Shift #5: Integrated information and workflow
Too often, customers are asked for the same information multiple times. In the contact center of the future, information is kept in one place and those who need it can access it when needed.
Regardless of input type (text, email, phone call) integrated service workflows ensure that all information is captured in the same place, so no customer has to “tell their story” three times to three different people. This omnichannel approach not only allows information to come in through different channels, but also ensures that all this information is integrated on the back end and is available to customer service reps.
Whether no-touch, low-touch, or high-touch, workflows should deliver a positive result for customers requires the appropriate technology as well as strategies to ensure the proper “matchmaking” of task to resolution, connecting each customer with a representative with the right skills for the problem. A contact center may handle a variety of call types; some customers may need a Mandarin speaker, others may require specialized knowledge, and still others may just need a little hand-holding. This “smart routing” is enabled by a set of integrated workflows, meaning information from a text or email from a customer is visible to the person answering the phone and available to all, so if you have filled out a form online and then sent a text, the representative will have that information provided in their “cockpit.” Integrating the multiple types of tech may be the most challenging aspect of building the contact center of the future. It all rests on a secure, cloud-based tech foundation that meets stringent security standards, such as FEDRAMP, to ensure that private information is kept private.
Shift #6: An enhanced employee experience
Miserable employees can’t provide great service. The experience of employees in the contact center of the future is expected to be dramatically different than what is typically experienced today, with more training, greater flexibility, and a more satisfying work environment.
Frontline employees can have a huge impact on customer satisfaction. Yet the contact center experience can be stressful for employees.Workers often receive inadequate training and face high workloads punctuated by difficult interactions with angry customers. It’s no surprise that attrition in these jobs tends to be high.7
A great employee experience is more likely to provide a great customer experience. Disengaged employees frequently use negative language with customers, saying “I can’t do that,” rather than positive language such as “Let me look into that.” Even worse, they may provide customers with incorrect information just to rush them off the phone.
Government contact centers may need to rebuild the employee experience, from onboarding through the entire career path.
In the past, contact center jobs could be dead-end jobs. In the future, tech will likely be handling a greater fraction of tasks, meaning the remaining issues will be more complex—in turn, requiring more skilled representatives. While there’d be generalists to fix routine problems, there would also be a group of employees who can develop niche specialties and serve as sophisticated problem-solvers.
As for the generalists, the number of programs they cover could increase. It is common today to have distinct groups of agents working in silos, with groups such as Child Support, Adult Protective Services, and Child Care Services each fully staffing their own contact center. This can be inefficient. In the future, thanks to supportive cockpits and sophisticated scripting assistance, there could be a shared pool of generalized agents covering a broader scope of programs, with specialists to access as needed.
Furthermore, employees increasingly value flexibility in their schedules. Government contact centers too often use blanket shift schedules and manual vacation spreadsheets. Advanced workforce systems can forecast workloads, schedule agent assignments, and track adherence to assigned schedules. Such systems can be designed to accommodate greater employee flexibility.
Employees also value the ability to work remotely, from home or wherever else they choose. The pandemic prompted a rapid shift to remote work, which can have the added benefit of reducing facility costs. According to the Deloitte 2021 Global Contact Centre Survey, eight percent of companies plan to close their physical customer service centers entirely.8 To be effective, managers need to manage differently in the remote environment and will likely need tools to keep employees engaged and connected.
Shift #7: Empathetic tech
Empathetic tech combines the efficiency of digital with the warmth of human understanding. Thanks to advances to AI and better design, empathetic tech can sense human emotions, and either provide enhanced tech solutions or shift customers to a live representative.
The choice used to be between cold, impersonal tech and the warm but costly service by a live agent. Advances in “empathetic” tech have broken that tradeoff. In effect, smart machines are beginning to successfully navigate quintessentially human territory, sensing emotion cues and addressing what really matters to customers.9
New AI technology can capture critical “bio-signatures”—facial expressions, voice patterns, and more—to interpret human emotions and generate empathetic responses. In a contact center setting, AI can help detect an unsettled emotional state and connect that person to an actual human being before their frustration escalates.
At Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), for instance, AI-enabled cameras analyze the facial expression of customers before and after processing their transactions, providing instant feedback on customer happiness. The system sends text and email follow-up notifications to those who appear dissatisfied, allowing the agency to take steps to improve their service.10 A future update will send callers a “happiness” survey via text.11
AI-based systems use machine learning to better understand the needs of customers, continually learning from past events. In time, these systems will be able to predict, with increasing accuracy, why a particular customer is contacting the agency, and route them to the appropriate service channel, whether it’s a human, a chatbot, or a self-service platform.
Consider, for instance, the chatbot platform jointly created by Finland’s Immigration Service, Tax Administration, and Patent and Registration Office, which can field questions related to immigration, taxation, and company formation. Each agency has its own independent chatbot, but they’re linked to one another through an intelligent layer in the background. When a bot can’t answer a question, it can analyze user keywords, predict the appropriate agency to help, and then redirect the customer to its chatbot.12
Until recently, the only way government leaders could improve their contact center operations was by adding additional components onto their existing structure—perhaps adding a chatbot to a website or an IVR system to the telephony. Today, the notion of “contact center as a service” allows government to rent a suite of services—with the advantage of only paying for what you use.
Taking the next step toward building the contact centers of tomorrow
Many public leaders who oversee contact centers see many opportunities for improvement, but aren’t clear on the best way to move ahead. Their concerns often fall into four categories:
- How can we afford this?
- Do we have the skills to make this happen?
- What underlying technology infrastructure do I need?
- How can we pull together all the technologies?
How can we afford this?
One silver lining of the pandemic is much greater awareness of the need to enhance governments’ ability to provide customer services. Federal COVID-19 funding and surplus state revenues in many states can help agencies upgrade these capacities.
Note that, just as the cloud allows you to pay only for the technology you use, a “pay by the minute” approach to call center services can limit upfront costs and allow charges to be proportional to usage, eliminating the risk of paying for capacity needed only during peak demands.
Do we have the skills to make this happen?
Public agencies often lack the specialized expertise needed to rebuild their contact centers. From telephony to AI, from cybersecurity to data integration, few public agencies have the depth and breadth of knowledge to go it alone.
A good starting point would be understanding the contact center experience from both a front-end customer perspective and a back-end agent perspective. This can serve as a guidance to incorporate necessary functionalities that meet the user need and hit mission objectives. A deep understanding of what can be fulfilled in-house vis-à-vis what can be brought in from outside can help enable the development of solutions that are grounded in user needs as well as provide value.
What underlying technology infrastructure do I need?
The government contact center of the future needs a strong, secure, and adaptable platform. The pandemic has shown that infrastructure designed strictly for on-premises work isn’t easily shifted to distributed work models, particularly for workers lacking reliable high-speed internet. The pandemic’s challenges have prompted many contact center leaders to double down on digital transformation.
The cloud is the most likely platform for the contact center of the future. Agencies that had invested in cloud technology reaped benefits during the pandemic. In California, for instance, 90% of some 200,000 state employees were able to switch to telework smoothly due to previous cloud-based projects.13 While cloud computing often has been seen simply as a way to cut costs, its real value for contact centers lies in its resilience, rapid scaling, and ability to deliver a seamless experience.14 And thanks to standardized security certifications such as FEDRAMP, cloud environments are trusted by some of the most security-conscious government agencies to ensure private information is kept private.
How can we pull together all the technologies?
The biggest challenge in creating the contact center of the future could be the integration of its technology, including interactive voice response (IVR) and AI. There’s a large, complex ecosystem of providers (figure 2), but the real trick is getting all the right pieces to work together in harmony.
In home and commercial construction, a general contractor’s primary job is assembling and managing multiple subcontractors with different skills, such as plumbers, electricians, and carpenters. In the same way, using a single vendor to help design and manage a contact center upgrade can reduce the risks involved in trying to integrate a multitude of technologies in-house. It can also eliminate finger-pointing among various providers, placing accountability with a single entity.