Navigating the ‘Pingdemic’ with Flexible CX Teams

People using contact tracing app

Recently hundreds of thousands of people have been ‘pinged’ by the NHS COVID-19 app to alert them to isolate due to close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

This phenomena, labelled the ‘pingdemic’, has resulted in 600,000 people being told to isolate by the NHS COVID app in one week, causing disruption to services across the country and widespread staff shortages.

This has been particularly damaging for sectors reliant on physical attendance from employees, such as hospitality, food supply and manufacturing. For instance, M&S, a major British multinational retailer, has warned that due to large amounts of staff having to isolate there may be time savings and supply chain problems. Likewise, the Rail, Shipping and Transportation Union have said that the London Underground Network’s metropolitan line was closed on July 17th due to self-isolation of key staff.

While the ‘pingdemic’ has blown up in the UK, this is resonating elsewhere. Although not on the same scale, the US has seen some uptake of Covid-19 contact-tracing apps from companies such as Apple Inc. and Google. Albeit this has been a gradual and slow process and lacking the vast impact seen in the UK, which has vastly caught the attention of the media. Yet while the US may not have had the same issues with contact tracing apps due to lack of uptake, the country is naturally still dealing with more general labour shortages and other employment issues due to an increase in self-isolation.

On a global scale, employees are having to self-isolate – whether due to an app or simply because they’re testing positive for the virus – are causing serious staffing problems in various sectors. For instance, customer service teams with a more traditional approach are now at risk of disruption. That’s because traditional contact centres are, for the most part, all too reliant on fixed headcounts, rigid time schedules, and physical attendance from their workers. Naturally, this makes dealing with the pingdemic a logistical nightmare.

So, how do brands best manage their customer service teams in a disruptive and unforeseen event such as the pingdemic?

Meeting Changing Expectations

With employees isolating, the pingdemic has dramatically reduced staff who are available on the ground during a shift and this is affecting many sectors who require physical manpower. Despite the crisis, customers still expect the same level of service, particularly within the CX sector. Today, 1 in 3 customers will leave a brand after just one bad customer service experience. If we consider this against the backdrop of the pingdemic, brands must adapt or else face long term repercussions to customer loyalty and retention.

Simultaneously, 59% of customers also said that the COVID-19 pandemic has raised their standards for customer service. With customer expectations skyrocketing like never before, and as companies battle to attract and keep customers, it is now more important than ever for brands to pivot their approach to CX.

The Future Is Flexible

While the pingdemic has shown why we need to be more flexible, employees and consumers were already driving this change since the beginning of the pandemic. For a range of sectors, this isn’t the first time they’ve had to be agile. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the sudden shift to remote working opened up the eyes of many to a more flexible and remote way of work. In essence, the prospect of working from home five days a week quickly became a reality and this has indeed suited the needs of many employees, including those within the CX world.

New approaches to customer service are also enabling this change to a more flexible way of work. A gig customer service model, for example, where workers are able to carry out their day to day role from the comfort of their home, coffee shop, or wherever they please is just one example. This flexibility ensures that brands can continue to provide genuine and authentic customer experiences despite the limitations brought by sporadic isolations caused by a pandemic and – more recently – a pingdemic.

The gig customer service or ‘GigCX’ opportunity has been extremely popular with students, retirees and full time carers, who can’t or don’t want to commit to a 9-5 office role. More and more, individuals are being drawn to new channels of working, and as such, brands can enjoy the benefits of a more diverse pool of talent. Therefore, as traditional workers switch to more flexible career paths and look for different opportunities, the customer service industry can cater to, and capitalise on these changes.

Peaks in Demand

With individuals ‘pinged’ and employees stuck in isolation, we’re naturally going to see traditional customer service teams struggle. That’s because these systems are often trapped by fixed headcounts and rigid time schedules. With that said, some days you may see phones ringing off the hook or workers sitting around having nothing to do – all because the headcount remains the same as demand fluctuates.

However, the flexibility of a gig customer service approach allows brands to grow or shrink their crowd of workers in line with the never ending changes in demand. So, if a sudden peak came out of the blue, there would be enough staff to tackle it head on, pingdemic or not. As part of a recent survey, we found that 40% of brands moved to a Gig customer service model due to the benefit of increased flexibility and the ability to handle demand volatility. The resilience it gives against events like this is demonstrative why.

The Bottom Line

The pingdemic in the UK is a typical example of how customer service teams can be massively disrupted if they are not accustomed or prepared to work flexibility. On a global scale, organisations everywhere are having to deal with fluctuating workforces and staffing issues, app or not. By adapting to changes and becoming more agile, and adopting new approaches such as gig customer service – companies can remain resilient during unplanned events while catering to the changing needs of their customers.

About the Author

 Roger BeadleRoger Beadle is the CEO and Co-founder at Limitless. Roger is a UK-based entrepreneur and business leader who is reinventing how customer service is delivered via the gig economy. After establishing several businesses in the contact centre industry, Roger co-founded Limitless with Megan Neale in 2016.

Limitless is a gig-economy platform that addresses some of the biggest challenges faced by the contact centre industry: low pay, high attrition and access to new talent.

Previously, Roger and Megan helped to build one of the largest privately-owned outsourced contact centre business in Europe, before selling the business to the global conglomerate Hinduja Group. They were also both founding shareholders of Semafone, the leader in PCI compliant security solutions for contact centres globally.

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