How COVID-19 has changed the way customer service leaders think about contact centers
Global emergencies dramatically shift daily routines, forcing companies to react quickly to change the way they support employees and customers. COVID-19 has changed the way we work, including the contact center space. Despite the benefits of cloud contact centers, many organizations don’t have the solutions to support virtual contact centers. This leaves companies maintaining buildings that house contact center infrastructure and employees. According to Gartner, “pre-outbreak, nearly 7 in 10 (68%) customer service and support organizations worked from traditional call centers” and less than 10% of staff worked from home. That is now flipped, going forward, 71% of contact centers will be remote.
Never has the value of the cloud been more evident, with millions of businesses adapting to new remote work environments and home offices. For contact center agents, this means transitioning contact center tools home to support customers. Managing and supporting a remote workforce has become imperative. However, this has raised several challenging technology questions for contact center leaders, such as: How do I rapidly set up hotlines to respond to customers about a global crisis? How do I manage unprecedented spikes in call volume? How do I keep my contact center operational while my staff is working from home? How do I maintain government regulations and security best practices from a remote environment?
Over the past few months, 25% of companies have moved contact centers operations off-premises, with a 53% jump in at-home full-time agents (Nemertes Research). Amazon Connect has helped to make organizational transitions to cloud-based contact centers more accessible and more effective. In reaction to COVID, our customers have been able to easily set up new contact centers and have agents taking calls in just a few hours. Through these experiences, Amazon Connect customers have uncovered four key trends; fast reaction time, efficient remote agent setup, automated customer service, and the ability to scale to meet demand. This article shares those learnings and best practices
Reaction time is critical for the American Prep Academy, Spokeo, and the American Red Cross
Traditional legacy contact centers often run into agility and flexibility challenges that AWS Global Cloud Infrastructure was designed to leapfrog. Setup time can often take months, preventing businesses from responding to customers. Time is of the essence when a crisis is underway. Companies must move quickly to help prevent customers from acting without complete information. For organizations to get customers the information they need, contact center leaders must quickly set up new topic-specific hotlines, or expand to cover new geographic regions.
American Prep Academy
For example, when the American Prep Academy heard about the possible effects of COVID in January, they knew it was important to take early action to ensure the safety of both their students and the community. “Our state mandated that we provide our students with an all-remote learning platform. We had already started preparing. However, we were unsure of the extent our IT would support a remote learning environment. We needed to be able to handle the influx of calls and questions that our newly remote students would face,” says David Bowman, IT Director. “We met with the Amazon Connect team, and within two hours, we had a fully deployed contact center that supported our IT employees from anywhere with just a laptop and internet connection.”
Spokeo, a popular people search information service, migrated to Amazon Connect when looking for a contact center that would be the core of their business continuity plan. Eric Liang, Spokeo’s Chief Information Officer, shared their experience responding quickly to the COVID outbreak. “When we heard of the potential health risks to our employees in the office, we were proactive and prepared with a solution that would allow our customer care agents to work remotely. As soon as we heard Pasadena’s ‘Stay-at-home’ orders, it took us less than a week to set our agents up safely at home. Because of Amazon Connect, we were able to respond faster than we could have imagined.”
American Red Cross
Amazon Connect has been helping with crisis and disaster response long before COVID. For example, the American Red Cross quickly set up an Amazon Connect contact center to scale their customer support during Hurricane Harvey in August of 2017. The team successfully set up a new contact center within 48 hours instead of having to wait for several months, as is the case in the traditional call center approach.
During emergencies, response speed is essential. Without the ability to move quickly, there can be significant implications for the employees, customers, and communities. Flexible cloud-based contact centers allows companies to respond quickly to demand by eliminating the need to manage servers, maintain maintenance agreements, or worry about complex licensing. Any business stakeholder can set up a contact center in minutes without the need for IT support, like David Bowman of American Prep Academy who said, “Amazon Connect has been a lifesaver for us, and we’re grateful that we’re able to continue to give our students a valuable learning experience.”
Efficient agent onboarding for Direct Interactions and Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant
Contact center agents were instructed to work from home because of COVID. Unfortunately, some contact center software and infrastructure have made it difficult for companies to enable their agents to do their jobs remotely. Many organizations manage in-house on-premises infrastructure and hardware systems, which require agents to be tethered to their desks and computers. Amazon Connect has removed this barrier by enabling agents to quickly onboard no matter where they are working. All they need is a good internet connection and a headset.
Amazon Connect has been supporting virtual contact centers of any size since it launched, supporting companies like Direct Interactions as they improve agent onboarding time. Jonas Nicholson, CEO, noted “Our previous providers used a licensing model which discouraged our team from letting our agents work less hours. Amazon Connect’s pay-as-you-go pricing allows us to add new agents simply by creating new users in the Amazon Connect console and it helps us save money by doing so.” Nicholson was also impressed with the time it takes his agents to onboard: “With Amazon Connect the toughest part of onboarding new agents is the client content education, systems training only takes less than 20 minutes. Our agents have found Amazon Connect to be extremely easy to use, and enables them to be productive within their at home environment.”
Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant
In the food industry, the COVID pandemic forced restaurants to fill hundreds of take-out orders. Jovany Sandoval, Co-owner of Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant explains, “we were unprepared to handle a massive increase in call volumes, customers were experiencing busy tones and calls were dropping left and right. We make good Mexican food, we are not experts in technology, [but AWS partner], Bizcloud Experts helped us quickly design a solution transforming our Point of Sale staff to agents on Amazon Connect. In a matter of just 2 days we were able to start taking increased call volume on Amazon Connect. Our orders increased by 91% and complaints reduced by 87% on day 1 of the deployment. Amazon Connect and Bizcloud Experts helped save our business.”
Easy-to-use applications like Amazon Connect decrease the amount of time it takes for agents to onboard, learn, and start helping customers. The simple user experience can reduce effort and frustration, increasing productivity. Using efficient, low-bandwidth browser-based applications and any USB headset, agents can handle high-quality voice calls. For contact center managers, this means increased time savings as a result of easier agent onboarding.
Automated customer service for City of Johns Creek and Amazon Employee Services
Due to COVID, contact centers have been swamped by inquiries and requests, leaving customers frustrated with long hold times. As a result, contact center agents have been overworked, jumping from call to call, unable to address the needs of the incoming inquiries. Unpredictable spikes in call volume can be challenging for agents, hindering productivity and ultimately impacting customer satisfaction. Automating basic and highly repetitive customer requests improves call capacity, however only 29% of companies can properly automate their contact center, states Aberdeen Research. Self-service contact center interactions like a voice prompt of questions and intelligent chatbots can automatically get customers the answers they need, decreasing long hold times and allowing customers to communicate in their preferred channel.
City of Johns Creek
The City of Johns Creek not only reacted quickly, but was able to pivot to automated self-service when the COVID crisis began. They deployed an after-hours call center using chatbots to provide citizens with 24/7 support, reducing call volume by 60%. Though Johns Creek city hall had to physically close its doors during the COVID pandemic, Nick O’Day, Chief Data Officer of Johns Creek, was able to respond with Amazon Connect to automate answers during regular business hours. “Deploying the chatbot only took five minutes to accomplish”.
Amazon Employee Services
Amazon Employee Services is also using its own AWS technology to support employees. Chris Medina is a member of the Amazon human resources team who started using Amazon Connect over a year ago. They initially wanted to use Amazon Connect for its ability to scale, but have found value in using chatbots, powered by Amazon Lex, to introduce emergency messaging. “AWS pay-as-you-go pricing model makes it easy for us to scale our contact center to include remote agents, build chatbots in minutes to deflect low-priority calls, and curate emergency contact flows to provide our customers with answers on real-time news,” says Chris. In response to events such as COVID affecting employee’s ability to work in an office, Amazon Employee Service’s agents are often overwhelmed by questions. Chatbots free up agents to handle calls that are a bit more complex. Medina added, “chatbots allow us to stay flexible for our agents to stay comfortable with their work environment, helping reduce our average handle time and costs by over 5%.”
A spike in customer demand can happen at a moment’s notice, overwhelming agents. Leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) can mitigate the risk of long wait times can help maintain customer satisfaction. By automating AI/ML powered self-service customer interactions, contact centers can increase capacity to handle customer spikes. Amazon Connect includes AI/ML-powered chatbots, speech to text search, and natural language processing that can help improve contact center operations and customer experience. Amazon Connect customers are getting recognized for their use of automation. Johns Creek won the ‘AWS City on a Cloud Award’ for the chatbots they built, powering an AWS AI solution that draws answers from their open data portal to answer citizens’ FAQs.
Scalability to meet customer demand for the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training and Shore Plastics
Businesses forecast their customer demand in order to calculate what contact center resources will be needed. Unexpected events can affect projections without warning. When a contact center is limited to inflexible user licenses, complex architecture, and agreement restrictions, they struggle to scale quickly and cost-effectively. Businesses would typically have to either make due with current number of licensed agents, or go through a procurement process of adding more agent seats which they might not need long term. With open and scalable systems with usage-based pricing, businesses are empowered to move quickly to meet demand.
Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training
When the US issued stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID outbreak, states experienced a dramatic surge in unemployment claims. The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT), which manages unemployment insurance (UI) claims for state residents, received more than 140,000 initial claims for the unemployment insurance program in the first 45 days. “There was no way we could code our old-school mainframe system to process all the new UI claims and handle pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) claims,” says Scott Jensen, director of DLT. Handling a huge spike in initial UI claims using a 30-year old COBOL-based processing system was one challenge, but the State also had to handle recertification requests. The State needed an immediate solution. With the help of AWS, DLT and its technology partner — the Rhode Island Department of Information Technology — designed, configured and implemented Amazon Connect in just 10 days. On April 19, its first full day of operation, the new IVR/IWR solution enabled nearly 75,000 Rhode Island residents to successfully file continuing claims.”
Shore Plastics discovered there was a critical need for acrylic Aerosol Boxes to protect doctors performing intubations from COVID. To respond to this, Shore Plastics added the product to their portfolio and then made it easier to order on their website. “We started getting calls and orders around the country from doctors, doctors’ families who were petrified for their loved ones to go to work, and even churches and local businesses looking to purchase and donate these to their local hospitals.” The amount of demand quickly overwhelmed the small business, and they needed to act fast and get a contact center solution spun up to handle calls. They turned to Amazon Connect, and “Within minutes, we had a fully functioning call queue in place, routing Aerosol Box orders in one direction and regular orders in another.” states Larry Shore, Co-Owner of Shore Plastics.
Spikes in initial and ongoing customer demand must be addressed quickly. Leaving customers without assistance can result in customer frustration that impacts the company, brand, and revenue. Inflexible and outdated contact center solutions can easily be overwhelmed, demanding an alternative. Elastic cloud infrastructure, combined with flexible pay-as-you-go pricing, enables businesses to react quickly by automatically increasing agent headcount, without being slowed down by taxing cost-benefit analysis or upfront commitments.
While we have yet to understand the long-term impact of COVID on the future of the contact center, more than 70% of agents are expected to continue to work from home (Nemertes Research). Some companies have been hesitant to move to the cloud, fearing security and reliable performance. However, the recent need to move to remote solutions has put organizations in a position to learn what others have already discovered – the cloud offers an agile, efficient, and secure solution, previously unavailable with traditional technology.
Customers, agents, and managers using Amazon Connect have proven there are new solutions and opportunities to address the challenges of the past. Today, more than ever, reaction speed and setup time are critical improve the responsiveness of remote support for any unpredictable event. Easy-to-use manager and agent software experiences, which can be deployed and used remotely, will continue to improve onboarding, usability, and productivity. Smart and automated service will handle customer demand, across all channels, and drive efficiencies throughout the contact center. Finally, flexible infrastructure redefines the relationship between contact center vendors and operators, enabling high call volume adaptability, integrated automation, and agent scalability. All offered without the need to struggle with punitive licensing or troublesome planned downtimes.
Contact center leaders, if they have not already, must re-evaluate and re-scope their business continuity planning to address emergencies for the highly connected world. To get started, it is essential to measure the success of your agents today and determine metrics that are important to your organization, such as agent productivity, customer satisfaction, first call resolution, and agent turnover rates. Doing so will help to prioritize changes to your contact center strategy for future unforeseen events.
For those leaders who decide that workforce continuity is an important part of their ongoing strategy, setting up an Amazon Connect virtual contact center is easy. You can scale faster, improve agent efficiency, and automate your contact center. With Amazon Connect, you are not required to purchase, install, and configure additional telephony or network infrastructure, nor office space for your agents. As part of the AWS Free Tier, you can get started with Amazon Connect for twelve months. When you are ready to take it to the next level, Amazon Connect certified experts and partners can help through AWS IQ. Join the thousands of other customers who have quickly set up a contact center and pay only for what you use without risk. All you need is a headset and an internet connection.