Video Fatigue? Not in Customer Contact

Nancy Jamison, Industry Director, ICT Frost & Sullivan

Video has been refined for use in business for over 15 years and it is certainly a key part of any digital transformation strategy.

But while the industry has talked about the use of video in the contact center for years, until recently it didn’t get very far. Almost “always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” video would make it to the contact center request for proposal (RFP) stage, but not often to the altar.

There were early use cases, but also lots of chatter about whether or not contact center agents would want to be on video or for that matter, the customers.

Do we make it one-way video where the customer can see the agent, but not vice versa? What about privacy and security? What were the technology hurdles for making video available to customers? Is it too expensive?

Early on there was even some awkward chatter about what constraints and hiring practices would/should we have for hiring “camera ready” agents.

That’s all changed. With the burgeoning use of video in business communications, particularly in unified communications and collaboration (UCC) suites, it was only a matter of time until contact center usage hit prime time and the term visual engagement was born.

Key technology advancements, such as the development of web real-time communications (WebRTC), further advanced the cause by enabling audio and video communications to work within web pages, thus eliminating the need for downloads.

From RFP Check-Off to Must Have

The growing importance of video in customer contact can be viewed through the lens of contact center providers’ acquisition of and research and development (R&D) into video assets.

There were several early entrants to the market, many of which initially focused on UCC and then broadened into the contact center.

For instance, Cisco launched its telepresence conference rooms in 2007 and never looked back, refining and adding onto its cache of video assets and deeply embedding them into its collaboration and contact center offerings.

Others soon followed. And those vendors that weren’t developing video from scratch acquired assets for further integration and R&D.

8×8 acquired Jitsi in 2019 to enhance video meetings and then the contact center, Enghouse acquired Vidyo in 2019, and CoreDial acquired eZuce (with its Vibe video communication and collaboration platform) in September 2020.

And these are just a few examples. As of 2021 it’s rare to find a provider that doesn’t have video in its product stack.

There are also pure-play video solution providers that fine-tuned their offerings for use in customer care.

For example, Glance enhanced its visual engagement solution with rich collaboration features, such as the ability to highlight, annotate, gesture, guide, and navigate with the customer: all on an embedded video call. It also offers companies a branded experience across devices.

Meanwhile, Talkative provides seamless video engagement as part of its digital customer contact suite, making it easy to video chat with customers. Website visitors can initiate video chats with agents without plug-ins, pop-ups, or downloads: and directly as video chats without first requiring web chats.

Pandemic Boost

Video usage across business operations got an unexpected boost when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When millions of workers and tens of thousands of contact center agents suddenly began working from home, video became a valuable tool in collaboration but also to stay connected.

When millions of workers and tens of thousands of contact center agents suddenly began working from home, video became a valuable tool in collaboration but also to stay connected.

Suddenly, Zoom became a verb and “Zoom fatigue” became a thing. But the subtheme is that everyone’s getting accustomed to using videoconferencing at work, but moreover at home to communicate during lockdowns and do remote learning.

As a result, video ended up gaining more acceptance and created use cases in the contact center. So now we are seeing a fresh look at using this channel in the contact center.

Part of this change is that the pandemic really altered the way people felt about being on camera. This observation was backed up by a recent survey by ContactBabel of 1,000 U.S. consumers on whether the use of video during lockdowns had changed people’s perceptions of using video.

The results were that 36% said they were more comfortable with video than before COVID-19 struck and only 9% were less comfortable.

And it shows. Now your dog can bark in the background, your cat can jump up on your computer while you are on a videoconference, and you can dress very casually.

Also, slow bandwidth issues and power outages during presentations, while still major concerns, are now far more tolerated in a business setting because everyone gets it. It’s almost comical to think that this change happened so fast.

Did Investment Translate into Video Deployment?

At Frost & Sullivan we do considerable volumes of customer survey research, but particularly this year we did several surveys on digital transformation and the impact of COVID-19 across businesses and the contact center.

In all of these video was a key component of our questionnaires. And the results were very telling.

For instance, we launched an IT decision-makers survey in late fall 2020 with the purpose of understanding the impact of COVID-19 on IT and telecom decision-making and to monitor the status of digital transformation.

We also wanted to assess the current and future use of business communications technologies and evaluate those factors that drive investments in communications technologies.

Video had definitively moved up on the list of investment priorities. For example, on a broad business level we asked survey respondents “Which technologies have you provided to remote workers to help them be fully productive from home?”

The result? Videoconferencing and meeting services, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, garnered the highest placement with 47% of respondents putting it as No.1, followed by webcams and videoconferencing devices at No.2 with 44%.

Similarly, when asked “Post-pandemic, over the next two years what technology are you planning on prioritizing” cloud applications came in at No.1 with 31% and videoconferencing at No.2 with 25%.

We also focused on cloud deployments in particular. Here, when asked about future deployment in the cloud, videoconferencing was again No.1. In this case, 55% of respondents said that they currently have videoconferencing and 28% said that they would deploy it within two years.

As for the contact center itself in NTT’s 2021 Global Customer Experience Benchmarking report (September 2021), 1,402 customers responded to a question on which channels they used before the COVID-19 pandemic, which were they using now, and planned to use in the future.

The results for video were 24.4% before, 34.7% currently, and 33.2% were planning to use it in the future.

Contact Center Use Cases

Video is not for every business or vertical market. But there are specific use cases and verticals where video or escalation to video from a voice call or web chat makes sense.

For instance, it might be your broker initiating a video call. Or your bank offering a video kiosk for specialists that aren’t local. Certainly, in healthcare we saw a boost in telehealth with doctors doing video consultations and appointments.

But think even further about using video as a training tool or as a customer support tool. Rather than a truck roll and a tech, to stay safe and keep costs down companies are using video to walk customers through troubleshooting things themselves.

Video also has its place in a multi-step customer service environment. For instance, insurance companies can allow customers to upload videos of accidents, which not only records the damages, but also the driving/weather conditions at the time of the accidents as part of starting the claims process.

And even before the pandemic, but heightened in use by it, realtors used video to showcase houses online on-demand, including real-time walk-throughs with agents.

The pandemic also put a spotlight on two vertical markets, retail and hospitality, which were severely impacted by it.

These businesses had to find new ways to connect with customers, particularly as budgets were slashed and economies suffered. Some retailers have chosen to offer video to showcase luxury items while travel agents used it to show couples options for “future” destination weddings.

Making Video Stick

While it may seem obvious, the way to make video stick is through judicious use cases and as part of seamless omnichannel customer journeys.

This means making video easy for the customer when they most need it and in conjunction with other support tools if required.

For example, in a technical support scenario, having the ability to screen share and collaborate and then escalate to a video call with a click makes a huge difference in first contact resolution in that video can enable a customer to show the support rep what the issue is.

However, video success requires bridging the perceptual divide between using video that evokes personalized and expedient customer service, instead of it putting off in-person service.

For example, it is one thing to meet face-to-face with your physician for an initial exam, or your broker for an annual review or long-term planning, and another for a telehealth procedural follow-up or quarterly brokerage checkup via video.

Knowing when to use video and making it easy is imperative. It should also always be opt-in and never a surprise, as despite the rise in the use of video overall, many people—agents and customers alike—might not be comfortable with it.

As always, success with any customer interaction channel means knowing your audience and knowing when to offer which channel to which customer. It’s all about preference and choice.

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