August 20, 2020 By IBM Consulting 3 min read

In contact centers around the world, change has been the constant of 2020. Agents have largely shifted to remote workstations, virtual agents are being deployed to keep up with customer inquiries, and businesses are making tough decisions to combat disrupted supply chains and service. Undoubtedly, key skills such as adaptability and flexibility are more essential than ever.

Speaking directly with customer experience and service experts in these uncommon times, one common message repeated over and over was the idea of iteration. There is a strong mutual understanding among companies that it’s okay not to get it right the first time and knowing when and how to try again is as important as the solutions they’re implementing. Contact centers are about people, after all, and organizations need to learn from and optimize for employees and customers over time.  

Regardless of the size or industry of the organization, we uncovered a few easily digestible and impactful tips for contact center leaders as they practice their own iterative journey this year.   

Don’t be afraid to take one step backward to take two steps forward. Josh Streets from ICMI advises that companies, whether trying to implement AI for the first time, or build up more robust capabilities, shouldn’t treat AI as a one-off solution, but rather as a building block for the overall contact center experience. Being open to fixing existing issues like knowledge management will allow for building AI on top of it successfully.   When pandemic requests started flooding in, companies tightened their AI implementation timelines to support a large increase in customer inquiries. Especially for those deploying virtual agents for the first time, setting up chatbots quickly, possibly cutting timelines short or skipping checkpoints, will have provided fixes that work in the short-term, but may negatively impact the overall contact center experience. In these scenarios, he recommended taking a step back to re-evaluate things like omni-channel strategy, agent routing criteria, or knowledge management to ensure that the new virtual agent is effectively integrated into the holistic service experience.  

Lean on your most valuable resources. Tony Lama from Twilio shared his strategy of “inspect and iterate,” to engage agents in the contact center development process. Allowing agents to provide direct feedback to R&D or engineering teams makes them part of the design process. When agents are pulled in to participate in a sprint and then see their feedback and features implemented into the dashboard two weeks later, they’ll be able to see their impact and feel in control of the end-to-end process. This is also a great way to get fresh new insights not found elsewhere, as agents understand the nuances of the contact center better than anyone.  

Measure and manage for a virtuous cycle. Patrick Beyries of Salesforce captured iteration in a contact center in a nutshell when he recommended avoiding “one-time solves”. The issues that contact centers focus on aren’t singular, but rather can become feedback engines that help the business move the needle more significantly. Contact center design means building a framework to be flexible and continuously improve. Leaders should understand how they are performing from a customer and business perspective and examine that data to determine the iteration cycle. The challenges faced won’t go away, but will compound until the business is able to pivot.  

Don’t let process and data get in the way of innovation. For Peter White of Salesforce, the biggest barrier for an organization looking to make an impact right now with AI is making the jump to digital channels. To move away from the familiar phone and email channels and embrace digital channels like web chats and social media can be a daunting task. Even organizations that are not typically known for innovation, like state and national governments, are embracing these newer, faster and more flexible channels.   The idea of iterationlearning to work with what is available, and making changes as the project progresses—is applicable regardless of sector or size. White advises organizations to use the data they have, iterate and go. He adds that in instances where process and data are getting in the way of innovation, it might also be valuable to bring in an experienced partner to help find the path forward.  

Explore the interactive paper “A Smarter Contact Center for Employee and Customer Experience.”

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