The current COVID-19 epidemic situation has affected several industries across the world. Most businesses are struggling to work their way around the Coronavirus Crisis, and meet client needs. The finance industry is grappling with severe issues of cash management, the manufacturing sector is facing supply chain challenges and the human resources sector is having to deal with the tough task of layoffs.
Coronavirus and the Call Center Crisis
One of the worst-hit sectors in this grave situation is customer service. With a lot of uncertainty surrounding several essential and nonessential services, many customers have fallen back on the customer service department to get their answers. This has created an immense pressure on the sector.
A study was conducted by Tethr, an AI and machine learning company, on a million customer service calls to over 20 companies from a diverse range of industries between March 11 and March 26, when Coronavirus was declared a pandemic by WHO. Based on a metric that measured the efforts of a customer to achieve their goals, ranging from difficult to easy, the calls were analysed. The results revealed that the percentage of difficult calls rose from a standard 10% to 20% in a matter of two weeks. Moreover, calls concerning financial hardship, generally considered difficult, were found to rise 2.5 times in a week.
Issues Affecting Call Center Services During the COVID-19 Crisis
While many industries are facing severe economic crises, the call center services are dealing with a people-management crisis. With a lot of anxious customers looking for answers and high call volumes, call center service providers are having a lot to deal with.
Some of the issues affecting the call center companies are:
- Anxiety – Since the pandemic has affected multiple industries, customers are inevitably anxious. They are looking for accurate information and reassurances during this period of uncertainty. These include patients, investors and normal citizens reporting issues ranging from network slowdown to bank transfers to home delivery. They expect a consistent customer service to help them with the best course of action and resolution of their problems.
- High call volumes – A direct result of the anxiety is high volumes of calls from customers. A normal staff strength in a call centre can easily be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of calls during a pandemic situation. Add to that, most of the calls coming in will be of a higher difficulty level and one requiring more interaction.
- Loss of productivity – During an epidemic situation, handling employees becomes challenging. Since businesses would need to scale up operations, a strong team of employees is needed who can help the business sail through the crisis. In a crisis situation, departments may have to multitask to deal with the resource scarcity and high call volumes. This can not only cause a drop in productivity, but also compliance issues.
- Panic – Uncertainty can cause a lot of stress. During a pandemic, it’s common for employees to panic about the loss of their jobs or about their health. Moreover, they can also worry about their salaries and mental health issues during the pandemic. This can severely affect productivity and diminish the morale of staff.
How to Keep Call Center Services Running During the Coronavirus Crisis?
Businesses all over the world are coming up with extensive emergency plans in response to the COVID-19 crisis. They are taking into account various aspects such as availability of staff, work from home scenarios, and additional pay options. Future planning for business continuity is something all organisations will have to consider at some point of time considering the present situation.
Call center companies face numerous challenges during this time which include handling staffing levels and delivering the right customer service. This increases a lot of pressure on day-to-day call center operations including higher call volumes, extended wait times, and ultimately, customer dissatisfaction.
Some of the ways top call center outsourcing companies can deal with the crisis are:
- Go Remote – With literally the whole world going under quarantine, it’s not possible to carry out call center operations from a physical office. An alternative is required that enables staff to work remotely from home. In the case of cloud-based operations and communications systems, it won’t take much effort to unify agents and collaborate with them. Tools and technologies such as CRM, ID&V, and other compliance tools as well as a sufficient number of laptops and phones for staff can help team members seamlessly transition into remote working.
- Ensure Systems are Seamless – Although working remotely is a great option, it’s not always easy to shift systems and resources at a short notice. Before trying to set up a new remote work process, make sure that a workforce management system is inplace to track agents, assign tasks, and measure their productivity. Cloud-based systems help a lot in creating flexible systems that can liaise between employees and admins as well as shift operations off-premise.
- Keep Customers in the Loop – Just like business owners, customers too are trying to deal with the current crisis. Hence it is important to inform customers about any impact in service levels to avoid unnecessary frustrations when they reach out. Since customers are also eager to get answers and anxious about the situation, transparent communication helps in avoiding any frustration or adversely affecting the customer journey.
- Plan for the Future – In uncertain times, it’s best to plan for the future. Nobody’s certain about how long the quarantine will last, so a comprehensive plan to maintain consistency in operations is the ideal solution. Call center owners should consider various aspects such as people, processes, tech, tools and security, requirements in the plan.
Running Remote Call Center Services Successfully: Things to Consider
As a call center provider, shifting to a cloud-based solution has become easier than ever before. In fact, it’s something a team leader can manage sitting at home. It’s as simple as routing the calls to an employee’s desktop or mobile, instead of the call center location. From a customer point-of-view, it won’t make a difference because they won’t notice where the call is being received from.
This is what’s known as an offline mode in call center parlance. Agents can take up calls on their desktop or mobile phone which will reduce the need for headsets. In the case of a cloud-based call center, the process is as simple as logging into the cloud system and making or receiving calls as usual. Team managers can go to the reporting portal and route the calls to the appropriate agent’s desktop or mobile. Any concerns about customer data privacy can be eliminated by restricting CRM access to agents.
The various aspects to consider to create a long-term sustainable remote working program are:
- Hiring – To successfully work in a remote setup, an agent must be comfortable working in isolation where there are no coworkers to talk to. It also takes a certain amount of motivation and dedication to avoid any distractions such as social media or a pet or family members and stay focused. These expectations should be clearly outlined in the job description before hiring an agent. Recruiters can introduce a separate interview stage to assess:
– Whether the potential candidate can work alone
– If he/she is comfortable working with various communication platforms such as Slack or Google Suite
– If the ambient noise levels/internet bandwidth meet the required criteria in case of voice-based support
- Training – The training process should also shift from a classroom-based, instructor-led setup to new, digital techniques such as remote video sessions and self-paced learning through a learning management system. There can also be regular workshops for new joinees and trainees through video conferencing apps such as Zoom or Skype.
- Communication – In case of a remote setup, it’s easy for agents to feel detached from the department or company, so it’s important to maintain a continuous stream of communication to boost employee engagement. The communication should take place on both group as well as individual levels in the form of chats, email, and video chat.
- Technology – Finally, access to the right technology is a crucial part of a remote working setup. Team leaders must ensure remote machines used by team members have the latest software update and security patches installed for agents to achieve a seamless workflow experience.
- Leveraging the cloud – There are several offers extended by cloud providers to help call center services to shift to a remote setup. Some can even help operations get online within 48 hours which can help call centers ensure business continuity.
- Performance measurement or analysis – Supervising or measuring the performance of employees working remotely can be different from that of employees working physically from an office. Team leaders must stay in touch with team members through various online mediums and set daily/weekly expectations to ensure a smooth transition
By recording agents’ calls on their mobile and desktop, team managers can ensure that business and compliance processes are successfully met. They are simple to deploy and don’t necessarily require any technical expertise.
- Multi-channel customer support – The greatest challenge in case of an voice-based contact center is that the agents need to be physically present to offer customer service. Call center owners must supplement voice based solutions with other forms of support including chat and email. As long as one-channel is available to customers during these critical times, customer satisfaction will remain positive and so will brand reputation.
Some of the top call center outsourcing companies have shifted their operations online. As call center service providers ourselves, we at ExpertCallers have come up with a comprehensive plan amidst the COVID-19 crisis and have shifted our workforce remote operations. To ensure health and well-being of our employees and offering consistent customer service for all of our clients, we have made considerable investments in equipment and processes to maintain business continuity. Moreover, following the directives of government and health authorities, we have also instructed our workforce to operate either from their homes or a secured workstations that follow the norms of social distancing.