From CEO Rob McDougall: Where Have All the People Gone?

Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the business landscape in countless ways. Remote working has been significantly accelerated, as have the technologies used to support it. At the same time, job satisfaction is at an all time low – if the numbers of people changing jobs are any measure. Businesses are having to rethink how to engage with employees to keep them happy, motivated, and engaged.

No area of business has been impacted by the great resignation more than the contact center. Many organizations were focused on improving customer experience and digitizing the contact center just two years ago. Now, they are unable to meet basic service levels. Staff members are resigning at unheard of rates and hiring has become next to impossible. ACD queue times of two hours or more are becoming routine at many companies and digital wait times are just as bad.

Rob McDougall is the Founder and CEO of Upstream Works. Rob is an accomplished contact center leader and catalyst for change with a track record for raising industry awareness of first contact resolution. Rob leads the strategic vision and operations of the company with a continued focus on omnichannel innovation and a passion for exceeding partner and customer expectations.

The pace of technology advancement in the contact center will continue to move forward but should do so with a renewed and urgent focus on how a company can reduce handle times and contact volumes, automate more, and provide service to their customers with fewer people.

Today, the urgent problem experienced by a contact center is simply not being able to get enough bums in seats. Contact centers need to move their focus away from nuanced customer experience improvements to improving the agent experience. Improving the agent’s ability to provide accurate and concise service while simultaneously reducing their overall load is the most direct way of getting your contact center service problem resolved.

First contact resolution – long a favorite of mine because it reduces contact volumes while driving up customer satisfaction – needs a fresh look. Properly measured FCR tracks cross channel trends and can be used to pinpoint specific training problems as well as to identify broken processes. This information can be used to address overall contact volumes and ultimately improve your contact center response times. The Upstream Works desktop tracks contact reasons, details, and customer interactions across all contact channels to provide a comprehensive view of how your contact center is performing and provides the information you need to directly improve FCR and eliminate repeat contacts.

Artificial intelligence is still an important initiative, but efforts should be focused primarily on augmenting the agent’s capabilities. Conversational AI applications are the new self service and can have a limited affect in deflecting contacts. But using a virtual agent assist application will allow an AI application to shine – AI is best used to augment a human being, not to replace one. While an automated assistant will help your seasoned veterans a bit, it will help your new agents tremendously, and speed up their overall speed to competency.

With turnover rates as high as they are in contact centers today, an agent assistant application is going to be a key differentiator when onboarding new staff and getting them productive quickly and efficiently. The caveat is to ensure that the augmentation you provide is actually working in the agent’s favor. It needs to be integrated into the agent’s daily desktop routine and provide assistance while still allowing the agent access to the other tools they need. Additionally, your assist application needs to be contextually aware with the information, sentiment, or other AI-derived data that it displays.

As agents move between different customer tasks, the assistant cannot be siloed and confusing. For the busy contact center agent, the paradigm of the assistance needs to shift with each customer cleanly. Agents do the same thing 60 times a day, and any assistant application needs to be obvious and easy to use. With the Upstream Works Virtual Agent Portal, you can integrate the AI or knowledge base assistant application of your choice into a seamless coaching and assistance experience for your agents, resulting in an immediate reduction in time for new agents.

Businesses need to begin focusing less on the nuances of customer service. Staff shortages are highlighting some very obvious problems in agent experience that inhibits them from simply getting to your customers in the first place. First Contact Resolution and a solid agent assistant AI and/or knowledge base delivered cleanly through a single agent desktop will go a long way towards getting your center ‘back in the black’ – with queue times your customers can accept.