Contact centers engage tens of millions of Americans each year.
To meet growing customer demands, government contact centers of the future must shift dramatically to the digital age and away from today’s brick-and-mortar counterparts.
So says a Deloitte Center for Government Insights report released Jan. 12, which recommends the government consider seven strategies to significantly improve the contact center experience millions of Americans partake in when they inquire about benefits, have questions about taxes or engage with federal agencies about the numerous services they provide.
Contact centers are an integral part of the federal customer experience—an area of recent focus by President Joe Biden, who issued an executive order in December directing agencies to take a people-centric approach to providing services. Despite progress in customer experience metrics in recent years, federal agencies routinely rank behind other industries in customer experience performance, and legacy technology challenges were magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report.
“The pandemic has provided a painful wakeup call for government contact centers, as high volumes exposed the limitations of legacy systems. Phone lines were jammed and customers often faced lengthy delays. If any silver lining has emerged from the chaos, it’s that modernizing government contact centers has finally become a priority,” the report states.
It’s become a priority in part out of necessity, Marc Mancher, a principal at Deloitte Consulting and one of the report’s authors, told Nextgov. During the pandemic, Mancher helped stand up two dozen contact centers nationwide staffed with 10,000 agents addressing everything from COVID-19 vaccination shots to unemployment benefits. According to Mancher, the pandemic actually helped enable contact center modernization, but he cautioned that large-scale changes won’t take place without major infrastructure improvements and decisive leadership.
“When we look at the future of government contact centers, we must let go of the past,” Mancher said. “We have to have leadership at the top that is going to say, ‘Let’s not turn the crank again on how it has always been done.’”
The report outlines three components government contact centers of the future ought to entail. The contact center should act as a “customer experience hub” that delivers services through multiple channels, led by a “technology-powered agent cockpit” that collects information from all touchpoints, or areas of interaction between customers and the agency. And the contact center of the future will require a cloud-based “modern, secure technology foundation” that supports emerging tools and technologies.
“The technology that powers interactions would have to be empathetic, ensuring that the technology is helpful rather than infuriating. The goal is to make customers’ lives easier, with options including omnichannel touchpoints and automated no-touch processes,” the report states.
The report further highlights seven shifts necessary for government contact centers to meet future customers’ needs. Key among those shifts is rethinking contact centers as experience hubs, not cost centers. The report suggests that government managers tend to want to reduce labor costs, which leads to a reduction in time spent communicating with customers. But that logic may not be sound in the future.
“But if the purpose of a contact center is to create a great customer experience, in some cases it might make sense to spend extensive time talking with a customer to resolve a difficult issue,” the report states. “Creating a great experience doesn’t need to be about hiring more people but redesigning the process and technology to create an entirely different experience. Depending on the situation, a great customer experience could be fully automated, on an online self-service tool, or in the form of an extended conversation with a knowledgeable representative.”