Utilities are reimagining how they deliver contact center services, which may change the blueprint forever.

Contact centers are the lifeblood of utilities’ customer service offering. Our research shows that 58% of people would rather solve urgent or complex issues by speaking to a human agent, rather than self-serving via another channel. But co-locating hundreds of agents on-site may increasingly be a thing of the past. We now have the technology to make homeworking customer service agents a reality—and we’re already doing this for multiple utilities clients. Here are some practical reflections on the virtual contact center of the future (here and now).

Move fast and relinquish perfection (at least initially)

Off-the-shelf cloud technology can turn a physical workforce into a remote team in days. How? Utilities’ contact centers platforms are usually run using on-premise technology, meaning that existing (legacy) systems distribute calls to agents who must be physically on-site. You don’t have to replace those systems to make virtual working possible—you just have to augment them with a cloud-based contact center that can sit alongside them. The existing platform forwards customer calls to the cloud-based platform, and homeworking agents logged onto the relevant URL receive customer calls through their headset just as they normally would. And don’t think off-the-shelf or fast means insecure: we’re using cloud tools with pre-built security, that also enable regulatory compliance (through call recording) and other core functions.

And although time-honored software implementation processes can take months, these projects can be completed in days—by taking the requirements/planning phase “as read” and using the time available to test rigorously (including making sure the cloud-based platform can be removed later, if desirable). The limiting factor is actually the time it takes to design the new customer experience robustly—so the customer’s journey runs smoothly once the cloud solution goes live. That remains top priority and isn’t something to shortcut.

What we’re finding is you’ll succeed when you target an adequate (but possibly imperfect) solution—which may feel counterintuitive to leaders. For example, don’t wait until the agent experience is “perfect.” Our clients are finding their staff are eager to collaborate in flexible ways when homeworking is on the table.

Recognize that remote working can be productive working

Productivity is certainly concern No. 2, once the cloud-based platform is live. Nevertheless, there’s a natural perception that visibility equals productivity in a contact center context. So how do you drive productivity when part or all your workforce is now homeworking? The cloud-based approach we’re using allows us to build data visualization tools that track productivity, just the same as in a physical contact center environment. Equally, tools like Microsoft Teams can enable managers to communicate in real time with agents, helping boost speed-to-resolution for problems and calls with an outlying duration against the average.

And be smart about technology to manage workloads too

The best way to help your agents is to reduce the volume of calls they deal with. And that’s about identifying call types, intercepting calls (and offering alternative channels), and deflecting some call types to be handled by bots. You will have built up a pool of intelligence over the years—to help identify who your customers are, why they’re calling, to play messages while they hold suggesting they switch channel and so on. Now is the time to optimize those deflection strategies to meet customers’ needs as effectively as possible, to preserve human agents’ time for the queries that really matter.

Once you’ve tested the theory, think about the long term

This isn’t about proving the concept and reverting to business as usual. There’s scope to consider whether remote-enabled working is something you want as part of your vision for the workforce of the future. Could you recruit a permanent remote agent workforce? As we skill and re-skill for a digital world, transitioning a proportion of physical roles into remote ones opens access to new employee groups—those who need flexibility, but might be more open to night working or other schedules that allow 24-hour service, for example. Or improving accessibility for those with disabilities. It’s a huge opportunity to bring in new resource and boost performance for the human interactions with customers you’ll still need (no matter how much channel deflection you plan).

This is “new world” technology delivery. And it challenges the notion of what functions can be moved off-site. Contact me to find out more about the approaches we’re taking and how to capitalize on them, and dive into our research and insights on this topic.

Gavin Moore

Managing Director – Accenture Utilities

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