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Global Contact Center Industry Meets COVID-19 Challenge with Remote Work, Automation, AI

ISG Provider Lens™ report finds providers with digital capabilities, including cloud platforms, held strong advantage when responding to sudden changes in call volumes

The global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced contact centers to quickly change the way they operate and sharpened interest in new technologies to address shifts in demand and consumer behavior, according to a new report published by Information Services Group, a leading global technology research and advisory firm.

The 2020 ISG Provider Lens™ Contact Center – Customer Experience Services global report found lockdowns triggered by the pandemic drove call volumes sharply higher in some industries but down in others, while at the same time forcing providers to adopt work-at-home arrangements virtually overnight. As more consumers turned to non-voice digital channels, companies embraced cloud platforms and artificial intelligence (AI) to better provide a scalable omnichannel experience.

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“Companies are still adapting to the effects of lockdowns on work models and communication,” said Jan Erik Aase, director and global leader, ISG Provider Lens Research. “In a disruptive time like this, enterprises need to deliver the best customer experience, with more personalization, to preserve brand loyalty. Enterprises that use technology to deliver a better customer experience can set themselves apart.”

The dramatic shift in buying and communication patterns among end users this year is likely to be irreversible, ISG says. With wait times and call abandonment rates rising, customers of all ages are adopting digital channels such as email, social and asynchronous messaging for immediate customer service.

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Interest in cloud contact centers has grown even among legacy-heavy companies, as providers already using cloud platforms adapted more quickly to remote work requirements and were better able to provide effective omnichannel experiences, ISG says. Cloud solutions today are built with a full technology stack that includes tools for better workforce management as well as analytics, AI and machine learning (ML) to enable more personalized services.

The pandemic led to a sharp spike in the use of automation, with companies turning to conversational AI or bots for basic query resolution amid the disruptions. With automation becoming a necessity, many companies plan to scale up these capabilities while giving agents more specialized skills to field complex inquiries, the report says. Advanced analytics, including more complete background information on callers, is also becoming increasingly important. AI-powered speech, text and sentiment analytics and customer behavior prediction are enabling more meaningful conversations.

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While the growing use of remote work can offer providers advantages, including lower costs and a larger potential workforce, it has also brought challenges related to training, agent motivation, background noise and security. Companies are turning to facial recognition, auto screen lock, voice biometrics, VPNs and other tools to tighten the security of work-from-home and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) operations. AI will play a role in this area, too, ISG says. With advances in technologies for remote work, a healthy mix of remote and brick-and-mortar working models is expected to emerge, according to the report.

The 2020 ISG Provider Lens™ Contact Center − Customer Experience Services global report evaluates the capabilities of 22 contact center providers across two quadrants: Digital Operations and AI & Analytics.

The report names Conduent, HGS, Sitel Group, Sutherland, Teleperformance and TTEC as leaders in both quadrants. Alorica, Cognizant, Concentrix, CSS Corp and Wipro are named leaders in one quadrant. Transcom and WNS are named as Rising Stars—companies with “promising portfolios” and “high future potential” by ISG’s definition—in one quadrant each.

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