Throughout 2020, many new trends arose and call center solutions continued to evolve to meet fresh challenges in the space. COVID-19 led to new realizations about how call centers need to operate, including a shift to remote work, system-wide stressors and important shifts in customer experience and service expectations among consumers.
It’s critical that organizations proactively stay ahead of these changes and work to take on top of changing industry standards.
New Challenges for Call Centers in 2021
More Flexible Service Solutions
Consumers are looking for solutions to their problems across a range of channels, including digital and self-service, in ever-increasing numbers, thanks to pandemic pressures and storefronts closing. A new need for more adaptive service options, including improved omnichannel customer experience, has shown up as a strong trend with few signs of letting up.
Attention to Detail
Apart from achieving better flexibility in terms of customer service delivery, many call centers are finding themselves confronted with the details of doing business as new working models force management to reexamine the numbers and bolster bottom lines. Adapting to a shifting market means making changes to agent engagement processes, team cooperation, agent training and more, while maintaining a positive customer experience.
To learn more about how call centers can adapt to new challenges in the era of COVID-19, download our white paper: Contact Center Practices and Guidelines for Managing Through COVID-19.
Keep reading to see what is on the radar for 2021.
1. AI is here to stay.
“Call centers can leverage several autonomous and semi-autonomous AI functions to streamline internal processes. Offering AI-enhanced processes to call center agents does more than make their work easier, it also enhances the user experience through improved speed in reasoning and augmented accuracy. Accenture predicts AI will increase business productivity by over 35 percent before 2040 in the US alone.” – The Fusing of AI & Automation with Human Judgment in Call Center Success, CallMiner; Twitter: @CallMiner
2. Omnichannel support is expected and appreciated.
“Consumers these days expect that companies are responsive across many channels. That’s a given. But they despise repeating themselves when they switch platforms. For instance, when they go from email support to calling the customer service team.
“A major recent customer service trend is the demand for omnichannel service. Customers want a variety of channels to contact your agents. In 2017, Microsoft uncovered most people contact a company using three separate channels.” – Julie Bai, Call Center Technology and Trends Every Business Leader Must Know in 2020, Nextiva; Twitter: @Nextiva
3. Video chat assistance is on the rise.
“FaceTime video chatting was just the beginning. Video customer service is coming. Requests are coming in from clients who want to offer video customer service. One-way video chatting (they see our agent, but the agent does not see them) or an app could be used to offer this. Customers could go to your client’s website for help and click to open a simple chat or have the option to open a video platform with an agent for more complex issues. While it’s still pretty rare, companies are moving towards video customer service.” – Call Center Technology Trends for 2020, Expivia; Twitter: @expivianow
4. Analytics are more important than ever.
“No longer can your contact center just rely on supervisor skills to keep track of how your agents are performing and the customer experience. While manual observation and monitoring have their place, there is far more information that your contact center needs to improve how your call center runs. You need advanced analytics, offered in real-time, so you can quickly and easily make adjustments as needed.” – The 13 Call Center Technology Trends to Watch (And Implement), Scorebuddy; Twitter: @score_buddy
5. Live engagement sets customers at ease.
“Modern businesses are adopting live engagement for proactive communication as a customer experience trend. At times, it becomes very difficult to figure out customer issues due to lack of real time communication. The explanation is not clear enough to give a transparent understanding of the problem. Live engagement tools are a boon for contact centers to handle such scenarios.” – Snigdha Patel, Top 9 Contact Center Trends to Watch Out in 2021, REVE Chat; Twitter: @REVEChat
6. Companies are cutting costs by leveraging the cloud.
“Owning a contact center office to run businesses can be expensive when compared to other cost-saving options such as the cloud platform with advanced project management suites. When your business is built on a remote platform, you will have the agility and flexibility to serve a larger audience pool without allocating a chunk of your marketing spend on IT and infrastructure.” – 6 Call Center Trends that Will Make an Impact in 2020, Flatworld Solutions; Twitter: @flatworldsols
7. Remote support technology is being used more and more.
“Customers still demand accessible, high-quality support. And in 2021, that means more customers will connect to services remotely.
“So, a major necessity of the changing customer service landscape in 2021 is remote support technology. (That is, any technology that enables agents to connect with customers remotely.)
“For instance, cloud VOIP systems, live chat software, video consultation, asynchronous messaging, SMS service lines, and so on. Emphasis will lie on technology that facilitates service from a safe distance.” – Roxanne Abercrombie, Customer service trends in 2021: the post-COVID contact centre, WhosOn; Twitter: @ParkerSoftware
8. Data custodianship will be taken more seriously.
“Your customers are ‘digital natives’ and are becoming more and more concerned with data privacy issues. As the data privacy debate further develops worldwide and with consumers growing increasingly weary of data breaches, make sure you train your customer support team to understand why privacy matters in the eyes of regulators and consumers alike.” – Keti Limani, Customer Service trends 2021, Surveypal; Twitter: @Surveypal
9. Technology is easing budgeting stress.
“While customer expectations might be rising, budgets are shrinking. With more than half (52%) of companies planning to reduce the size of their team as a result of the current economic downturn, support leaders are turning to technology, not headcount, to scale their efforts.
“In fact, 55% of support leaders plan to increase their spend on technology in the coming year.” – Courtney Chuang, The future of support: 5 key trends that will shape customer care in 2021, Intercom; Twitter: @intercom
10. Contactless preferences encourage self-service, even online.
“With an increase of customers expecting to achieve their goals on their own using only the tools available on the website, customer portals such as control panel and knowledge bases are all part of a major customer service trend in 2021.
“COVID-19 having a drastic change and having almost everything online and remote has readied customers for a contactless approach to service in which they could do everything on their own before asking for assistance.” – Amir P., Customer Service trends in 2021, AeroAdmin
11. People are seeking support on social media more than ever.
“Support through social media: this channel is not just how consumers talk about the organization; it is a means of talking to the organization and part of a broader strategy of making communications easy and providing the channels your customers prefer. People interact with each other on social media, so it stands to reason that this will expand to business relationships, too. This is also a good channel for getting ahead of issues or explaining the nuances of new products.” – Customer Service Trends for 2021, GlowTouch; Twitter: @GlowTouch
12. Chatbots will continue to grow in prevalence.
“Chatbot-powered customer service is here to stay, and this year we will witness its evolution and expansion.
“Last year, chatbots were the preferred communication channel when making online purchases for 43% of U.S. online shoppers. This applies to both e-commerce sites and social media business pages.” – Tytus Gołas, 6 Customer Service Trends You Can’t Ignore in 2021, Single Grain; Twitter: @singlegrain
13. Cloud flexibility is more important than ever before.
“At the start of 2020, companies had to quickly deploy remote work in an agile manner to ensure business continuity. This transition was more or less straightforward, depending on the degree of digital maturity of the company.
“Indeed, companies relying mainly on the cloud were able to ensure this transition quickly. At the same time, those with on-site solutions encountered serious obstacles, in particular, due to the need for physical hardware.
“In 2021, the flexibility to remain available to customers and meet their expectations becomes essential and will make it possible to stand out. This is why companies should adopt flexible strategies allowing them to adapt quickly to changes. This means using open technologies to be agile according to constraints and integrate the innovations of tomorrow.” – Julien Rio, The 6 Top Customer Experience Trends in 2021, CXM; Twitter: @TheCXMagazine
14. Self-service options will be used across industries to curb call volume.
“Citibank originally saw a significant increase in call volume from customers asking about COVID-19 related issues, according to a source familiar with the bank, but has since seen a reduction after the bank developed some digital service options.
“The bank set up a microsite with information about COVID-19 assistance programs, including payment deferrals, stimulus payment information and branch hours. The bank is also seeing strong engagement with support tools like interactive chat and messaging apps, where customers can connect with bank representatives.” – David Jones, Bank call centers feeling pressure of COVID-19, Mobile Payments Today; Twitter: @MobilePayToday
15. Omnichannel analytics will be used to unify and improve CX.
“More omnichannel call centers are opting heavily for advanced analytics programs to build dashboards with statistics that affect their businesses. There’s an increasing trend of this kind of display of statistical dashboards on user interfaces, so that call agents and managers can get real-time updates on customer experiences.” – 5 Top Call Center Trends in 2021, CounterPath; Twitter: @CounterPath
Staffing and Interpersonal Trends
16. Remote agents are gaining ground.
“Tons of call centers are now hiring remote agents.
Why? Because it benefits both the business and the employees.
“Think about it. For businesses, remote agents help cut down admin costs as they spend less on rent and other equipment. For the agents, they have flexible working hours and don’t have to spend time commuting. It’s a win-win for everybody!” – The Ultimate Guide To Call Center Technology (Tools + Trends), Time Doctor; Twitter: @manageyourtime
17. Sales and service are being brought together as one.
“Too often, customer service is seen as a separate unit, triggered when something goes wrong and customers complain. This mindset causes businesses to miss out on growth opportunities.
“Aligning sales and service helps customer service agents deliver more personalized customer experiences, which naturally leads to better business outcomes. Also, agents with insight into how customers have interacted with sales teams have increased upsell and cross-selling opportunities.” – Kirsi Tarvainen, 2021 customer service trends: Doubling down, post-pandemic, The Future of Commerce; Twitter: @FutureOfCEC
18. Adopting a personal touch in customer service interactions will become indispensable.
“According to Accenture, 75% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a company that knows their name, their purchase history, and/or recommends items based on their purchase history.
“Companies can achieve this by segmenting their marketing campaigns based on consumer characteristics. Most typically, this is seen in email marketing, or on e-commerce webpages.” – Kasia Kowalska, 6 Top Customer Experience Trends for 2021 [From Real CEOs], Survicate; Twitter: @Survicate
19. Through automation, agents will be freed to focus on personal customer connections.
“With the advent of high-tech that has enabled contact centers to automate customer service processes, the demand for more personalized and human connections is also increasing.
“Call centers that have automated a fraction of their inbound customer service calls through voice AI have noted that call center agents have more opportunities to focus exclusively on delivering high-touch customer experiences with remaining callers, as a result.” – Veronica French, 5 “Top of Minds” for Customer Service Leaders in 2021, Replicant; Twitter: @Replicant_AI
20. Customers’ need for speed will keep growing.
“Speed and Simplicity Rule. Customers will no longer base their experience perceptions solely on price, product or convenience. Instead, expectations will be based on digital speed, simplicity and contextuality.” – Jim Marous, Top 7 Customer Experience Trends in Banking for 2021, The Financial Brand; Twitter: @JimMarous
21. More remote service means less physical infrastructure may be on the way.
“As companies rethink the viability of permanently shifting most call center and customer service processes (or at least a large component of them) to the work-from-home model, they recognize that they now have an over-investment in call center facilities. Reducing their real estate footprint is another cost-reduction strategy.” – Peter Bendor-Samuel, Call Centers Show Bright Spot In COVID-19 Crisis, Forbes; Twitter: @Forbes
22. Sustainable customer service models will make greater use of cross-disciplinary responsibilities.
“To become more resilient, with more sustainable operations, customer service operations must tap into new labor models, like using store personnel for customer service. They must use cloud technologies to support agents wherever they are working, and they have to become more data-driven to better support supervisors and managers in delivering a high quality of service.” – Kate Leggett, How Customer Service Can Emerge Stronger From The Pandemic In 2021, Forrester; Twitter: @forrester
23. Social decisions will impact brand reputation more and more.
“More and more, today’s consumers are factoring in larger ideals (e.g., racial equity and sustainability) when they decide what and where to buy. And callout culture means brands are held publicly accountable for their decisions. Socially conscious decisions can be good for society and your business.” – Michelle Wildenauer, 5 Key Customer Loyalty and Engagement Trends for 2021, Destination CRM; Twitter: @destinationCRM
24. Older demographics are resorting to online services and require support.
“With most businesses closing their storefronts (at least temporarily) during the global pandemic, consumers were forced to shift their shopping online. The demographic that has historically been least likely to shop online and order for delivery, were also the most at-risk — those over the age of 65. Many older consumers were shopping online for the first time, and along with their shopping came a slew of questions directed at customer service.” – Brad Birnbaum, What Will Customer Service Look Like In The Months To Come? Predictions For 2021, Forbes; Twitter: @Forbes
25. Remote working arrangements will continue to be adopted.
“Whether we like it or not, the recent trend of remote work caused by the pandemic is definitely here to stay. As we have written in a recent case study, even companies that previously used on-premise systems had to quickly shift their operations onto cloud software.
“This helped them confront the challenges of a global lockdown and build a steady base of remote agents.
“This rapid change made employers realize the benefits of remote work, including happier and more productive employees and cost efficiency, as well as long-term operational sustainability.” – 5 Customer Service Trends to Follow in 2021, Call Centre Helper; Twitter: @callcentrehelp
What trends are you planning on adopting at your call center in 2021?