Contact centres find new ways to ensure 24/7 customer service during COVID-19

Business Process Operating (BPO) contact centres like CCI South Africa work with many overseas clients. That means we must provide exemplary service 24 hours a day across differing time zones around the world.

Providing great customer service throughout the entire day is, of course, vital. It doesn’t matter whether we’re working in the middle of the night, customer satisfaction levels must remain the same. And with the added pressures of COVID-19 on contact centres, it’s worth reviewing how to deliver the best possible customer service.

COVID-19 brings new challenges for 24/7 customer service contact centres

Some contact centres have been forced to deal with longer wait times and increased call volumes due to the pandemic and lockdown. At CCI South Africa, we were able to switch over to remote working and a mixed working pattern very quickly. We were able to ensure there was no major loss of service or adverse impact on our partners and their customers.

However, that’s not to say that the changes contact centres are making are not challenging. In a world where IT systems are everything, it’s been a short, sharp shock to make the changes necessary to deliver continuous service. Everything from forecasting and scheduling, to real-time workforce management has had to be quickly adapted.

One of the biggest challenges for contact centres has been ensuring agents are managed and supported. Remote working or part remote working is the solution for most contact centres, which has brought a whole new way of working into the contact centre sphere.

What contact centre managers can do to ensure continuous customer service

Here are some of the challenges faced by contact centres right now and steps managers and business leaders can take to ensure agents are safe and customers are happy.

  1. Forecasting

Fewer agents in the office, more customers looking for answers, increased call volumes and a percentage of agents working remotely all impact demand forecasting. Predicting how the next few months are going to play out is extremely difficult. The pandemic is still here and is still affecting countries around the world.

Remaining flexible is all-important, but appropriate forecasting is still vital. The answer lies in changing the kind of data that is gathered and using it differently.

  • Review more regularly – events are changing on a daily basis so checking forecasts more often will help to mitigate this.
  • Be informed – stay on top of new Government advice and information both in South Africa and for the countries you’re working with. Use this info to predict what could happen next and how your contact centre must respond.
  • Check in with agents – ensure agents aren’t overloaded with customer queries and that all channels are being used to combat the increase in demand.
  • Utilise omni-channel solutions, to ensure through whatever the preferred communication medium – voice call, SMS, What’s App, etc. a team member is always available when needed
  1. New schedules need flexibility

With agents working from home, scheduling must be managed in a slightly different way. The usual routines and working shift patterns are changing as people choose to self-isolate, deal with childcare or other family concerns and adapt to remote working. Constantly adapting to both customer and agent changes is key.

  • Change shift patterns – be flexible in your approach. Agents working from home may need more flexibility. Consider split shifts, divided shifts and any other work patterns that will help them to manage other commitments and fulfil their role.
  • Communicate – keep agents informed every day. Tell them about any schedule changes and open up two-way communication. Work together to achieve the best working patterns and a more efficient schedule. The pandemic is taking its toll on everyone’s stress levels and mental health so finding ways to work together is important. Ensure they have all the equipment and tech they need at home to do their best work.
  • Customer behavior – millions of people are working from home and this is changing the way they interact with contact centres and businesses. While they may have chosen to call or message a contact centre outside of the regular office hours of 9 to 5, they’re more likely to do so within those times. Prepare for changes in call volume based on changing customer behaviours.
  1. Monitoring remote staff

Most contact centres will have some agents working remotely, and it’s important to monitor their tasks in the same way as those in office are monitored. The pandemic is likely to change people’s engagement and motivation as they grapple with new ways of working and distractions associated with working from home.

Obviously, there isn’t as much face time available with agents who are working remotely. This is why managers and team leaders must be flexible, understanding and make an effort to communicate regularly, openly and fairly.

  • Offer appropriate levels of support – some agents may be finding the situation more difficult than others. They may be worried about someone they’re caring for, dealing with young children or their partner has lost their job. Whatever they’re going through, let them know you and the company is on their side. Supported agents perform better.
  • Encourage agents to self-check – meeting targets and fulfilling the role is still important and vital to keep operations running. It’s the only way to ensure client service isn’t compromised. Empower agents to monitor their own performance. It’s fine to let them know what’s more important under difficult circumstances, as this will help them feel motivated and a part of the wider contact centre goal.
  • Consider whether extra training is needed – agents are facing new kinds of customers. Those who are self-isolating or shielding, for example, may lead to calls that need to be more sensitively handled than pre-pandemic times.
  • Communicate – keep channels open between colleagues and managers. Allow agents to use a messenger system, whether it’s in-house or external. Consider regular virtual meetings at least once a week, if not daily. Human interaction is important, and agents may be missing their colleagues. Keep the virtual office door open at all times.

We are living through unprecedented times. Contact centres have never needed to adapt so fast and so thoroughly. With regular reports, awareness of external changes and, most importantly, communication with agents, contact centres can ensure people are looked after and clients are happy.