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The 2022 CX Barrier — Who Will Be Answering Customer Calls?

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Johnny Rosa's picture
Marketing Manager Zappix

Johnny is the Marketing Manager at Zappix, the leading provider of Visual IVR, creating technology to increase customer self-service, reduce calls to live contact-center agents, and lower costs...

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  • Jan 25, 2022
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 2022-01 - Power Industry 2022 Trends & Predictions, click here for more

The world is still working through the COVID-19 pandemic, but the nature of how we work is changing. In 2022 and as we phase into a post-pandemic contact center, the market faces a big question: how to handle increased inbound call volumes when hiring more agents has been made difficult after COVID-19?

At the beginning of the pandemic, call centers around the world saw inbound call volumes spike dramatically, but those high volumes have remained high. With more calls coming in and fewer agents ready to answer those calls it’s no wonder Harvard Business Review found some companies they studied “saw hold times balloon by as much as 34 percent and escalations (calls sent up the chain of command) skyrocket more than 68 percent.”

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Hiring new contact center agents to handle the increase in call volumes throughout the pandemic has been difficult, and it became harder than ever in 2021. According to reports from Customer Contact Central, “several call center outsourcing vendors have disclosed that training class show rates are down to 40%-50%, some as low as 20%.” The answer for many modern contact centers has turned out to be automated self-service platforms that can be implemented quickly and can take the pressure off ramping up hiring sprints.

“[Companies] …saw hold times balloon by as much as 34 percent and escalations (calls sent up the chain of command) skyrocket more than 68 percent.”

Bottom Line Impacts

Hiring more agents to handle more calls of course means increased contact center costs. In the post-COVID employment landscape, those costs are increasing exponentially. Before the pandemic, the fully loaded cost per call for agent-handled interactions (including labor costs, occupancy, benefits, and telecom) were around $2.70-$5.60 per call.

In 2021, hourly wages around the US went up in every industry, driving up competition for contact centers looking to hire. Larger companies like Amazon offered higher wages, and even resorted to a $100 signing bonus for vaccinated new hires. With more leverage than ever and a new perspective on how they prioritize what matters to them, many employees in the US have been changing careers. According to a Pew Research study, 66% of unemployed adults seriously considered changing their field of work, and one-third of unemployed adults say they have already taken steps to retool their skills by pursuing job retraining programs or educational opportunities.

“66% of unemployed adults seriously considered changing their field of work, and one-third of unemployed adults say they have already taken steps to retool their skills by pursuing job retraining programs or educational opportunities.”

Seeking Self-Service

As more customers call contact centers and fewer agents are around to answer, the gap between contact center capacity and inbound call volume grows. To alleviate this problem, many call center managers are searching for the right self-service solution to automate their most common call types. According to Gartner, “Migrating Contact Volume From Assisted to Self-Service Channels” was one of the most important priorities for 80% of customer service leaders in 2021, followed closely by “Automating Customer Service Processes.” It makes sense. Automated solutions are both cost effective, and reduce the average handling time of inbound calls — both critical advantages in the modern market.

Sitting on top of traditional voice IVR systems, self-service tools deliver engaging customer service to callers with common use cases, leaving contact center agents available to handle more complex, empathy-driven interactions where their human skills and expertise provide the most value.

Experts from across the industry understand the importance and benefits self-service solutions bring in 2022 and beyond. These solutions help businesses respond smoothly to seasonal or sudden call volume spikes without the need to increase staffing or hire new agents, and without compromising the quality of service.

The addition of automated self-service for key call types makes a significant impact to a healthy bottom line and opens the door for customer service and satisfaction growth despite the challenges of COVID-19. The solutions also take tedious, mundane calls that have been burning out agents for years (and accelerating agent churn) off agents’ plates — giving them more time to focus on calls where their human empathy and training have the most impact while improving employee satisfaction and morale.

Callers Prefer Self-Service Too

Contact center leaders aren’t the only ones who’ve come to enjoy self-service solutions during the pandemic. Customers want digital automation as well. According to McKinsey, “fully 75 percent of people using digital channels for the first time indicate that they will continue to use them when things return to ‘normal.’”

Much of that sustained digital adoption likely stems from the benefits digital self-service brings to the speed of calls. Because of the sharp increase in calls, during the pandemic average handle time (AHT) has grown from 3-6 min to 10+ minutes. Abandonment rates have also risen, from 2-5% to 10+%. For straightforward, easily automated call types like order status or account management, modern self-service solutions can deliver results to callers in less than a minute or two on average — much faster than a traditional IVR and live agent interaction.

PwC found nearly 80% of American consumers say that speed is one of the most important elements of a positive customer experience. With the speed, convenience, and reliability of modern digital self-service, it’s no wonder customers are pleased with the industry shifting towards automating common use cases.

“Fully 75 percent of people using digital channels for the first time indicate that they will continue to use them when things return to ‘normal.’”

Customers Are Calling, and Self-Service Automation is Answering

Most contact centers see 80% of their calls and interactions caused by the same approximately 20% of query types. By innovating these critical use cases, executives can improve their bottom line, accelerate their path towards digital CX, and smooth out their journey towards success. Many self-service solutions also offer the ability to upsell during calls, transforming customer service from a cost center into a revenue generator. By automating where it’s needed and letting live agents handle the rest, customers, companies, and agents stand to benefit.

By shifting common calls to self-service solutions, contact center managers can alleviate the pressure of onboarding new agents, answer the surge of inbound calls, and improve customer experience by reducing average handling time all at the same time.

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