The rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought a complete shift in requirements of staff to work from their homes for many organisations, across many nations. Enterprise Business Continuity Plans may not be addressing this scenario or the real challenges that remote contact centre agents currently working from home are facing.
Data security, handling and trust in staff
General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and policies around handling customers’ critical personal data need to be well managed. When contact centre staff are working at home in different regions and locations, there may need to be additional measures and policies in the BCP Plan to cover protecting and securing information to ensure is not being accessed, used or sold to third parties or visible and accessible to other household members.
An additional culture of trust may need to be built into BCP Planning for organisations with contact centre staff working from home. A real challenge exists for such office-bound roles in which managers need to shift away from traditional views and assurances found when their staff are visible and can be seen working.
Variation in support Infrastructure
Contact centre staff working remotely in large numbers may have experienced inconsistent network capacity and security of residential infrastructure in their homes. With the potential of having more people sharing a home environment, many organisations faced the challenge around a suitable and secure working environment, secure VPN or alternative access provisioning for them. Many BCP plans did not consider staff potentially working from home nor assessed whether their infrastructural services, such as general residential network, local exchanges, broadband and mobile services, could cope with work from home contact centre loads.
Shared learnings and insights
Every contact centre is unique and having existing clear and structured documentation of systems, processes, restrictions and procedures to share and update have been central to having an effective response to the COVID-19 lockdown and what impacts it will have for ongoing management. An organisational culture of agility and clear alignment has been critical to being able to rapidly transition and transform the ways of working to meet the COVID-19 crisis. A key role at this time was that many of our customers showed clarity of business outcomes and organisational capability from their executive teams’ buy-in to work collaboratively with Telstra.
From Telstra’s perspective as a Contact Centre Solution provider, our own sales, managed services and professional services teams had previously been enabled to work from home (WFH) via the Future Ways of Working initiatives and associated policies introduced over the past 5 years. This allowed the organisation to continue to focus on supporting customers’ contact centres by ordering and provisioning additional bandwidth and diversions, along with additional SIP trunks to ensure they could keep supporting their customers. Telstra’s continuity capability was demonstrated through the ability to provision and implement a new cloud contact centre, integrated with its TCO365 platform for one of its customers within 48 hours. The successful deployment was also followed up with remote staff training to ensure upskilling and enablement was managed. Telstra’s TiPiT platform enabled the provisioning of tens of thousands of Australian agents’ seats, and the company deployed VPN-based WFH agents using softphones, and mobiles.
The importance of a contact centre should not be underestimated in a time of crisis
Contact Centres play a central part in your business’ brand image, the customer’s experience, efficiency and often a key cash register component and hence should be top of mind in your continuity planning.
- The capabilities required in a contact centre need to be driven from the business requirements and desired outcomes, brand image, target markets and should cover end customer experience (CX) and the employee engagement outcomes. The business outcomes should address financial aspects such as the mix of CAPEX and internal/external OPEX spend to support the contact centre with operation reliance and agility;
- Business agility however is more critical than ever, requiring investments in contact centres to be future-proofed, flexible, burstable and scalable. Consideration to the ease, simplicity and cost of high levels of back end systems integration and automation to support anticipated growth or dynamic change. The mix of a contact centre’s technologies and channels should be based on achieving the business strategy, short term and long-term outcomes. Having said that, modern contact centre solutions are Cloud based, with omni-channel functionality such as SMS, webchat, chatbots, email, social media/messaging, mobile (Visual) IVR application integration, quality management and workforce management.
- Business insights features like integrated end to end customer journey mapping analytics, speech sentiment analysis are emerging imperatives to initiate real-time actionable events that can have a significant/positive impact to customer experience, reduce costs, increasing appropriate/timely marketing offers and increase revenue opportunities.
Technology to help contact centres deal with peak call volume and overloaded times
If you don’t ensure the effectiveness of any or all channels, especially in peak-load periods during a crisis, you risk increasing overall call workloads and significant customer dissatisfaction, or even high customer churn rates.
Implementing self-service channels should be considered essential where possible to provide additional customer support. In peak times, think about enabling a plan to additionally offload/re-direct non-essential and non-urgent request volumes to digital channels such as automated self-service applications, after hours processing, email contact, chat/chatbots which can be enabled relatively quickly and even automated.
Chatbots and AI/machine learning are an emerging technology which, beyond basic directed/prompted interaction and well defined self-service, require intelligent integration of “voice utterance” or “text string” interpretation/intent analysis and knowledge-based information systems to provide meaningful and possible legally compliant and correct responses to achieve a satisfactory customer experience. This typically requires extensive investment and may not be suited to situations where more complex legal terms and conditions need to be explained. Well-designed chatbot solutions in most cases are good for 1st level service. They may not solve or address all of your customer’s needs and answers, but can go a long way in providing significant introductory or off the shelf information to customers that can be then be directed via an appropriate self-service channel to fulfil the customer need.
8 Considerations for maintaining remote contact centre support
- Enterprises globally will need to address WFH modes of operation as part of their overall BCP, and standard operational procedures.
- Provide for ongoing assessments and validation of public/environment infrastructure services, such as reach, security, and bandwidth capacity allocation to meet demands.
- Establish suitable WFH OH&S environmental conditions/standards at home are an important part of BCP policies.
- Accelerate the move to high quality and network resilient systems (VPN public internet-based connectivity) and internet/mobile soft clients for contact centre agents.
- Improved real-time call-sentiment alerting to facilitate timely activity such as service observe or barge-in if required by supervisors.
- Enable Improved and effective non-voice contact channels, to reduce voice-loads and cater for situations of poor voice quality and high bandwidth network demands. Consider specific self-service applications such as account management and payment services. Even though omnichannel communications such as webchat, chatbots and email have grown in popularity, they need potentially greater scrutiny with respect to security and GDPR.
- Security is of paramount concern and needs to include scenarios of who can be trusted, risk assessments of working environments and societal trust. Enterprises cannot abdicate GDPR, Payment Card Industry (PCI) and other security risk responsibility/accountability to Business Process Outsourcer (BPO’s).
- Finally, consideration should be made to the value of an engaged managed service provider who has the capability and proven ability to support your organisation in the hour of need. You will need to ensure that you have a contact centre provider and platform capable of E2E provisioning and capacity-scaling which is essential delivery ingredient of your BCP plan.