Monday, 09 November 2020 18:59

Preparing your contact centre for a ‘new normal’ world

By Brendan Maree 8x8
Brendan Maree 8x8 Brendan Maree 8x8

GUEST OPINION by Brendan Maree, Vice President Asia Pacific at 8x8: As Australia emerges from its COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, businesses are coming to terms with how they will need to operate under ‘new normal’ conditions.

Changed workplaces, shifting customer demands, and the need for more flexibility are requiring systems and processes to be examined and realigned. One that’s coming under increasing scrutiny is the contact centre.

As has occurred in previous upheavals, such as bushfires and floods, contact centres need to cope with sudden changes in demand. Customer calls can quickly spike for some organisations while others experience dramatic falls in traffic.

Meanwhile contact centre staff can also be affected. A natural disaster may prevent many from getting to work while a disease outbreak could mean many are too ill to attend. Having plans in place to deal with such scenarios is vital.

Taking pre-emptive steps

There are a number of strategies a company can undertake to ensure its contact centre can continue to operate effectively during times of sudden change. Some relate to staffing and others to the centre’s underlying infrastructure.

On the staffing front, steps should be taken to ensure that rosters are as flexible as possible and able to be adjusted to match changes in demand. Part-time staff should be quizzed about whether they would be able to increase their hours or start at different times of the day.

At the same time, agreements should be put in place with outsourced contact centre service providers so that extra capacity can be called upon at times of crisis or disruption. These agreements should stipulate how quickly extra resources can be brought online and exactly how they will work with existing centre staff.

Companies can also disperse their contact centres across multiple locations. In this way, if one site is disrupted others can increase activity to cover the shortfall. Staff can also be shifted between locations to minimise disruption and improve productivity.

Putting technology to work

Technology can also help when it comes to coping with increased volume or decreased staffing. Tools should be deployed that help contact centre agents quickly update the IVR system, chatbots, website, and smartphone apps to reflect more common inquiries. The more answers you can provide through self-service, the more it’s possible to reduce agent contact volume.

Also look to deploy the technologies needed to support staff working from home. Call routing capabilities and remote access to core applications should all be examined and implemented. Consider cloud-based applications that allow secure access from any location.

Another area in which technology can help is in the establishment of hybrid contact centres. In this scenario, some staff work from the existing centre while others complete their roles at home. Tools need to be in place that ensure calls can be seamlessly managed and customer service levels are not compromised.

Effective staff management

With working conditions and changes in demand likely to continue to fluctuate for some time to come, it’s also important to review how staff are being managed.

For example, ways need to be found to deliver virtual coaching to ensure skill levels are maintained. Virtual channels, such as video conferencing, should also be used when it comes to performance management reviews and other HR-related requirements. Many of these things may have put on hold during the height of the COVID-19 crisis but now need to be staged once again.

Also consider the aspect of staff socialisation. Many will be missing the atmosphere of coming to a central location and meeting and chatting with colleagues. Determine whether regular group video chats could be held to try and replicated some of this comradery.

By taking time now to review the status of its contact centre and make the necessary changes to ensure it is as flexible and productive as possible, an organisation can be best placed to deal with the next significant disruptive event that occurs.

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