioned was a belief in first-contact resolution being the most important single factor impacting on customer experience during contact with a business. There was also agreement between businesses and consumers on a short queue/wait time being a key part of a positive customer experience.
Intriguingly, though, customers placed a much bigger emphasis than the businesses themselves did on the importance of an organisation having UK-based employees. Indeed, this was ranked as a particularly crucial factor by older respondents to the customer poll.
It is certainly insightful to look across the age groups of respondents to see how opinions differed, or in some cases, were consistent from one cohort to the next.
First-contact resolution, for instance, was ranked highly as a factor among all age categories in the most recent survey findings. This differed from the situation in previous years, when older demographics tended to place a lot more emphasis on it than their younger counterparts.
And there was further evidence in the findings of younger respondents greatly valuing their limited free time. For example, they placed greater importance on longer opening hours and short call/web chat duration than did older groups.
Finally, when the consumer data was segmented on the basis of socio-economic group, the AB segment seemed to place greater emphasis on short call times compared to other cohorts; otherwise, there was relatively little difference in priorities across the different groups.
The above are just some of the insights that can be gained from our “2022-23 UK Customer Experience Decision-Makers’ Guide”, which can be downloaded for free now from the ContactBabel website. Access the report today to learn more about how to prioritise your own organisation’s CX optimisation efforts. A US version is also available free of charge.
Optimising your contact centre omnichannel workforce management
When it comes to forecasting and predicting resource requirements for telephony, the mechanics and mathematics underpinning this are well-established and widely understood.
We are however increasingly in the omnichannel era of customer service, defined by the wholesale use of digital channels such as email, web chat and social media, which are not subject to the same rules as voice. Indeed, some of these channels – such as web chat – are synchronous, whereas others, like email, are asynchronous.
The matter of workforce optimisation for omnichannel contact centre operations is complicated further by most businesses that use web chat having agents that interact with multiple customers simultaneously.
It is perhaps no great surprise then that not all contact centres achieve sustained consistency in terms of the quality and responsiveness of service they provide across all these channels. But what implications will these factors have for your call centre’s workforce optimisation measures in an omnichannel world?
How well are your agents catering to customers across multiple channels?
To cite just one of the aforementioned channels for which you might be seeking to determine your workforce requirements – web chat – there will be a need for your business to ascertain what the optimal resourcing outcome would be for agents, customers, and the organisation alike.
While your business, for example, is likely to prioritise using as few agents as possible without compromising the quality of customer service that is delivered, the customer is likely to want undivided, one-to-one attention being paid to their query. Finally, there is the agent, who will have their own preferences; they might enjoy holding simultaneous chats in order to stay engaged and busy, but they probably won’t wish to be holding so many chats that they become overwhelmed. It’s also worth noticing that a lot of web chats are getting more complex, with many taking over 10 minutes, which is a big increase on what was happening a few years ago.
You also need to consider the various channels via which you might need your agents to interact with customers. You might be want your agents to be skilled in the use of multiple channels rather than just one, so that you can be sure of your agent being able to take on any necessary channel in the appropriate circumstances. It could mean that one given agent, for instance, is well-equipped to respond to a complex email by replying with an outbound call.
What do the research findings say about businesses’ omnichannel workforce management practices?
Our recent omnichannel contact centre research has shed light on the methods used by many organisations as they seek to make the most of their available agents to handle multichannel.
It was found that in medium and large contact centres, for example, around six in 10 (60%) agents handled only voice, while approximately 5% to 10% of agents solely handled text (this term covering email, web chat, and social media).
Smaller contact centres, of course, tend to lack the depth of resource that their larger counterparts have available, so they are less likely to be able to operate dedicated single channel teams. Instead, many of these smaller centres have agents moving between voice and text interactions as the circumstances require.
Such an approach might be taken on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, or as part of a more formal, blended strategy. It is, however, an approach that years of statistics have indicated is positively correlated with improved agent attrition. It is naturally important not to assume correlation is causality; however, it is likely that agents who are able to undertake a variety of work may be more engaged in their roles.
Meanwhile, our omnichannel contact centre research has also found that 39% of respondents – particularly those in larger contact centres – use a combined voice and digital channel workforce management application. By comparison, only 8% used an ad-hoc approach.
There is much more that can be learned about the best call centre workforce optimisation practices, including in relation to omnichannel environments. For further reading on this subject, please download our free research report, “The Inner Circle Guide to Omnichannel Workforce Optimisation”.
For what purposes can post-call analytics be best used by call centres?
Analytics will always have a key role to play in effective workplace optimisation in the call centre, and the most widely used type of interaction analytics functionality is historical post-call speech analytics.
When speech analytics solutions first began to be implemented, the focus was generally on the analysis of large numbers of recorded calls, with this often occurring a significant period of time after the actual event.
Back then, speech analytics solutions tended to be purchased with a view to using them to help ensure compliance, as part of a broader quality assurance (QA) system.
That benefit still holds true today, with call centres able to go a long way to optimising their QA processes when they have access to high-quality information that enables them to assess the performance of agents fairly and accurately.
Post-call speech analytics remains a highly relevant source of insight
While recent times have seen real-time analytics much talked about, this should not overshadow the crucial role that post-call speech analytics continues to play for contact centres. After all, it provides invaluable business intelligence, helps ensure compliance, and is key to the optimisation of agent performance.
It helps, of course, that the typical call centre tends to already have call recording in place, which allows for easy access to the necessary raw material.
If anything, businesses are frequently overwhelmed by the sheer volume of recorded voice data that they are able to call upon, which underlines the relevance and usefulness of post-call speech analytics for analysing 100% of recorded calls.
Exactly what do contact centres use post-call analytics for?
Recent research has shed considerable light on the wide-ranging reasons for which call centres turn to post-call analytics. It was especially striking that all respondents agreed on the use of analytics for the purposes of compliance as being either very or somewhat useful.
It was also evident from the findings how crucial analytics was for the automation and acceleration of the quality monitoring process, with some 96% of the research participants that used analytics for this purpose agreeing that it was either very or somewhat useful for that purpose.
Significant, too, was the acknowledgement by so many analytics users that it is very useful for the identification of improvements to business processes. It is expected that in the longer term, analytics will see even more extensive use for the optimisation of processes and the gaining of actionable insight that is applicable to the customer journey.
The research findings indicated that there isn’t presently much enthusiasm for using analytics to provide information about competitors. We do consider this to be a highly underused area of analytical usage at the moment, but we expect that situation to change markedly, with major growth anticipated in the coming years.
Similarly, it didn’t seem from the research that significant numbers of respondents believed analytics to be particularly helpful for influencing scheduling or routing strategies. But with the use of more tightly integrated workforce optimisation (WFO) suites, it does appear that some of the research participants are starting to see meaningful advantages from this.
It is important to note that the above does not represent an exhaustive rundown of every possible purpose of interaction analytics. With post-call analytics enabling the storage of an extremely in-depth mass of interactions, there will be various ways to extract even greater insight from all of this information, in light of the given business’s specific requirements.
Would you like to learn more about the part analytics can play in the optimisation of call centre operations, including the performance of agents? If so, please download our free research report “The Inner Circle Guide to Omnichannel Workforce Optimisation”.
Is your contact centre taking sufficiently seriously the importance of comprehensive onboarding?
Onboarding – defined by Cambridge University as “the process in which new employees gain the knowledge and skills they need to become effective members of an organisation” – will always play a crucial role in an agent’s chances of adapting to their new organisation and achieving sustained success.
The agent in question may find it more challenging to seamlessly transition into the responsibilities of their new role if they have never previously worked in a contact centre environment.
However, regardless of whether that is the case, it pays to think carefully about how your organisation can most effectively introduce its latest recruits to their work. This is borne out by research findings indicating the crucial difference the optimal onboarding approaches can make to agents’ chances of staying engaged and making the right impact.
What do the statistics say about contact centres’ onboarding strategies?
The research in question has shown that businesses have numerous ways of onboarding their new contact centre employees. Most respondents stated that they had a buddying or mentoring programme in place, and some form of official ‘graduation’, to help ease new agents into the real work following basic training in call handling.
It was also interesting to see from the survey that more than two thirds – 68% – of the businesses questioned provided individual agent training plans. This is a trend that seems to be becoming more widespread with each passing year.
Also discovered through the research was that just under half of respondents sought 360-degree feedback from new agents – a practice that can be crucial for providing insights into the ‘real-world’ experience of the agent onboarding process, to help inspire improvements.
Some 55% of the research participants offered a single portal through which all the paperwork and internal administrative tasks a new employee required could be accessed.
Less encouragingly however, a mere 21% of the respondents had pre-start familiarisation visits, even if this figure was as high as 36% prior to the pandemic; the remaining 79% dropped the new agent in at the deep end from their first day of work.
What difference does this variation in methods make to onboarding success?
The findings of research into the effects of these various onboarding processes were clear: a higher proportion of respondents using a greater number of onboarding methods recorded a lower short-term agent attrition rate.
More specifically, 64% of respondents that offered five or more onboarding methods as covered in the research had low new agent attrition, whereas this proportion dropped to just 42% of contact centres which offered fewer than three onboarding methods.
It is of course important to apply the usual caveats – including that correlation is not causation. Nonetheless, such findings do point to the possibility that agents receiving a greater amount of onboarding support over the course of their first few weeks might be better placed to adapt quickly and confidently to the work and the culture of their new organisation than those who are not so comprehensively supported.
To find out more about agent engagement, please download our free research report “The Inner Circle Guide to Omnichannel Workforce Optimisation”.
Australia and New Zealand contact centre industry research now available
ContactBabel’s series of research-based guides are widely distributed to top decision-makers and influencers in customer-facing businesses across the globe. Our flagship reports, “The UK & US Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guides”, are the largest annual primary research reports available for these contact centre industries.
We’re pleased to announce that “The 2022-23 Australian & New Zealand Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guide” is now available.
Based on surveys with over 100 contact centres and 2,000 customers, the report provides real data and insight into the HR, operations, technology, CX and strategy of Australian and New Zealand contact centres.
The report is available for free download from here.
Contact Centre Remote Working: Not Just for the Pandemic?
Recent ContactBabel surveys of over 400 contact centres in the UK and US show the extent to which remote working / homeworking has become the norm, and is expected to last beyond the pandemic.
Remote Working in the Contact Centre Industry
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that homeworking / remote working has become vital to the business continuity plans of many contact centre operations. After the crisis has passed, businesses may well find that reverting to the previous centralised contact centre model is no longer optimal and that remote working can bring greater flexibility and performance, augmenting the traditional way of operating.
Remote working opens the door to the sorts of people who might not otherwise seek employment in a typical contact centre but who would happily work in their own home taking calls, and this opportunity to deepen and improve the quality of the labour pool without widespread pay increases should not be ignored.
Up until very recently, the majority of UK contact centres worked as a traditional, centralised model, with fewer than 4% of agents working remotely at home on a permanent basis. For the US, this figure was somewhat higher, but still only 13%.
Faced with the challenges of continuing to run contact centres in an environment decimated by coronavirus, many businesses urgently implemented business continuity plans which usually involved remote working.
The Current Use of Remote Working
Recent ContactBabel surveys of over 400 contact centres in the UK and US show the extent to which remote working / homeworking has become the norm.
The massive recent growth in remote working can be seen in the following chart: in 2019, 57% of UK contact centre survey respondents did not use any homeworking, a figure which was zero in 2020.
As shown in the chart below, 71% of UK operations had more than half of their agents working at home at the end of 2021, and there is expected to be only a very gradual decline in remote working, although much of this will be a hybrid home / office model.
Of course, this is likely to be a factor of the uncertainty surrounding the future and may well change significantly once confidence in public health is re-established.
In the US (below), this is even more pronounced, with 100% of operations surveyed having more than half of their agents working at home at least part of the time at the end of 2021.
Drivers & Inhibitors for Homeworking
The main homeworking benefits are usually reported to be around improved staffing flexibility and improved ability to handle overflow or unexpected volumes of traffic: in the same way that the virtualisation of multiple contact centre sites allows agents to be moved between virtual queues instantaneously, having a large pool of homeworkers to draw upon very quickly, as needed, can be a great advantage in handling call spikes.
This is certainly still the case, but of course the opportunity for business continuity that remote working provides is very clearly top of the agenda at the moment. The most important benefits of homeworking were said to be:
- Disaster recovery / business continuity
- Staffing flexibility
- Reduced equipment & building costs (UK) / Reducing staff attrition (US)
Homeworking is often credited with reducing agent attrition, as it takes away the stress, cost and time of the commute and enables the employee to work in less stressful, more personal surroundings. This allows the business to offer a more flexible working day to their employees, for example, a 4- or 5-hour shift in the middle of the day, allowing the employee to pick up and drop off their children at school, which may also coincide with the busiest period of the day for the organisation. In such cases, the employee is happy to work the hours that suit them, and the organisation bears less cost. Agents are far more likely to be able to work an hour or two in the evenings as well, allowing the contact centre opening hours to be longer.
When considering the inhibitors to homeworking, concerns over security and fraud were stated by 1 in 3 respondents to be the greatest hurdle, especially in the financial services sector, which is noticeably less enthusiastic in general about homeworking.
Working in an unsupervised environment is likely to mean that the potential risks for data theft and fraud are greater than in a closely supervised environment such as a traditional contact centre, especially if any physical paperwork is involved, payment card details taken or passwords written down. With the home workspace accessible to family members and visitors as well, risks are not just restricted to the homeworker.
The use of an automated payment card application – such as a third-party cloud-based solution – reduces the opportunity for deliberate card fraud, and definite policies around the storage and usage of equipment have to be agreed upon. There are various data access methods available that circumvent the need for written passwords, such as voice biometrics or coded key-fobs, and strong firewalls and encrypted hard drives will also reduce risk.
There is also some concern that it would be difficult to manage homeworkers effectively from a remote location, which has always been an objection to this way of working. Isolation can be a problem for both agent and management, and not all roles or agents are suitable for homeworking.
It is generally considered that new parents returning to work part-time, or older people who wish to reduce their working hours but who are not yet ready to retire completely are particularly suitable to be considered for homeworking roles, which require experience and maturity in the agent. With real-time adherence and call management systems in place, there is no real reason that a virtual contact centre made up of homeworkers is more difficult to manage than a ‘typical’ operation, although the role of the team-leader (being someone to help actively) has to be re-addressed.
For some contact centre workers, it would be difficult to have a room away from the noise of the household, and this is a concern for some businesses. Obviously, it’s important to consider working location on a case-by-case basis to assess the suitability of the agent for homeworking.
One of the previous greatest inhibitors to homeworking was that there was not seen to be a need to change the status quo: many respondents did not believe that homeworking would help with any business issue that they face. Clearly, the events of 2020 & 2021 have reversed this opinion.
Find out more:
To learn more about contact centre remote working / homeworking in the UK and US, please download:
The Inner Circle Guide to Contact Centre Remote Working Solutions (UK and US editions)
The 2022 UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guide
The 2022 US Contact Center Decision-Makers’ Guide
AI in the Contact Centre: replacing or augmenting agents?
As AI can be given access to all of the relevant data a company holds on its customers, as well as unstructured data held elsewhere (for example, forums or social media channels), it has a far wider source of knowledge from which to draw compared to human agents.
In theory, an AI with sufficient sophistication could make human agents all but unnecessary, but for the foreseeable future, AI will usually work alongside its human colleagues.
This article is taken from recent ContactBabel research titled “The Inner Circle Guide to AI, Chatbots and Machine Learning”, which is available free of charge from this site.
Current and Future Use of AI in the Contact Centre
Despite a low current use of AI across industries, there is widespread interest in implementing this solution, with 35% of UK survey respondents intending to implement AI within 12 months. While these figures are probably overly ambitious, it does show real interest in AI coming from the contact centre industry.
Use Cases for AI in the Contact Centre
There are numerous use cases for AI in contact centres, and these are growing all of the time. In order to structure “The Inner Circle Guide to AI, Chatbots and Machine Learning”, we chose four wide areas in which AI is actually helping customer contact now:
- Assisted Service
- Interaction Analytics
- Robotic Process Automation and AI.
There can often be overlap between these areas, for example when a self-service interaction is passed to an agent, who then hands off to robotic process automation.
It is important that the various elements comprising AI should not be viewed in isolation. When they work together, the benefits can be much stronger and unlike siloed applications, AI’s capabilities can be made available to any channel, whether live or automated.
It should also be noted that some of these use cases can also apply to non-contact centre staff. For example, staff in physical stores can be given access to AI reasoning capabilities in order to answer technical questions, and can even be used for internal staff to answer their questions on products or services.
Example Self-Service Use Cases
Replace or augment IVR which is rigidly structured
Website navigation assistance: help customers around the website and provide answers to FAQs. Feedback from customers can help to measure the success or otherwise of the AI. A path to live assistance should always be offered
Develop and support true omnichannel capabilities: ContactBabel research has consistently shown that siloed systems and processes are the single largest factor holding companies back from being able to offer a true omnichannel experience to their customers. AI encourages the decoupling of data from the channel of engagement as it draws data from many sources in order to recognise patterns and act accordingly, with AI’s capabilities being used on any channel, whether in a self-service environment or through assisting agents
Offer 24/7 self-service assistance
Example Assisted Service Use Cases
Use real-time analytics on calls to improve the quality of interaction, agent behaviours and customer outcomes
Identify cross-selling and upselling opportunities (this can be used in either an assisted or automated environment)
Augment agent capabilities in real time to improve outcomes
Use sentiment analysis in real-time to support outcomes.
Example Interaction Analytics Use Cases
Recognise patterns of customer behaviour: e.g. use sentiment analysis to analyse large blocks of data and show that customers trying to carry out a specific action are more likely to be stressed and annoyed, allowing the business to investigate and reengineer the process
Customer behaviour predictions: look for which customers are defecting, and identify any patterns in their behaviour or experiences. Learn which actions are most successful at keeping them loyal
Predictive routing, inc. CTI-like information popping to allow better matches and outcomes
Monitor, quantify and improve agent performance through post-call analytics
Predict the actions and requirements of the customer, improving cross-selling / upselling opportunities
Discover areas for improvement and automation in association with RPA
Use customer journey analytics to identify bottlenecks and processes which frustrate customers and create unnecessary callbacks
Improve identity verification and customer authentication and decrease fraud
Improve workforce optimisation and training
Quality assure 100% of calls and predict QA and CX metrics (e.g. NPS)
Share intelligent real-time alerts with agents
Predicted CX and QA metrics
Robotic Process Automation Use Cases
Use RPA/AI to populate fields and take some tasks away from agents within the call
Use RPA/AI for post-call wrap-up and to kick off and monitor back-office processes.
Perhaps the most popular current use of AI in the customer contact environment is in handling digital enquiries, where web chats generally take far longer than phone calls (due to agent multitasking, and typing time) and some email response rates can still be measured in days.
Whereas only 5% of web chats had any automation involved in 2015, this had grown to 24% in 2019, mainly as a result of initial handling by automated chatbots which may then hand off to live agents where appropriate.
It’s important to note that not all chatbots or virtual agents are powered through AI and machine learning, as many use programmer-defined rules and scripting in order to retrieve answers from a knowledge base. These types of chatbot can still have great value to businesses, especially where there are a relatively small number of questions being asked by customers, and they can be very cost-effective too.
Views on AI in the Contact Centre
AI is often seen by the general public and media as being used to oust humans from their employment. Our survey respondents generally do not believe that AI will replace agents: although 32% agreed to some extent that this would be the case, 68% disagreed. Respondents from large 200+ seat contact centres were more likely to feel that AI would replace human agents, with those in small and medium operations doubting that this would be the case. However, it is worth noting that the belief that AI will replace agents has strengthened over the past few years.
Unanimity was found when the question was asked as to whether AI would support human agents, with all respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that this would be the case, reducing risk, speeding up responses and providing customers with higher quality resolutions.
52% strongly disagreed that AI would be irrelevant to their contact centre, with general agreement that AI will affect contact centres of all sizes. This figure is growing year on year as AI becomes more widespread and the benefits better understood.
The Future of AI in the Contact Centre
In the longer-term, there’s no doubt that AI will be used as a key part of handling customer interactions in most businesses, but the question is: how? The use of AI should be focused on use cases where the AI does a better job than a human, whether that’s being quicker, more accurate, available 24/7 or able to see patterns in data that no person could see.
It’s our view that people call people not necessarily because they want to hear a friendly voice, or that they’re Luddites who won’t countenance automation, but because they’ve found through experience that this is the most effective way of making sure their issue is resolved.
So while AI-enabled automation will handle much of the simple work, customers will still seek out a live channel for complex or emotional interactions: probably voice, but perhaps digital or video too, as customer confidence in these channels builds up.
Yet even here, AI will be playing a part, identifying the customer’s intent, gauging their sentiment, and understanding through past experience what the appropriate actions for the agent will be. Over a long period of time, AI will become thoroughly enmeshed in every element of customer interactions: the rise of the robots will be slow, but inexorable.
Find out more:
To learn more about the use of AI in UK and US contact centres, please download:
The Inner Circle Guide to AI, Chatbots and Machine Learning (2nd edition) – UK and US versions
The Inner Circle Guide to AI-Enabled Self-Service – UK and US versions