On March 13, 2020, I went home not yet knowing that it would be my last day in the office for a while. I couldn’t have imagined that one whole year later, my typical morning commute is still limited to a short jaunt past my kitchen to my home office. Simply put, work today isn’t quite like work a year ago.
But I know I’m only one of millions around the globe dealing with the challenges created by decentralized workforces and remote working. Over the past year, AT&T Business has helped organizations, their employees and their customers stay connected amid the relentless shifts in the regulatory, social and economic environments. In fact, we saw conferencing traffic increase by more than 1 billion minutes of use in 2020 versus 2019.
Business-as-usual continues to be a moving target.
We at AT&T, like so many of our customers, remain resilient. These trials and tribulations continue to be a valuable learning experience. In the process of working with customers to share our expertise and provide solutions, we learned more about what they needed from us to help their businesses grow and succeed. This is some of what I’ve observed.
Sustaining a Culture of Innovation
Even before the pandemic, we helped many businesses get set up with collaboration platforms like AT&T Office@Hand and Cisco Webex with AT&T.
As more businesses shifted to remote work, collaboration tools gained steam. We saw up to three times the normal demand for Webex Meetings with AT&T during the pandemic.
As with any tool, using it properly is key. One of the best things about working in an office setting, side by side with peers and colleagues, is the open and organic nature of idea sharing and generation. It’s hard to mimic the process of sparking ideas from an overheard conversation or immediately soft-sounding a random thought with your deskmate. That worked because those interactions were easy and plentiful.
At the same time, working remotely can bring new benefits. Having colleagues on the screen in interactive video calls levels the playing field allowing all participants around the globe to participate equally. People can speak or use the meeting chat tools to post comments and ideas. Some new AI functions in meetings like automatic note taking, sub-titles and translation brings benefits that are not possible in the traditional office.
Seeking to maximize the benefits of new tools in our ever-changing remote-work environment is one of the highest priorities for any organization, and it should be.
Great ideas fuel businesses, and ideas often don’t become great without teamwork. Effective use of collaboration tools can keep that momentum going. But keep in tune with your teams to make sure it’s working for them.
Elevating the Customer Experience
Businesses that depend on customer relationships bore a big brunt of the impact last year. Successfully engaging customers and building relationships without in-person engagement is a challenge.
Many of those businesses had to quickly ramp up contact center capabilities to continue addressing customer needs. In one case, we helped a business upgrade its entire contact center and transition its agents to remote working in just a few weeks by integrating AT&T Office@Hand hosted calling and meetings with our leading AT&T Cloud Contact Center.
AT&T is among the businesses that had to adjust quickly. Before the COVID-19 lockdowns, few of our contact center employees were working from home.
We quickly equipped our contact center employees with the AT&T Cloud Contact Center when social distancing restrictions went into effect and didn’t skip a beat. The cloud-based platform allowed our agents to work from anywhere. But the best contact centers aren’t just transactional, they are now the front door to many businesses.
Agents are valuable resources to nurture customer relationships. Often, they can be your only customer spokesperson. A recent Five9 survey found that 52% of respondents said that a contact center agent was the only company representative they had been in contact with during COVID.
AT&T succeeded because Artificial Intelligence (AI) helped our agents personalize their interactions with individual customers. Capabilities like intelligent routing and customer insights helped us maintain that high level of service. It’s a big reason we can empower agents to provide a better, more personalized experience.
Further, intelligent chatbots help aid our customers in addressing more turnkey issues quickly and easily.
Building Flexibility, Mitigating Risk
As vaccinations and improved COVID-19 testing continue to change the business landscape, collaboration tools give companies much-needed flexibility in how and where their workers can operate.
Part of discussions many businesses are having now involve weighing the costs of supporting office and remote workers. During the pandemic, worker preferences were understandably varied—some loved working from home, others missed the bustling office environment, and there were opinions everywhere in between. These new tools give employers flexibility which can help not only draw in top talent to their organizations, but also retain them.
Right before the pandemic we helped a large financial services customer who was already frustrated by poor voice quality, dropped calls and rising audio-conferencing costs. Pandemic-fueled lockdowns hit shortly after we got them up and running. They were hit with a huge spike in usage almost overnight with 48,000 users suddenly working remotely because of social distancing. It was the ultimate stress test that gave a real-life demonstration of the capacity of Webex Calling with AT&T.
COVID has reminded us that events can change quickly. We did not expect change a year ago; however, businesses we support adapted quickly to the new rules. That’s why we have expanded the availability of our Webex Calling with AT&T to 70 countries and territories and AT&T Office@Hand to 13 countries.
Enabling workers to be productive from nearly anywhere won’t ever go out of style so helping ensure they have the tools to do so should be priority #1.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole year, but we’re proud of where we are and how we’ve been able to help businesses around the world manage a very challenging situation. We’re also excited and humbled that our efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Recently, AT&T was named a leader in their IDC Marketscapes for UCaaS Service Providers for both Enterprise and SMB1 saying, “AT&T gives enterprises a single source for UCaaS that comes with the quality, reliability, and security services inherent in its enterprise-grade tier 1 network and solutions.” As the business world reaches the next phase, whatever or whenever it will be, we’ll be ready to help.
1 IDC MarketScape: Worldwide UCaaS Service Providers for Enterprise 2021 Vendor Assessment
(Doc #US47452521, February 2021)
IDC MarketScape: Worldwide UCaaS Service Providers for SMB 2021 Vendor Assessment
(Doc #US47452421, February 2021)