The impact of COVID19 on contact centres

How COVID-19 has impacted the Australian contact centre industry

How COIVD-19 has changed the Australian Contact Centre Industry 

Over the weekend there was an article in News Corp about organisations with long wait times to answer calls because their overseas outsource contact centres had closed.

As usual with reporters from the press (in this case a technology reporter and we all know contact centres are far more than technology!) they only skimmed the surface of the issues so here are some suggestions to consider for future-proofing for both big AND small organisations (I always think small organisations get forgotten in contact centre discussions whereas 60% are in this category).

The point being made in the article were those organisations who had not off-shored their call centres were better placed to handle calls.

Partially true – like manufacturing which has been sent offshore we have become reliant on importing solutions and when these stop we are high and dry.

So there is definitely a case for keeping seats onshore…

But then that comes at a financial cost which is why they were outsourced in the first place!

There is no question there has been (and will continue to be) an impact of COIVD-19 on Contact Centres in Australia so what is a business to do to be competitive AND risk-averse moving forward?

Options for Contact Centres Post COVID-19

Add On-Shore capability

It’s an easy fix and it’s something the Australian Government has done.

Using their existing contact centre outsourcing partners, they have added thousands of call centre seats for specific helplines.

This is short term and the big outsourcers are well placed to respond, tapping into customer service focussed unemployed personnel like former airline workers as an example.

There was also a call for call centre team leaders however these have been a little harder to come by.

Can their staffing infrastructure cope?

We shall see … it was certainly a quick ramp up.

Technically it’s not an issue as they have the systems to expand and contract.

The biggest issue with outsourcing is finding the right provider relationship.

If an organisation partners closely with a provider then the result should be a seamless customer experience.

Unfortunately, that’s not always so.

I have seen organisations outsource and because they have not had a close working relationship the result has been, well let’s just say disappointing and leave it there.

When I’ve previously managed an outsource provider I ensured I not only understood their business, culture and delivery requirements but recommended changes and improvements which resulted in ongoing respect.

Ultimately, call centre outsourcers live and die by the quality of service they provide for their customers which is a good incentive to get it right.

Artificial intelligence and Chatbots

Automation is the new black – or so we are told, although that’s mainly from tech providers!

Don’t get me wrong, AI and automation has its place, just not as a replacement for all interactions.

It has its place in a complex system.

Again this is a whole article in itself but the key points is understanding your customer journey map and introduce automation at the correct points when it can be identified there is a need that does not interfere, but enhances the customer experience.

Technology

I have deliberately listed this separately from AI and Automation … and here we are mainly talking modern telephony, cloud and Knowledge management.

Many smaller contact centres have thought about upgrading or have done so in part but are being found out when they can’t cope with the new volumes or flexibility.

I have fielded a number of enquiries looking for a quick fix and while technically this is possible – just look at the emails I am getting that say they can have you up and running in 48 hours – it’s just not that simple.

You need the right solution at the most appropriate cost and one that suits your organisation and management.

For that, you need to step back and do some analysis then document and THEN go to market to find the best partner (that word again).

I know of one technology solution that can differ significantly in price depending on the channel partner who bids.

Cloud gives you flexibility although is sometimes not as cheap.

Knowledge Management systems might seem an unnecessary expense but if it cuts call length and enables fast ramp up through reduced induction then it will SAVE you money.

Yet again you need to do the research and not just jump in with a knee jerk response.

Search a list of specialist call centre technology providers >

Work From Home (WFH)

One of the main impacts of COVID-19 on contact centres in Australia has been many organisations switching to either a full or partial work from home model.

Great initiative, how’s that working for you?

  • Support mechanisms?
  • Health and safety?
  • Internal messaging to get assistance when needed?
  • Call quality issues?
  • Data Security?
  • The list goes on…

Don’t get me wrong, many organisations have already had staff permanently working from home and it has massive advantages.

It also has pitfalls, and not just contact centres, which are probably better placed to cope, but general office staff as well.

Diverting extensions to mobiles is easy. But then transferring on is not possible.

Your phone bills could sky rocket with double costs per call.

Call quality can and will be affected when multiple transfers are required or on-premises systems are overloading the data capacity.

Or any one of a number of other different issues.

However, the cost reduction in office space, increased productivity, and even staff satisfaction increase could make this a permanent opportunity.

Cloud-based call centre systems are enablers that can deliver quality and flexibility.

But you do need one that suits your organisation!

Many organisations have WFH staff now and very successfully.

To do so does require some planning and organisational change, it’s not a ‘switch on’ solution.

Also refer to the Technology section above because this is crucial.

Read our free Call Centre Work From Home Guide >

Regional and multi-centres

One often overlooked solution – particularly in the big end of town – is using smaller hubs in regional towns and cities.

The Access Economics report on Nearshoring calculated years ago that the cost of using regional towns like Bendigo or cities like Adelaide or Gold Coast or even close offshore New Zealand compared to traditional offshore locations.

It worked out that by the time ALL costs were taken into account like overseeing management, training and quality visits, and putting right problems, that the costs of both locations were similar.

It has always amazed me why so many big businesses have their contact centres in Sydney or Melbourne – often in their head offices.

There is absolutely no reason for this and with lower costs outside the main cities (rents, salaries etc.) it makes financial sense to locate away from these areas.

And having a number of smaller hubs gives far better Disaster Recovery.

One great local example (for me anyway as I live in Adelaide) is Datacom opening 1200 seats in Adelaide – as a cluey outsourcer they worked out it was cheaper there.

Unused Resources

When the COVID-19 restrictions hit I had a series of calls from existing centres whose core business had slowed or even stopped.

They were looking for additional work to fill the void to avoid standing down staff.

Some were reasonably capable of doing this whilst others lacked some of the technology to respond quickly.

However, it’s a great concept to be capable to ramp up additional work so a review of your current technology to make you flexible could be beneficial.

Likewise, converting non-contact centre staff to take calls enables flexible in house capability – staff that know the product so need little training.

But again you need technology that is scalable.

Cloud contact centre solutions enable this and all that is required is extra licences and the system admin can do the rest.

Planning

The theme to all the above solutions is planning.

Getting enabling technology is just one item.

Getting the right technology for your use, accessing staff, having processes in place that fit your technology, culture within your team, scalable procedures, relevant KPIs …. and more, they all need to play a part in your operations in normal volumes, but when things change then you need to re assess, re-evaluate and amend as required.

If you have the right mix to start with then you will find the changes and scalability easier to deal with, in other words, if your foundations are sound to start with then you can extend more easily.

If your foundations are not sound then any expansion will be more problematic.

If you don’t have the resources to put the plan in place or need some seasoned advice then seek help – there are lots of consultants and businesses with plenty of experience which you will find on the CX Directory >

It will save you in the long run.

Recommended further reading: How to Manage COIVD-19 in the contact centre

Find a list of contact centre outsourcers, technology suppliers, consultants, recruitment agencies and more that all specialise in contact centres in Australia on the free CX Directory >>> 

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Derek Finch
About Derek Finch 6 Articles

Derek Finch has over 25 years’ experience in managing contact centres across a wide variety of sectors including Government, Not for Profit and Commerce.


Derek was the former national Chair of the ATA has been elected Life Member of the Auscontact Association and is currently a senior consultant for CX Consult who specialise in providing consulting services to contact centres in Australia.

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