Independent Contact Center Consultants: Bridging Strategy, Technology and Operations Since 2004

2021 Challenges and Priorities

In our sixth year of asking contact center professionals about their biggest challenges and priorities, we found out that their vision for the coming year was overshadowed by the global pandemic that has disrupted everyone and everything. As such the theme I’d pick for the year is agility. Not enough centers had it, and going forward, everybody needs it.

I encourage you to download the full report. Let me highlight some of the biggest messages and changes (and I mean big!):


  • Not enough staff to handle workload is a resounding #1 challenge, chosen by 28% of participants, up from only 16% last year!
  • A new entry to capture the difficulty supporting home agents landed at #2, chosen by 19%.
  • Increasing contact volumes had not been a pressing problem for many in the past (hovering around 10% of participants). Of course, this year it exploded for many; 17% cited it as a top challenge.
  • The perennial # 1 or 2, Attrition, dropped to #6 at 15%, down from 27% in 2020! Whether that means attrition has decreased (high unemployment rates can do that) or centers had bigger challenges (or both!) is anybody’s guess.
  • As other items grabbed higher percentages, some had to fall, and three others (besides attrition) stand out: high absence/low adherence (down from 16% to 11%), challenges with desktop tools (from 21% to 13%) and lack of understanding and respect for the center’s role (from 17% to 12%). Improvements in attendance and adherence helps counteract other challenges and may be partly attributable to work at home. Keep the last one in mind when we get to the bonus question.
  • By category, workload and performance items moved up while strategic and technology items moved down.


  • Self -service maintained its #1 spot but with a slight drop from 24% to 22%. No doubt those seeking to implement it hope it will help with the #1 and #3 challenge double whammy of too much volume and not enough staff.
  • A new entry to implement better home agents support, tools, and processes was selected by nearly 20%, aligning well with its challenge counterpart.
  • Similarly, staffing to match workload jumped up about 4 percentage points, another strong alignment with the #1 and #3 challenges.
  • The popular focus on employee engagement and empowerment dropped a bit, down over 4 percentage points.
  • Addressing security/fraud/regulatory requirements dropped by over 6 percentage points.
  • While several items dropped by a few percentage points, one of the biggest drops was in raising awareness of the center’s vital role and impact, noted by only 9% this year. Our bonus question shows that COVID took care of that for many. By category, strategic items moved down the priority list.

While those highlights show some good alignment, a few misalignments to note are:

  • While not enough staff was a resounding #1 challenge, it’s direct counterpart on priorities of gaining budget approval for additional staff, was chosen by 40% fewer participants. They may look to other actions like self-service to tackle that problem, or perhaps hope the staffing challenge is a temporary thing.
  • Omnichannel ranks high on the challenges list but relatively low on the priorities list.
  • Poor cross-departmental collaboration suffers perpetually from its high challenge, low priority standing; this year is no different.
  • Performance tools get much higher priority ranking than they do challenges. Perhaps it is just time to get them implemented, and those tools can help tackle other challenges.

We added a bonus question this year: “Has the business impact of COVID-19 elevated awareness of the strategic importance of the contact center among senior management in your organization?” A resounding 82% of respondents said YES! That’s one piece of good news going into 2021. Let’s hope we take advantage of this window of opportunity to engage senior leadership in the importance of our work.