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The impact of COVID-19 on contact centres and customer experience

A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic really shines a light on the way companies show up for their customers – which is why it’s so important to empower front-line contact centre agents to deliver customer experience in an empathetic way.

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From a business perspective, the pandemic has been one of the most challenging times many of us have experienced and the contact centre industry is on the front-line. Genesys has nearly 700 customers across Australia and New Zealand, which includes contact centres of all sizes across the private sector and all levels of government. This has granted us a clear view of the challenges and impacts which many organisations have experienced.

In times of crisis, customers want to be heard and understood. They’re very tuned into what feels like genuine concern and empathy from a business, as well as what feels like marketing fluff or ‘brand speak’.

This isn’t something new, we all know the common thread in great customer experiences follows a cycle of empathy which creates trust and engenders loyalty. However, this crisis has accelerated this need for empathy, as customers are interacting with organisations under quite stressful circumstances – such as banking customers calling to renegotiate a loan or defer payments due to hardship.

A sense of “we are all in this together” is key, helping customer service agents build connections and deliver those empathetic moments to customers.

Embrace technology in order to scale and pivot

While contact centre agents are assisting people in times of trouble, they also face their own challenges, such as quickly and effectively shifting to working from home.

The flexibility of cloud platforms and subscription-based service models certainly assisted with this transition, but we’ve also seen the growing importance of automation in helping to scale customer support while maintaining a high level of customer experience. Genesys has been helping contact centres embrace tools such as voicebots and chatbots for a number of years – including integrating with Google or Amazon – and the strengths of these tools have shone through during the pandemic.

The agility of the cloud meant many organisations were able to pivot quickly to cope with change. A Genesys customer in the travel sector moved its team of 120 people to work from home within 24 hours. Rather than downsizing due to COVID-19’s impact on travel, they began bidding for government business to help sustain their valued customer service teams and keep everyone in a job.

Rethink business continuity

Preparing for a crisis like COVID-19 doesn’t just require flexible cloud-based technology. Business continuity planning is also key. While many organisations had Business Continuity Plans, the majority did not consider a scenario where everyone was forced to work from home.

While many organisations were able to achieve this over three or four weeks, those with cloud-based contact centres were able to do it within 24 hours. Greater Bank’s adoption of Genesys Cloud 18 months ago enabled it to move contact centre staff from one site to 40 remote locations, including ‘mini hubs’ in branches, while dealing with a 50% increase in calls and achieving no disruption to service.

COVID-19 has finally broken down the work-from-home (WFH) barriers in many other organisations and we believe this will continue to be a working model for contact centres, providing staff with more flexibility and businesses with a broader talent pool, when they no longer have the limit of a physical location.

Revamp on-boarding processes

Executives are rethinking their on-shore/ off-shore contact centre mix after a number of organisations found their off-shore capability greatly reduced as the pandemic spread around the globe, particularly as it hit areas like the Philippines and India where WFH isn’t always possible.

A shortage of agents, combined with a massive surge in customer contacts, created the perfect storm for many contact centres.

This capability meltdown caused significant local onshore challenges for organisations which saw some reskilling other staff to be contact centre agents. This requires robust and flexible training platforms to quickly get them up to speed, and a number of organisations are taking this opportunity to optimize their on-boarding and training processes for the future.

Enhance workforce engagement

We have seen a clear uptick around workforce engagement management (WEM) tools as businesses look to help their people adjust to working from home, especially when they are also juggling homeschooling. We are seeing some organisations splitting shifts into smaller chunks to provide greater flexibility, a practice which may stay in place once the pandemic subsides.

Businesses are also working hard to alleviate difficulties around isolation, such as remotely keeping up traditional engagements like weekly morning teas and check-ins with individuals and teams. Such things can be easily overlooked but they remain best practice for contact centres and should be adapted to suit a remote working environment.

Resilience and adaptability

It’s easy to assume that people will be averse to change but COVID-19 has shown that people will rise to the challenge. Their resilience and determination have increased innovation, creativity, collaboration and connection to new levels.

This crisis has also given people an opportunity to show just how skilled and capable they are while debunking the myths surrounding what roles could or should work remotely. This is a particular insight that businesses can take away whilst they start to plan post-lockdown restrictions. There is no better time than now to implement change as we create new norms in our work and life integration.

To learn how to effectively manage remote agents and teams in your call centre, download this ContactBabel research report.

The original article was published here on 15 July, 2020. 

Mark Buckley

VP - Australia & New Zealand, Genesys

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