How the events of 2020 have shaped the Customer Experience technology trends of 2021 (Part 1)

The global COVID-19 pandemic changed the lives of millions, and the way we do business. It changed our day-to-day habits, as families, as workers, and as customers. It changed our needs, our priorities, our buying habits, and our expectations. So it’s a given that – like so many other business areas – contact centres must be affected.

This two-part blog series deals with (i) the impact of working from home on the contact centre staff, and the technology used to help staff cope with this, and (ii) the impact of COVID-19 on the overall customer experience, the trends that have arisen as a result – and the technology that is now addressing these new needs.

Part I: The Impact of WFH on the Contact Centre

For most countries, the first thing that happened once COVID-19 was clearly accepted as a serious local risk, was lockdown, even while the restrictions varied from region to region. Businesses were told to send workers home: for their own safety, for the safety of the community, and for the long-term safety of the country and its economy.

So the first area of impact for the contact centre was equipping them to work from home.

Enghouse Interactive and CCNNZ spoke with CX leaders at two organisations about the challenges and impact of the move to Work from Home (WFH), watch the webinar on demand here 

Not unexpectedly, working from home for a contact centre team and its managers real challenges, but some were much more surprising than others.

The Challenges of Contact Centre WFH

After the first significant technology challenges of getting computer hardware and software operating remotely both efficiently and securely – challenges that included, among others, the limited short-term availability of transportable equipment and the variable reliability of home network internet connectivity – there were a raft of other issues to address:

  • Productivity – at both ends of the spectrum: While some might have seized the opportunity to underperform, it became clear that too many others were beguiled into skipping proper breaks or working more than the hours required, with an increased risk of burnout. As Microsoft’s Satya Nadella recently commented, after a while you don’t know if you’re working from home or sleeping at work. Over-productivity was actually a surprise for many organisations who for years have resisted work from home as a contact centre option, on the basis that agents need minute physical supervision in order to perform reliably.
  • Peer support: There is a reason contact centre staff typically work in “teams”. As a group they support each other, and in a physical office environment there’s often a big focus on “the team”. Offices are decorated with team slogans, with positivity posters and so on, and regular team activities are naturally supported day-to-day with shared breaks. None of this is available in the typical work from home environment.
  • Management support: Contact centre teams also have team leaders who support them throughout a standard working day. Supervisors and managers are almost invariably within earshot and often line of sight. Support is there for the asking, whether by waving a hand, standing up at the desk, flicking a light, or knocking at a door. In a remote environment supervisors can’t hear a raised voice, see an agent getting stressed, or notice they are on a particular call for a long time.
  • Performance: On the other side of the coin, without technology in place, managers weren’t in a position to notice poor performance – calls that finished far too soon and so on. While the majority of contact centres certainly measured performance digitally, many relied on historical reporting and used physical monitoring for real-time performance management. Positive performance would also go unrecognised in this scenario.

Young woman working in contact centre speaking into headset

Addressing Contact Centre WFH Challenges

Confronting and finding solutions for these new needs and issues led to a new wave of technology adoption in 2020 that is now a business as usual in the 2021 contact centre.

While the initial relocation phase included essential solutions such as Cloud contact centre software, VPN enablement, additional operational software licenses, new hardware and so on, the new wave of technology included:

  • For Productivity: Organisations recognising the need and their responsibility to ensure that agents adhered to schedule, both for performance optimisation and for their own health, looked at investing in workforce management or scheduling software. Lacking the ability to physically oversee agents, contact centre management had the option of digital dashboards for real-time visibility, and also new tools to enable KPI goal setting and measurement.
  • For Peer support: As time goes on there is a greater recognition of the penalties of isolation for workers. While we saw benefits such as the elimination of commute time and stress, the wider benefits of increased family time, and reduced environmental stress, we are also seeing the negatives. Personal and family stress are all too common, brought on by pressures of the time such as children’s educational challenges, economical hardship, and both social and recreational restrictions. Understanding these, and helping staff cope with what to many is unwanted isolation, is increasingly becoming a focus for employers. Both socially and in the workplace we have seen the rise of video meetings to replace face-to-face contact. Video, along with chat and collaboration software have provided support instead, with many teams implementing daily video huddles with entirely new angles to motivate staff. Enghouse customers have told us about pyjama meetings, bring a child or pet meetings, and numerous other creative measures.
  • Management support: There are many tools available to assist managers to support staff. As with productivity, many of these were already widely used before COVID times – but not all contact centres were making use of them optimally. If you haven’t done it recently now is a great time to revisit such basic tools as alert notifications and. For instance, can agents raise an alert when they need assistance? Are alerts automatically triggered on calls over a certain length (a typical sign that assistance may be required)? Another important support tool is agent coaching, assisted with interaction evaluation. Reviewing conversations with agents (across all channels, i.e., voice, chat, email etc) is more than a performance management strategy. Agents will better understand the value they can bring, as well as learn and grow, when this time and effort is invested. There is an uncontested connection between agent training and development, and staff retention.
  • Performance management: Finally, on the performance side, we see a number of familiar tools that have surged in popularity during the move to work from home, often with a few more bells and whistles added to optimise their abilities:
    • Supervisors can listen into calls via live monitoring – but they can also view live or historical on-screen management of the interaction, showing what the agent is doing at the same time. Are they handling simultaneous interactions, such as email and chat? How well are they coping with this? Are they looking up the right information while they converse (or are they web surfing, since there’s no chance of a supervisor strolling past)?
    • Performance management and staff support are closely linked; recordings are used for agent assessment for both purposes. Call recording – often for compliance, and/or for potential dispute resolution – is quite common, but for performance the focus needs to be on what you do with the recordings. Reading speech transcripts of recordings is going to be significantly more efficient than listening to hours of conversation.
    • More sophisticated tools for agent support are also available, such as real-time speech analytics soft evaluators. These are bots that offer emotive feedback to the agent during the call, such as “You’re speaking too quickly”, or “you need to alter your tone”, automatically measuring speaking behaviours and scoring in real time.
    • With the reduced contact brought by WFH, consistent, shared knowledge sources across agents became more critical. Solutions included knowledge-management applications and bot virtual assistance, either passively responding to search queries or more proactively prompting agents based on customer enquiry.
    • Another area of improvement has been reporting, where a greater emphasis was needed to ensure consistent performance in the new environment. Managers are advised to revisit all reporting functions to ensure these meet current requirements, focusing on the days of week/times of day, channels, skills groups and queues that are of most value and/or interest. Which are the most critical metrics? Are you measuring hold time (indicating agents are struggling to process interactions) as well as handle time and speed to answer?
    • One more data element that is growing in importance in the CX world is Voice of the Customer or VOC. Our next blog will look into the customer side of this, but for the purposes of this blog we’ll simply note that customer insights on staff performance are a vital outcome of VOC measurement, and one that is simply not available via any other measurement.
This was the first of our two-part blog series dealing with the impact of 2020’s working from home on the contact centre staff, and the technology used to help staff cope with this.
Our second part discusses the permanent impact of COVID-19 on the overall customer experience – and the technology that has been widely adopted and is in use in 2021 to address these new needs.

Contact Centre Trends 2020-21: Watch the interview, Anna Stokes, Director – Global Product Management

Download our WFH eBook: Checklist for Remote Working for the Contact Centre

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Get more resources from our Work From Home web page

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