How will coronavirus alter the future of call centres?

Coronavirus is disrupting just about every industry around the world. And this widespread disruption is making headlines as different sectors battle to find a way through the pandemic. An industry that although discussed less often, underpins the success of many others, is the call centre sector. So, what’s the future of call centres?

Call centres provide customers across multiple industries with vital support, and many are under an increasing amount of pressure during this ongoing crisis. So, what will the future of call centres look like and how much will coronavirus change the way we work?

The future of call centres must remain customer-centric

At CCI South Africa, our clients are known as partners and our agents are highly trained in complex and diverse roles, to fulfill a partner-centric strategy. Every successful call centre works by managing teams of agents working with multiple partners across different industries. To do this, tried and tested systems and platforms are used.

However, the virus is forcing agents to work remotely, which means using unfamiliar platforms and the challenge of finding new ways to deliver services. Call centres are discovering workable, flexible ways for agents and other employees to work from home to provide a seamless service to customers – no easy feat.

Consumers, while obviously aware that many call centres exist, are generally unaware of the true scale of the sector. For example, according to contact centre industry analysts Contact Babel, there are more than 6,000 different contact centres in the UK alone. In the US, there are 39,959 contact centres with more than 3.6 million agents. And each of these call centres must find ways to support widespread remote working for unprecedented amounts of time or potentially forever.

Constructing a new normal for call centres

As the world moves through the first wave of the virus and restrictions are lifted, where does that leave the world’s call centres? The impact of the virus on a long-term basis depends on each country’s risk rate. As it stands in June 2020, some (New Zealand, Australia and South Korea) are looking at very few, if any, cases. At the other end of the scale, countries such as the UK and the US are still battling new cases and multiple deaths every day. As at 15 June 2020, South Africa has recorded 1,480 deaths and 70,083 cases with lockdown currently standing at level 3.

This will mean getting back to a new normal will look very different, depending on where the call centre is based. Now that the immediate crisis period is passing, it’s time for call centre leaders to work out flexible solutions to a very different future. This represents a challenge unlike anything I’ve yet seen in the industry.

Leaders must provide call centre agents with the ability to provide the seamless service customers demand. This means a smooth, omnichannel service that works whether agents are working from the physical location or from their homes. Those that cannot support this kind of mixed remote workforce will struggle to remain in business post-coronavirus.

However, I think that the changes we make as an industry over the next few months will continue to evolve into a transformative time. Using a combination of online cloud-based technologies, remote working, flexible shift patterns and new ways of communicating internally, there will be a radical shift in call centre culture. From the outside, customers should only see a seamless service, with incremental technological improvements along the way.

Moving to cloud-based services is now essential

CCI South Africa already uses innovative technology as part of its internal structure. But for call centres that do not, the upheaval will be immense. Any that work with legacy infrastructure that relies solely on the old-fashioned organisational structure will need to make a lot of changes fast.

I think most across the industry are at least partly cloud-based already, but this is now a matter of urgency for those that aren’t. For those businesses that may have been fence-sitting in terms of paying for and using cloud-based tech, there is no more time to wait. It’s likely that the virus will be a kind of catalyst for change. Without the technology to enact functional remote working, call centres may not survive the fallout from the virus.

Cloud-based customer engagement technology can be implemented within a couple of weeks. Any call centre that is still relying on legacy tech can make this change and be ready to go within a short timeframe. It’s also possible to implement a cloud-contact centre as part of a legacy system to quickly allow a flexible, remote workforce.

Contact Centre as a Service

Underpinning cloud-based software is tech known as Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS). This technology supports a wide range of hardware, which makes it ideal for swift transition rom legacy to remote working, A cloud based CCaaS platform allows call centres the speed and flexibility they need to adapt to situations such as coronavirus. These solutions can be deployed within a week and ready for agents and agents to use whether they’re at home or in the call centre office.

As long as the call centre agent or manager has access to a device with Internet connection, then they can use the system. It’s browser-based and works by simply plugging the device and a headset into the system. For obvious reasons, this is ideal for call centres that need to rapidly adjust to deal with emergency situations, such as the sudden closure of physical offices due to the pandemic. But it’s also a system that can stay in use as people begin to return to physical workplaces.

For organisations that must switch to this quickly, hybrid deployment allows some services to shift to the cloud while keeping the same familiar agent desktop. Managers can transfer automated services, queuing capabilities and routing to the cloud, while retaining the rest as before, allowing a shift to the tech they need to deal with the long-term without hugely impacting employees who are already under pressure due to the crisis.

Coronavirus will fundamentally alter the future of call centres

COVID-19 will force call centres to embrace cloud-based platforms, and this will fundamentally alter the industry as a whole. Shifting to a decentralised approach is ultimately a positive for a sector that must continually move with the times and present solutions for constantly evolving situations.

Before the virus, there were fewer opportunities for remote working due to operational and logistical reasons. As we move through the pandemic, call centres will adjust to a mixed approach. Alternating remote working with attending the physical space, virtual communications and an increase in the use of innovative technology will revolutionise the way call centres work.

These changes will have a profound impact on employees and operating companies. There is an opportunity now to expand workforces to include agents who prefer to work shifts or want to fit work around family and childcare. Agility, flexibility and innovative approaches are key to the industry using this time of crisis to ensure a better future.