By Ian Waters, Senior Director of EMEA Marketing at Cisco ThousandEyes
Speak to any financial services leader and they’ll no doubt agree that delivering good customer service has been turned on its head in the last year. Confronted with branch closures and the subsequent absence of face-to-face interaction, most – if not all – FS providers have had to make significant changes to how they serve their customers. And, while we’re seeing positive steps towards life returning to normal, for many banks this period has brought about permanent changes to their operations – and one business function which has been at the forefront of this is the contact centre.
According to Accenture, UK contact centres saw a 400% increase in the number of calls answered at the start of the pandemic. Although many FS providers have long understood the significance of contact centres for customer service, the pandemic has led to a renewed focus, with some organisations having already taken steps to invest in their contact centres as their benefits are increasingly realised.
However, that’s not to say this newfound value doesn’t come without its challenges. Facilitating remote working and maintaining a high quality customer experience – which includes richer media experiences – is now underpinned by Internet, cloud and SaaS services, networks increasingly out of a business’ view and control. As a result, many FS organisations are realising they need visibility into an increasingly complex digital supply chain within their contact centres.
The remote advisor
The very nature of contact centres, with large numbers of people working in close proximity, meant social distancing couldn’t be a reality during the start of the pandemic. This resulted in contact centre providers needing to find a new way of ensuring quality of service with the majority of their advisors logging in from home – an unprecedented task for many IT teams.
Fast forward to this year, and we’ve all heard by now that remote or hybrid working is here to stay post-pandemic. In fact, by the end of 2021, 35% of contact centre leaders think that their centres will mainly be home working. Hybrid work is mutually beneficial for employees and their employers – while staff enjoy a better work/life balance and more flexibility, businesses can gain from a bigger talent pool with increased workforce retention and recruitment and even cost saving on reducing their real estate footprints.
Like any business, the rise of the remote worker has resulted in a number of additional factors that must be taken into account to be able to maintain good customer experiences. With agents distributed across the country and across their own varied networks, IT teams have gone from managing a select number of contained branch offices, with a reliable enterprise network, to a significant number of ‘home contact centres’. Imagine each employee’s home set up like a snowflake, each with different environmental factors: hardware and connectivity including Wi-Fi, ISP, and VPN availability – to name a few.
More cloud, more complexity
Similarly to other companies across all sectors, the move to hybrid work has accelerated digital transformation and, with it, the adoption of cloud. Of course, some contact centres had already started to adopt cloud-based solutions before the pandemic hit, but now we’re seeing more banks migrate their full suite of contact centre solutions including the agent desktop, call control, and recording to the cloud.
Video is also becoming an increasingly used channel. Without that branch-based interaction, FS organisations are looking to differentiate their services. Contact centres have also started to use video to talk to customers. Halifax, for example, is leading the way in with this format – offering more authentic interactions between their mortgage advisors and customers.
Adding richer media experiences and migrating key components of the call centre are all part of staying competitive in a post-pandemic world. The other side of the coin is that it means organisations are relying on a complicated service delivery ecosystem that is made up of multiple cloud providers, external third-party services, back end integrations and numerous APIs. To continue delivering a smooth and seamless customer experience, businesses need to understand how each component within their network is performing – even those they don’t own or control.
Visibility in action
Having this end-to-end visibility into both the external infrastructure beyond the FS provider’s control as well as the local environment of the contact centre agent allows for quick identification and remediation of issues, potentially even before the issue impacts customers directly, and all while avoiding internal panic and finger pointing. What’s more, this insight enables IT teams to feel confident in their ability to access root cause analysis and have productive discussions with service providers, ultimately allowing them to monitor their services in a proactive and controlled way.
FS group Old Mutual provides an example of how using multi-layer visibility can troubleshoot issues faced by contact centre staff. Because of social distancing restrictions, like many firms, Old Mutual had to move all call centre employees to a working-from-home model. It soon realised it had no visibility into staff members’ home networks, the ISPs and devices they use – so when its IT team started receiving help desk tickets from employees who couldn’t access their email, suffered from erratic call performance, or couldn’t log onto remote desktops, there was lots of speculation around Internet connections. By deploying end-to-end visibility and testing technology, they were soon able to isolate where issues were occurring to quickly remedy across physical devices, local gateways, and the cloud-based apps that had now become instrumental to the contact centre team.
Increasingly, it’s not just about responding to issues on a reactive basis either. To take customer service a step further, IT teams can use these insights to incorporate quality of connection into their routing, allowing them to direct callers away from an agent who’s currently experiencing poor quality Wi-Fi and towards someone with better connection. With banks increasingly ranked by the level of service they provide, they cannot afford to be impacted by loss of connection – so it’s essential that they take every step possible to ensure a positive customer experience.
The future of the contact centre
Contact centres were certainly already on the way to a digital-first future, but COVID-19 has only reinforced their role in the front line of customer service. At the same time, it’s provided a necessary use case for remote and hybrid working and transformation in the cloud. In a post-pandemic world, these recent developments are here to stay – so to continue providing seamless experiences that customers expect, it’s never been more important for FS providers to gain control over their business-critical networks and services.