Tips for Managing COVID in your contact centre
As COVID has become the new normal and some states have been in and out of lockdown (mostly Sydney and Victoria where we are based ?), working out how to manage COVID in your contact centre is certainly becoming a ‘business as usual’ proposition.
But for some of our smaller states, luckily you’ve been relatively unscathed from lockdowns but as Vic and NSW have discovered it can change very quickly so you still need to be prepared to mobilise quickly if a lockdown was to occur.
This article is designed to provide some guidance on the issues that affect contact centres during the COVID pandemic.
From minimising the spread of infections, managing contact centre agents remotely, preparing to move to a remote workforce and so on.
Depending on where you are in the cycle, you may have a number of questions including:
- How do we support remote workers and what tools are available
- How do we create a sense of team
- How can we help improve their skills
- How do we handle coaching, one on ones etc
- How do we monitor performance
- How do we recruit and onboard new call centre agents remotely
- How do we ensure our data networks and information is secure
I’ll continue to update this page and provide links to key resources wherever possible and remember if you need some free help or advice just call me on 03 9008 7287 and I’ll do my best to help.
Of course, you must always follow the directives set out by your local State Government so please check in with them on a regular basis as the conditions are constantly changing.
Stopping the spread of infection
Contact centres are typically busy workplaces with lots of employees often sitting in close proximity to each other making them the perfect breeding grounds for germs to spread quickly.
This, of course, is no news to anyone – we’ve all worked at a contact centre where the common cold and flu can spread quickly and take out a large percentage of your workforce.
As employers, our primary focus is on ensuring the health and wellbeing of our employees (not just with COVID) so if you are lucky enough to still be operating with on-site staff, following these tips can help:
- Consider using alternating workstations to increase the distance between employees and spread out your employees wherever possible.
- Practice good hygiene by providing hand sanitiser and ensuring headsets are not shared between employees.
- Increase the cleaning of the facility including workstations, kitchens, toilets and other high-volume touchpoints.
- Don’t lose focus on employee engagement activities – working remotely can be tough times for many employees so you need to focus on looking after them. We’ve got a heap of articles with ideas to motivate and engage contact centre employees.
- Ensure employees are clear on your flexible work options (even if they are changing rapidly) as well as their current leave levels and entitlements.
- Say thanks! Your employees are under enormous pressure right now so don’t forget to show your appreciation. We’ve got some great tips on how you can reward and recognise your employee without blowing the budget: 18 Great ideas on how to reward and engage employees
- Keep communicating with your employees – these are uncertain times with people worried about their own safety and wellbeing as well as dealing with anxious customers.
6 Tips on how to manage COVID in the contact centre
The challenge many workplaces are facing right now is how to maintain operations when there is a very real likelihood that employees will soon not be able to come to their normal workplace.
So whether it’s considering how to keep the phones being answered when employees can’t physically access the contact centre or it’s how to make the most of the situation, I’ve pulled together some tips on how to manage COVID 19 in the contact centre:
1. Shift your agents to remote work/home agents (if you haven’t already)
With cloud-based contact centre technology, it’s never been easier for contact centre agents to work from home or even off a mobile phone.
What that means in real terms is that a call centre agent can still receive calls in the queue, places customers on hold etc – exactly the same functionality as sitting in your call centre but from the luxury of their own premises.
Team Leaders can still even provide coaching over the phone, record calls (and screens) etc.
The last contact centre industry survey (conducted early in the pandemic) revealed that contact centre agents working from home increased from 7% (pre-pandemic) to 58% and that number is expected to be much higher when the next survey comes out in 2022.
Fortunately, there are lots of technology providers who provide at-home/remote call centre technology in our CX Directory.
Many solutions can be up and running in just a couple of days – just contact us (there’s a form at the bottom of the page or call us on 03 9008 7287) and we can connect you to recommended companies that are experts in getting remote contact centre teams up and running.
Some useful articles if you’d like to learn more:
2. Knowledge & Information
It shouldn’t take a crisis to ensure your contact centres agents are armed with the right information!
Sticky notes, work documents, scraps of paper, Word & Excel documents just don’t cut it.
With product and service information for many businesses literally changing by the hour, it’s critical that ALL contact centre agents are provided with the most up-to-date information to ensure they are managing your customers in the most effective and efficient way.
You know, having a single source of truth.
This will become even more prevalent if your agents are scattered across multiple locations.
The best way to do this is by using a Knowledge Management System.
A KMS is purpose-built software for a contact centre environment that provides agents with the right information, at the right time.
Find a list of all the Knowledge Management Suppliers on our CX Directory >>> or learn more about how they work, benefits and indicative costs in our free Guide to Knowledge Management Systems >>>
The majority of Knowledge Management systems are cloud-based, can be set up quickly and are very cost-effective so there is no reason to not get started.
3. Managing Increased Demand
With so much uncertainty and changing directives in each state, many customers are seeking information on how COVID is going to impact them.
So how can you manage things when your volumes are hitting unprecedented levels combined with times when it’s also hard to maintain a full roster?
3.1 Increase the amount of information on your website
Customers are desperate for information and typically their first port of call is the internet and your company website.
Make sure your FAQ pages are up to date and if possible, have a dedicated page that can address the pain points for your customers.
Be realistic on expectations, timelines etc.
3.2 Use on-hold messaging
If customers do still ring into the call centre, use your message on hold function to deliver critical information to customers.
This might be refund or cancellation policies, stock information etc.
If customers can get the information they need without having to talk to an agent, whilst your abandoned calls rate might go up, it’s a great result for your business.
To get professional messages on hold recorded, you’ll find a list of Message on Hold providers on our CX Directory – most have super-fast turnaround (often same day or within 24 hours) and they are geared up and ready to help.
3.3 Look to chatbots
If customers are visiting your website a chatbot can be an effective way of answering many of the enquiries customers are asking.
Chatbots can be surprisingly quick to set up and you can program them to still connect to a live-agent if it’s unable to provide the right answer.
3.4 Use Callback technology
Another option for customers ringing into your call centre is to offer a callback service or enable them to hang up and still hold their position in the queue.
Of course, this doesn’t reduce the call load – you will still need to contact the customer but it can at least make the experience better for the customer if they really do need to contact you.
3.5 Hire new staff who can work from home
Sometimes it’s not possible to move all your agents to remote work or because of the increased volumes you still need more people to answer the phone.
You can engage an outsourcing company and use their staff (refer point 4) or you can hire your own work-from-home agents.
The great news is that with remote work there are no longer geographical boundaries so you can literally hire staff from anywhere.
There are also a number of recruitment agencies who specialise in the contact centre industry and many of them have a number of call centre trained agents ready to go.
Contact us on the form below if you’d like us to connect you to the agencies that have call centre agents who are trained and available.
3.6 Engage a consultant
There are a number of specialist consultants that can help you with everything from technology, knowledge management, Workforce Optimisation, improving processes, improving the customer experience and more.
Consultants can also help you plan both now and for the future – forecasting, budgeting, outsourcing and more.
You’ll find a list of consultants along with their area of expertise on the free CX Directory >>>
4. Use a contact centre outsourcer
Many businesses rely on contact centre outsourcers to handle unexpected call volumes or use outsourcers as their primary workforce.
Whilst some of the outsourcers face the same challenges as other workplaces (large amounts of people working in close proximity, travel restrictions etc) many of the outsourcers both here in Australia and overseas have existing work from home agents that are already working from home and are fully set up.
Most contact centre outsourcers whether still using in-house employees or remote employees are well geared-up to mobilise quickly and help with everything from just answering the phone and answering basic FAQs through to full case management.
- Find a list of all the contact centre outsourcers based in Australia here >>>
- Find a list of all the contact centre outsourcers based in the Philippines here >>>
You wouldn’t want to share headsets at the best of times and certainly not when there is a pandemic sweeping the nation.
Ensure all agents keep their headsets secure and provide sanitary wipes and replacement foam wind protections (the black foam at the end of the microphone) as its a haven for germs.
If you are moving to a cloud-based contact centre you may also need new headsets as they will most likely be USB connections as opposed to ones that plug into the phone on your desk.
You’ll find a list of all the headset suppliers on the free CX Directory >>>
Whilst the initial priority was to move agents to home so the phones could still be answered quality was probably the furthest from most peoples minds.
But just because an agent is working from home doesn’t mean the level of quality they provide should be any lower.
Coaching, training and quality assessments should still be happening!
For many contact centres even pre-pandemic, there is often a complete lack of any quality framework so its hard to know what level of service to provide, and to be able to measure against it objectively if you don’t have a quality program or framework in place.
Most of the ones I have seen are more like compliance checks – did you do the ID check? Did you use the customer’s name three times? Etc etc.
If you’d like to learn how to design, implement and optimise a quality framework in your contact centre take a look at our online course for How to Design a Quality Framework for Contact Centres.
There is no question these are unprecedented times for us as a nation and for the contact centre industry.
I hope these tips on how to manage COVID in the contact centre are useful and I’ll continue to add more information and tips as they come to hand.
One thing we’ve always done well in this industry is to share ideas and learn from each other so if you’ve got some tips that can help please leave them in the comments.
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