Since late March, sweeping shutdown measures in response to the COVID-19 crisis have forced thousands of businesses and millions of workers to rapidly pivot towards remote working. A recent survey by Gartner HR revealed that 88% of organisations have required or encouraged employees to work from home during the pandemic. Contact centres are no exception.
For many of our customers, remote working has produced remarkable results. This period has shown Australian businesses that contact centres can be run remotely without drops in service levels or productivity. Contact centre agents have proven they can be every bit as professional and productive at home as they are at work, if not more.
As the situation surrounding the pandemic continues to evolve, it’s becoming more apparent that the post-COVID-19 contact centre will reflect the formalisation of hybrid operational models. It’s likely that contact centres will continue to enable agents to split their hours between home and the workplace.
Are you considering turning your COVID-19 contingency setup into a permanent arrangement? Refining the model that served your organisation through the pandemic could be beneficial. But what will be the impact? And how will this change be facilitated?
Here’s a breakdown of the good and the more complex elements impacting the post-COVID-19 contact centre.
The shift to a virtual workplace may provide more opportunities for flexible schedules, with the increased potential benefits for both representatives and organisations. Agents who work from home now have the option to log on for shorter shifts that are mapped to spikes in volume. This can be much more efficient when compared to eight-hour shifts with downtimes.
Expanded Talent Pool
When job roles are no longer location-dependent, the talent pool opens up exponentially. That means it’s possible for a business in Melbourne to hire contact centre agents anywhere from the next suburb to the next state. Appreciation for a demographic of workers that was previously underutilised has also emerged from this period. These workers could be retired individuals or stay-at-home parents, and they typically have a solid work ethic, a higher level of maturity and require less supervision. This makes them ideal candidates to continue remote working and assist in removing perceived barriers to initiating a work-from-home policy.
Given the sophistication of the digital cloud-based contact centre platforms available today, the success of agents operating from home isn’t a big surprise. Whether they’re in the next room or several suburbs away, team leaders and managers can achieve unparalleled insight into their activities, including the number of enquiries they’re handling, how quickly they’re being resolved and how frequently they’re being escalated.
Workforce management tools also become vital in a hybrid contact centre, enabling better remote management of teams and enabling the understanding of system strains. Their use can also identify where resources need to be allocated to meet demand or even fill temporary personnel gaps.
We suggest using this as an opportunity to review your overall technology landscape and identify areas to improve effectiveness. For example, implementing automation technology can ease the burden on agents and make it quicker and easier for customers to resolve matters through self-serve options. Website chatbots can act as the first line of response, providing answers to frequently asked questions. They can also be enhanced with AI to learn from user responses and improve answers.
Remember, investing in technology is for the long term, and can enable contact centres to continue to deliver the expected human touch and customer experience.
Supporting Your People
Contact centres are unique working environments with carefully established cultures. Teams are familiar with working to shared goals, exchanging interaction experiences and motivating each other. Maintaining this culture within a hybrid model is critical, as is keeping agents connected with the business and each other. The implementation of widely used video technology will assist by keeping employees connected and aligned with the company vision.
In the short term, we expect many agents will be eager to return to the office, reunite with their colleagues, and experience some degree of normality. But others have embraced the opportunity for greater flexibility and would welcome the continuation of this setup in the long term. Finding the balance between office and home will be important for many and having the technology to seamless support both will be critical for businesses.
Implementing Sustainable Processes
Presuming the future dominance of the hybrid contact centre, adequate processes must be set in place to deliver a seamless experience. Some contact centres traditionally adopted a ‘closer’ management approach which will have been tested extensively within a devolved workforce. Some processes may have been hastily put together to meet short-term needs, and therefore require re-evaluation when looking towards the future.
Organisations should review their operating models and associated processes to reflect evolving customer behaviours as a result of the pandemic and ensure that any operational or process-driven changes being made will support these evolutions. Fortunately, advanced technology that provides valuable data and insight into employee workings is already available. Tools such as call monitoring and customer sentiment tracking will provide the data needed to gain a broad view of operations, enabling targeted action to be taken.
Privacy and Security Concerns
With the use of new technology comes new security and privacy concerns for businesses. Popular video conferencing service Zoom was the subject of public security concerns earlier this year as its usage skyrocketed. It was revealed that many of its features, designed to make video meetings more streamlined, came at the expense of confidentiality. It’s a timely reminder that while new technology can be helpful, it’s important to investigate the potential security risks that may come with introducing it into your operations.
The Contact Centre of the Future Appears Flexible
The discussion of post-COVID-19 life prompts us to ask what aspects of ‘normal’ do we want to get back to? Will it simply be ‘business as usual’ with masses rushing back into the office? Or will this change the face of the industry and give rise to the virtual contact centre? In your quest to return to ‘business as usual’, it’s wise to remain open to the idea that the unthinkable is always possible. For now, focusing on the flexibility of the contact centre, and proactively moving to a hybrid model, is the smartest move to make.
If you don’t want to compromise on Customer or Agent experience or quality when transitioning or supporting agents working from home, reach out to GSN. We’re ready to discuss appropriate cloud-based solutions and the urgent steps needed to achieve a successful work-from-home balance.