February 01, 2021

Balancing CX, Security and Costs Are Top Goals for 2021

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Top 5 business goals for call center providers for 2021

Business leaders continue to focus on providing a high-quality Customer Experience (CX), improving data security and controlling costs, as indicated by our most recent survey targeted at identifying top business goals for 2021.

Since 2015, CGS has annually surveyed more than 200 business leaders and decision-makers representing IT, Operations, Finance, and Customer Service across 30 industries. Our goal this year was to identify the biggest challenges they face from COVID-19 when it comes to customer service and contact center support and how it impacts their outsourcing decisions for 2021.

Our survey asked:

What top strategic goals will your contact centers be focusing on for 2021?

Their goals center on CX (customer experience), lowering costs, improving data security, and streamlining operations as they continue to respond to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Goal #1: Improve customer experience

Four in ten, or 41 percent, of our leaders indicated CX is their top goal. For companies with 1,000 to 10,000 employees, CX was of greater importance, with 48.4 percent of respondents listing it as their top goal.

Getting to customers quickly is key. Experts anticipate that hyper-automation will continue for 2021, using AI, ML, RPA and other tools to automate existing CX functions, using real-time analytics to drive improvements. Many BPO providers have incorporated these automated tools that address routine questions, leaving call center agents to handle more complex customer issues.

The banking industry has traditionally relied on personal interactions to create long-term relationships. However, the pandemic is changing this relationship, with one study expecting financial call center volume to decrease from 42 percent in 2019 to only 15 percent by 2023 as financial institutions transition to automated messaging platforms, expected to grow in use from 28 percent to 61 percent for the same time period.

Goal #2: Lower costs while making them more predictable

Tied for #1 is the goal of reducing costs and making them more predictable, as 41 percent of our respondents indicated. For extra-large companies—10,000 to 50,000 employees—66.7 percent selected “reducing costs / providing more predictable costs” as one of their top three goals. Operations leaders are heavily focused on this issue, with 62.5 percent citing “reducing costs/more predictable costs” as one of their top three goals.

The primary contributors to costs are typically direct and indirect labor, benefits and overhead, with larger companies experiencing an average cost per call of more than $5 and smaller organizations having an estimated average cost per call of $6–$8. While costs can vary by location and industry, it is easy to understand the drive toward automation to reduce the cost per call. Enhanced efficiency and improved training are also key areas of focus.

Typical cost reduction approaches focused on scheduling, forecasting the number of calls, and BPO outsourcing. As companies still cope with the impact of COVID-19, they will continue to closely monitor their expenses while addressing labor costs and scheduling as call center volumes continue to fluctuate. It is apparent that economic recovery will be a long-term effort, forcing companies to remain cost-conscious. Central banks in the U.S. and Europe indicate the COVID recovery may take at least three years as they put economic, employment and vaccine programs in place. In the meantime, employers will focus on improving cost-containment and productivity.

Goal #3: Improve remote work security and capabilities

Remote working is here to stay, 37.1 percent of our leaders told us. Their goal is to make sure companies have the infrastructure and security protocols in place to support work-from-home (WFH) employees. Most call centers are adopting a hybrid approach of using both onsite call centers and WFH models, with some staffing recommendations suggesting a split of 70–80 percent onsite to 20–30 percent remote. WFH capabilities were even more important to IT and Customer Service leaders as security was a top goal of 46 percent of IT respondents and 41.7 percent of customer service leaders.

In addition to improving CX, there may also be an increased focus on the Employee Experience (EX), especially for WFH employees. EX applications help WFH employees to remain happy and productive as analytics help monitor 100 percent of customer interactions, quickly identifying training and mentoring opportunities. Just as call centers have been creating apps and automation for customers, they realized that they can use this same technology to improve and support remote call center agents.

Call center technology is at the core of the BPO provider-client relationship. Deloitte suggests that as cash flow and capital expenditures become a challenge for many companies, outsourcing partners can focus on investments that drive innovation, expand capabilities, and reinvent operations that benefit both partners.

Goal #4: Flexibility with transaction variability

The pandemic brought tremendous spikes and valleys into call center volumes. Over one third, 34.3 percent, of our survey respondents want to ensure they handle the transaction variability that occurs because of COVID-19, listing it as a top goal for 2021.

Of companies with fewer than 1,000 employees, 41.4 percent cited handling transaction variability and uncertainty as their top goal. Similarly, in companies with 1,000 to 10,000 employees, 41.9 percent will focus on handling variability.

In the early stages of the pandemic, call volumes spiked more than 300 percent for some call centers, increasing average handling time (AHT) from 3 to 6 minutes to more than 10 minutes. As online ordering surged, call centers learned how to support incredible spikes in their transaction and call volumes. However, some industries have been transformed by the pandemic, including travel and leisure, as they cope with dramatic decreases in transaction and call volume.

Goal #5: Consistent delivery, improved efficiency and better business outcomes

Supporting the top goal of improving CX is standardizing processes that help to improve efficiency, provide more consistent delivery and control costs, as 30.5 percent of our survey respondents indicated. Customer service leaders (41.7 percent) and operations leaders (37.5 percent) are highly focused on driving better business outcomes, listing it as one of their top goals.

Some 37.9 percent of smaller firms, with fewer than 1,000 employees, listed a goal of driving better business outcomes and ROI as one of their top goals. Strengthening their business continuity (BC) and disaster recovery (DR) plans is also a top goal for 34.5 percent of smaller companies.

Embracing a customer service mindset has resulted in revenues that are 4 percent to 8 percent higher than their competitors, according to Forbes research. Delivering on customer experience results in a more dramatic outcome of up to 80 percent better results. Improved training, coaching, and engagement are all means to achieve better CX and business outcomes.

Conclusion

The customer is still king (or queen), even during a pandemic. Despite business uncertainty, companies are invested in keeping customers engaged and improving data security. As they develop new employee models and use more advanced tools, they will also remain laser-focused on the bottom line to improve overall business strategy and goals.

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