Employing an estimated 1.2 million people in the UK, the contact centre industry is a major economic contributor. The Covid 19 pandemic has sparked a seismic shift in its operating model as social distancing and home-working requirements, combined with surges in contact volumes to entities such as healthcare providers, tax authorities and airlines, have placed them under severe strain.
The pandemic has been a catalyst for growing numbers of private and public sector organisations to move from highly centralised contact centre operations to a distributed cloud-based CCaaS (contact centre as a service) model.
Last year global Gartner forecast that CCaaS would be the preferred adoption strategy for 50% of contact centres by 2022 — a five-fold increase from 2019. That forecast now appears conservative as the crisis looks to have accelerated adoption, perhaps threefold, marking a watershed moment.
Rapid CCaaS migration
Over 15 years our business has provided cloud-enabled CCaaS solutions to approximately 1,000 large enterprise and government agencies across Europe, Asia-Pacific and the United States.
As a Gartner Magic Quadrant CCaaS leader in Western Europe, we had been growing rapidly in response to the rising demand for cloud services, with average growth of 25% per annum for the last 5 years. Now we are finding the pace at which organisations have been migrating to a CCaaS model since the outbreak of Covid-19 remarkable.
There used to be an IT maxim that a slow decision is a quality decision but Covid-19 has forced decision-makers to move quickly to remain operational. Attitudes have gone from ‘We’re just not comfortable with it’ — to — ‘Unless there’s a good reason not to do it, let’s do it.’
Decisions that would have taken two years to be ratified prior to Covid-19 are being made in days — including in financial services, a sector that commonly cited security concerns as a reason for being slow to embrace CCaaS – despite strong evidence that cloud-enabled CCaaS is highly secure.
Multi-level encryption, two-factor authentication, and secure Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) enabling direct communication and data exchange between browsers, are among security measures used successfully by CCaaS clients from banks to government agencies. We recently migrated a several-hundred-seat financial services contact centre to the cloud within a couple of days, creating a secure remote working environment.
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Mission critical services
Several of our clients operate mission critical public services, with frontline contact centre teams grappling with a surge in Covid-19 related enquiries. They include NHS 111, the non-emergency medical helpline, which has seen calls for advice rocket and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which is coping with
an increase of tens of thousands of people seeking help with benefits. We helped both to implement appropriate solutions in challenging circumstances.
We had to deliver accelerated implementation and seamless integration with existing IT systems without compromising service or security. The standard lead time to set up a reasonably complex cloud contact centre is four to six weeks but we achieved a four hour set-up that provided 90% of functionality requirements, then fine-tuned the rest.
Perhaps surprisingly, some CCaaS players are struggling, despite burgeoning demand. Having the right financial firepower as well as the technical expertise, systems and processes in place to meet increased client demand is vital. The support and guidance from our investor, growth equity firm Scottish Equity Partners (SEP) has definitely positioned us to be able to respond quickly.
Some clients are seeing contact volumes, either through voice or digital channels, rise in tandem with demand, such as public service providers and food retailers, while others like leisure and travel firms, although experiencing a dramatic reduction in business, are having to manage spikes in contacts for cancellations or refunds.
Different drivers pose the same problem — a capacity squeeze. As contact queues grow it causes frustration, stress and anxiety to customers. Although our huge infrastructure scale allows us to do so, we do not see increasing queueing capacity as the solution, but we are suggesting other approaches such as ‘machine agents’ to solve the problem.
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Rise of automation
Machine agents are a form of intelligent automated services using AI that provide interactions using through voice or text conversations in a similar way to a human.
Voice machine agents use ‘Natural Language Processing’ (NLP) which enables those systems to understand language the way humans do. The huge popularity of voice-activated devices such as Alexa or Siri has made using these types of chatbots more acceptable. The global chatbot market is forecast to grow almost 30% annually to $9.4 billion by 2024.
Other advances in AI technology include areas such as emotion detection, enabling the intentions of a customer to be even better understood and dealt with effectively.
As well as benefiting customers, machine agents free the human agent workforce from repetitive tasks, enabling them to provide more personal-touch conversations.
Cloud-enabled CCaaS solutions can deliver numerous benefits including greater operational scalability and flexibility; seamless integration with existing systems; a unified view of customers across all contact channels; an ability to extract actionable insight; and more efficient scheduling. And in an increasingly cost-conscious environment, they can deliver cost savings.
Social distancing rules and health concerns have increased pressure on companies to provide home-working opportunities and cloud-based solutions can facilitate this. Recent research by Strathclyde University involving almost 3,000 UK contact centre workers found that two-thirds had requested to work from home but only 4% had been granted permission.
The pandemic has highlighted how technology in general, and CCaaS in particular, can be used as a lever to respond efficiently to unprecedented demand on contact centres. It has forced organisations to tear up the rule book — and however the current crisis plays out, there will be no going back.