We all know we should expect the unexpected – that’s the nature of business. But what if you had to cease operations in multiple cities and countries at the same time?
What if your employees had to work from home and you had to close your contact centers indefinitely? Would you be able to bounce back to business as usual in a matter of days and protect your workforce from short and long term unexpected change?
The idea of completely shutting up shop would have only a few weeks ago been unthinkable for brands both big and small. For most organizations, business continuity plans encompass relocating workers to another site in case of an emergency, and making provisions for businesses to continue operations from a remote location. But the recent coronavirus crisis is global, affecting every part of a business, and the nature of the outbreak means working from a different site isn’t always feasible.
While the continued spread of COVID-19 is nothing less than a global health emergency, we’re also seeing a significant impact on how brands are able to serve their customers. Beyond the country and corporate travel bans and trade show cancellations we’ve seen in the recent weeks, companies are floundering as they struggle to deal with their staff not being able to come into the office – and this includes customer service agents.
From fixed to fluid – wider issues in customer service
Coronavirus may be the catalyst that’s making enterprises consider contingency plans for customer service operations, but truth be told, it’s actually just one of many contributing factors that is driving the urgent requirement for call center change today. The extreme nature of the virus epidemic has highlighted the need for business continuity, but at the same time, we should also be considering a more modern approach to customer service, moving from fixed to fluid working models.
COVID-19 is showing just how fragile the traditional contact center is from an operational point of view, but the reality is that it shouldn’t have taken a health crisis to highlight the missed opportunities of not having more flexibility in call center operations. As technology accelerates, we’re being presented with some truly innovative solutions that not only work to support disaster recovery, but can also work in our favor to provide more customised customer support for different segments, and at different price points.
For example, we’ve got the ability to put in place AI solutions like chatbots to answer questions of low complexity, and this can underpin a low-cost, integrated AI support model. When customer service queries are more complex and require more empathy, we can tap into fluid models like gig customer service, whereby customer queries are routed via secure platforms to remote gig workers, who have been trained to support customers. Gig customer service is on the rise, with the added bonus that these workers can provide customer service from anywhere in the world.
Tapping into gig crowds can preserve business continuity by giving companies access to additional talent pools to help deal with any unplanned rise in customer enquiries. This ability to optimize customer support to handle peaks and troughs in demand may also be more vital as more and more workers are forced out of physical office environments, and in potential cases of mass absenteeism, when companies find they require more customer service capacity.
Another option for businesses to consider is to allow their customer service agents to work ‘business as usual’ hours from the safety of their homes. Gig platforms can enable customer service agents to work from any location in the world and still carry on their important work of reassuring customers.
With the right technology, both of these options can be conducted remotely anywhere in the world and do not require workers to be physically present in a call center. In the case of COVID-19, re-thinking these customer service operational models could be crucially valuable to maintaining customer support, and reducing the economic burden this virus is levelling on business.
Companies are having to formulate these types of disaster recovery plans to avoid mass disruption, and this is being recognised by governments as well. In the US, Congress has approved a bumper emergency aid package to combat the outbreak, while the UK government has acknowledged that up to a fifth of the workforce may be off sick during the peak of a coronavirus epidemic.
It’s about finding a balance and comfortable orchestration point between remote and onsite workers, and finding a customer service model that is not only flexible enough to accommodate changing external conditions, but also optimised to deliver better service.
About the Author
Roger 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.