Tuesday, 21 July 2020 17:12

Settling into the new normal: a peek into the post COVID-19 call centre

Daniel Harding, MaxContact Daniel Harding, MaxContact

GUEST OPINION BY MaxContact: Australia’s contact centres are hard at work developing a new modus operandi that allows them to run efficiently, regardless of whether agents are at home or in the office, writes Daniel Harding, Director – Australia Operations, MaxContact

Has it really been only four months since the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a spontaneous, national work-from-home experiment? Time flies when you’re in crisis mode. Since the government introduced sweeping shutdown measures in late March to slow the spread of the virus, thousands of businesses and millions of workers of all stripes have been forced to make a rapid pivot to remote working.

Contact centres have been no exception. Even as many organisations were ramping up their capacity in response to a surge in activity – Telstra and Services NSW announced they were hiring an additional 1000 agents apiece to help manage a burgeoning workload, back in March – operations managers were frantically implementing and testing infrastructure and systems. The goal? To enable contact centre agents to resolve the regular range and volume of enquiries from their living rooms, without a significant drop in service delivery standards.

The rise of the hybrid call centre

In the main, they’ve made a stunning success of it. Our Australian contact centre customers tell us remote working is working remarkably well for them. So much so that the model looks like it may be here to stay. Not for everyone, all the time. Rather, we’re likely to see businesses formalising hybrid operational models which enable agents to split their hours between home office and head office.

It’s an extraordinary development in a short space of time and one that’s been made possible by the evidence – that contact centre agents can be every bit as professional and productive at home as they are at work, if not more so.

This shouldn’t come as a great surprise, given the sophistication of today’s digital cloud-based contact centre platforms. Whether agents are in the next room or several suburbs away, team leaders and managers are able to achieve unparalleled insight into their activities, including the number of enquiries they’re handling, how quickly they’re being resolved and how frequently they’re having to escalate them.

Making working from home a normal practice has another powerful advantage for Australian organisations. When roles are no longer location dependent, the talent pool opens up exponentially. That means it’s possible for a business in Melbourne to hire contact centre agents anywhere from nearby Moorabbin to Maclean in northern NSW and Mackay, North Queensland.

Making it work long term

So what steps should you take if you’re considering turning your COVID-19 contingency set-up into a permanent arrangement which works for your business and your employees? Formalising work practices, including agreeing on which days employees will spend at home and which they’ll spend in the office, is a good first step.

Induction procedures for new hires may also need to be reviewed. If the conversations agents will be having with customers are not overly complex, training them online may be feasible. Alternatively, you may decide you’re better served having newcomers do an initial stretch in the office, under the eye of an experienced mentor, before allowing them to work from home.

You’ll also need to settle on how team meetings will be held, if the old Monday get-together or the daily huddle become things of the past. Whether it’s an all-in session on Zoom or Teams, or a mixture of in-person and online meetings, keeping agents connected with the business and each other should be a priority.

As should providing them with the tools they need to discharge their duties efficiently and professionally from home. Ensuring your team members have professional grade internet access, a reliable, late model laptop and a high-quality headset will help them to service your customers effectively from afar.

Embracing a hybrid future

The COVID-19 crisis has shown Australian businesses that contact centres can be run remotely without degradation of service levels and productivity. Given that, refining and retaining the model which has served your organisation through the pandemic is likely to prove a smart move.

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