Contact Centers and Coronavirus: 5 Ways to Adapt and Find Future Gains

Posted On March 30, 2020
By Wayne Morris

The rapid onset and spread of COVID-19 has disrupted the world we live in. We’re all pulling together in this moment to protect our health, our loved ones, and our businesses. In particular, we’ve all had to find ways to adapt in order to preserve a safe physical distance from our fellow human beings. Science tells us that this is the right thing to do even as both our human instincts and our pre-Coronavirus strategies were designed to get closer to each other.

Companies worldwide are scrambling to adjust their practices resulting in many employees now working remotely. For many of us, this upheaval is both unsettling and upsetting. This is especially true for employees working in contact centers and customer care departments who are tasked with providing customers with information, support, and a positive experience.

Changes to the modern contact center environment 

Modern contact center environments are often fast-paced, stressful, and demanding. Rapidly increasing customer expectations, daunting pressure to contain costs, and high agent turnover continue to define their day-to-day reality. That’s even without the added pressures associated with a global threat like COVID-19. For contact center leaders, it can feel difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Organizations that have evolved to a contact center operating model where all or a portion of their workforce can be deployed remotely (At-Home Agents), are better positioned to continue operating to target while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Their remote worker processes are established, and their employees are used to conducting business and being productive from home.

For others, the sudden requirement to have employees work from home is precarious and even painful. If home-based workspaces are not conducive to professional work the overall quality of service interactions will suffer.

Five strategies for adapting your contact center to support at-home agents

That’s why we’re sharing five fundamental strategies, including specific tactics you can implement today, to immediately to address contact center challenges:

1 – GET CONNECTED

Ensure all critical employees have access to the technologies required for them to be productive while dealing with customers. This includes network connectivity, agent desktop, Workforce Management tools, call recording, CRM, and more.

  • Create a checklist of technology requirements that work from home staff need to conduct business, and provide financial assistance if necessary to meet minimum requirements.
  • Prioritize IT support for remote employees to quickly address and resolve technical issues such as a special toll-free number / URL for IT helpdesk and priority service level for remote employees.
  • Use available technologies (Zoom, Skype, MS Teams…) to create virtual spaces for employees to meet and interact.

2 – GET EMOTIONAL

Express humanity by demonstrating awareness of your employees’ situations and probable feelings. Remember that we are all in this unprecedented situation together, and everyone will need some support along the way.

  • Listen to your colleagues. Be there for each other even if just to have a conversation and empathize.
  • Don’t ignore the difficult reality of the current situation, but find uplifting messages to share that can cut through the gloom. Embrace opportunities to focus on the positive.
  • Provide staff with a universal virtual room that’s open to drop-ins throughout business hours so anyone can see and speak with their colleagues to collaborate on work topics or to simply combat social withdrawal.

3 – GET CREATIVE

Workforce Managers must apply creativity to managing their teams and be willing to serve the needs of their staff. Keep an open mind to new solutions and scheduling during a changing time, and make an effort to not cancel team meetings, huddles, and 1:1 coaching.

  • Be available, reach out to employees proactively, and roll up your sleeves and help when necessary.
  • Double down on empowering agents to make things right for customers. Provide a list of goodwill tools (waive a fee, send flowers or chocolate, etc) and encourage staff to use them to boost the customer experience when required.
  • Consider different formats for required in-person training like building smaller training modules and making them available online.
  • Team Leaders can turn to virtual platforms including video conferences, collaboration tools, and messaging applications to preserve coaching and mentoring commitments to front line staff.

4 – GET COMMUNICATING

Thoughtful customer communications remain vital but it’s particularly important right now that leadership over-communicate to employees about what the organization is doing in response to COVID-19 and what it means for the staff.

  • Be transparent and thoughtful in your internal communications and provide as much detail as is appropriate. Employees want to know where they stand.
  • Recognize employees who go above and beyond during times of crisis. Actively seek out the stories (and there will be some) about employees who embody the organization’s values and spotlight them publicly.
  • Communicate with your customers. Let them know what the company is doing during the crisis and set clear expectations for service. For example: use your Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to set customer service level expectations in a transparent and human way – “As we’re all adjusting to social distancing guidelines, we’ve reduced our staff to make our workspaces safer. As a result, you may experience a longer than usual wait time to speak with us.”

5 – GET KNOWLEDGEABLE

Use this moment as an opportunity to embrace change and adversity in order to become stronger as individuals and as teams. This is an innovation-rich time – take advantage of the possibility!

  • Identify what new strategies have worked (and what haven’t) and build robust capabilities to lean into those strengths and weaknesses. Whether that becomes a high-functioning At-Home Agent Model, or something else, these improvements can be applied to your benefit both today and in the future.
  • Listen to your customer’s needs and gather important data. For example, establish a process for capturing voice of customer insights through your employees. Your employees are already engaging in service interactions every day. So why not have them ask smart questions and store the customer information in your CRM? Use those insights to deliver amazing experiences during future interactions.

 

We hope these strategies for adapting your contact center provide some relief, sustainability, and future gains amidst this especially stressful time. At Strativity, we’re always thinking about how our environments affect the experience for both customers and employees and we know the importance of emotions throughout it all. Reach out if we can be of help easing your transition to remote operations or brainstorming solutions for any other contact center challenges.

 

Think we can help? Let’s talk!