It’s no secret that COVID-19 had a massive impact on contact centers. Staffing levels took a hit, call volumes increased dramatically and agents were forced to deal with a sudden and prolonged adjustment to WFH.
Most crisis situations operate in the timeline of days or weeks, therefore inherently including an exact date for a return to normal operations. But when navigating the murky waters of a global pandemic, that forecasted return to “normal” is much harder to pin down. While the long-term impact of COVID-19 on the contact center is yet to be fully understood, it’s clear that these impacts will not resolve immediately; more than 70% of agents are expected to continue to work from home (Nemertes Research).
Rise of Virtual Call Centers
Prior to the pandemic, call center operations were already subject to a slow but steady switch to remote capabilities. COVID-19 accelerated the process at a drastic rate.
According to Gartner, “pre-outbreak, nearly 7 in 10 (68%) customer service and support organizations worked from traditional call centers” and less than 10% of staff worked from home. That is now flipped, going forward, 71% of contact centers will be remote.
T-Mobile, for instance, sent 12,000 customer representatives located in 17 call centers around the globe to work from home in the wake of the pandemic. The shift, which took two and a half weeks to complete, required painstaking procedures to “hygienically” ship hardware and software to employees’ residences, a task Sanford describes as one of the toughest rapid-fire turnarounds during his tenure as CIO.
Like in above example, the transition for other call centers was not an easy task. Most organizations did not have plans for enabling the entire staff to work from home. Within days of shuttering call centers, companies had to have CX professionals fielding customer calls remotely. Many struggled to replicate their CX working environment, including the proper hardware and software necessary to provide call support.
Going forward, the necessity of thorough planning and resource distribution to enable a seamless switch between in-office and working from home is a critical (if painful) lesson learned for contact centers.
Move to the Cloud
With the launch into work from home territory, call centers’ adoption of cloud technology also saw marked increase and interest.
It’s no wonder why. Cloud-based software offers many advantages for call centers. Cloud-based call center software makes it much easier to scale, manage, and customize operations without the need for additional hardware. Provided agents have a strong internet connection, a cloud-based software can also make the transition to work from home a seamless experience. And considering the fact that cloud-based softwares in the call center typically lead to decreased costs and less agent turnover, the steady adoption of the cloud-based solutions makes sense.
As contact centers battle fluctuating staff levels and high call volume, the push for automation and a preference for cloud-based solutions continue to see a marked increase—one that, having been proved in the fires, will only continue to grow in the months to come.
Customer Service Language
For contact centers, the “how” of day-to-day operations isn’t the only thing to have changed during COVID-19. Much like how pressure and heat transform coal into diamonds, serving customer needs—the “why”—in a high-pressure environment produced a switch in customer service strategy that will linger beyond the pandemic. Good customer service is a critical component of contact centers—studies have proved that 61% of consumers say that they have stopped transacting with a business after a poor service experience. At the same time, expectations for great customer service from call centers are also much greater than in years previous.
Most contact centers have already adopted a customer-first mindset. For those who haven’t, however, COVID-19 quickly reinforced that human connections and a focus on customer-centricity are critical. A crisis situation does not provide an excuse to drop the ball—it only underscores the need.
Going forward, it will be considered best-practice for companies to proactively reach out to customers to keep them informed of any changes to hours, wait-times and services as a result of COVID-19 and other crises. Furthermore, the language itself in the call center has been subject to change as customers grow increasingly frustrated with canned responses and “corporate speak.” Although canned responses are not inherently bad, clear language that embodies empathy and seems human is a small but effective measure to put the customer at ease.
Truly answer their questions and address their concerns, and, most importantly, allow them to access an agent when these self-service options do not suffice.
Although the trends of cloud adoption, virtual capabilities and customer-first mentalities have existed for years, COVID-19 dramatically inflated their rate of adoption by proving their fundamental necessity. In future disaster situations, contact centers that internalize the hard lessons learned during COVID-19’s “new normal” will prove more agile than those that don’t.