We’re now well over the half way point of 2020 and…wow…what a year.
COVID-19 has caused dramatic change across the working world, with contact centres being one of many business divisions feeling substantial effects.
For industries like travel, finance and utilities, COVID-19 brought a tidal wave of unexpected customer contact almost instantly, causing mass disruption to customer support.
Contact volumes sky-rocketed by more than 5x for many brands, leading to painful wait times and unhappy customers. As contact centre teams tried their upmost to cope, they also had to transition to a remote working setup, which many were not ready for, nor had the technical capability to do so. The resilience of customer support teams were well and truly put to the test and that continues for many brands today.
However, amongst the chaos, there have been some beneficial learnings that will now shape the future of customer support and contact centre operations. I cover three of them in this blog.
1. The tightrope of remote working.
Perhaps the most obvious of the three, but one that must be recognised and will play an important part in what the future footprint of a contact centre operation looks like.
Government restrictions forced us to realise that you don’t need an enormous premises with hundreds of desks to maintain a successful contact centre operation. Remote working creates the opportunity for organisations to dramatically reduce their premises and facility overheads, improve work-life balance through reduced commute times, as well as enhance their business continuity plans (BCP). This could have a great impact on employee engagement, happiness and reduce attrition. Heavyweights like Google quickly shared plans to maintain home working until at least summer 2021 (1) and will likely extend this further.
However... a move to remote working also poses substantial risks to employee engagement, as they become more and more detached from the brand and it's culture as time goes on. Contact Centre leaders who are planning to maintain a remote-working operation need to re-evaluate their engagement activities quickly. This will likely mean leveraging new communication channels, increasing the frequency of team interactions and creating a bigger social calendar. Handling the change from what was planned and likely communicated as a temporary fixture, to what will now be a permanent way of working, needs to be done delicately to avoid a long-standing impact on employee engagement and in turn, productivity.
My personal view… in order to maintain a 100% remote working world say 5 years from now, technology needs to evolve substantially, as workers will start to crave more physical interaction with their colleagues and the workplace. Perhaps virtual and augmented reality can play a part in closing this void, but I don’t feel solutions are anywhere near where they need to be right now. I believe that a hybrid approach of greater remote working and some formal office time will be chosen by most in the long run. Only time will tell.
You can check out my previous blog on how to make a successful move to full-time home working for some more tips on this subject.
2. Customers are more aware of asynchronous channels than ever.
Messaging, or 'Conversational Commerce' has been on the rise for a few years now, with many brands looking to direct customer queries away from the inefficient voice channel, to more efficient, customer centric channels like SMS, WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat and Facebook messenger. Not only are these channels more efficient, but Customer Satisfaction scores have proven that customers prefer the convenience and efficiency of messaging.
COVID-19 has had a positive impact on customer adoption of messaging as they battled with long hold times and live chat queues to get their queries answered. Those that found a messaging option quickly realised how convenient it was to converse with a Customer Support Agent in the same way that they’d message their friends and family. Instead of sitting on hold listening to repetitive music, they were able to get on with their day, replying to the agent when it was convenient for them.
On the business side, messaging can be over 3 times more efficient than voice, as agents can handle many more conversations at one time, due to the asynchronous style of communication. Customer's expectations are managed up front to ensure they understand replies won't be instant like live chat, so they can continue with their day and converse throughout.
During the spike in contact volumes caused by COVID-19, brands with messaging enabled were able to quickly direct contact away from voice and in to their messaging teams, through tactical changes to 'Contact Us', web pages and IVR flows. This gave them a much better chance in keeping on top of the uplift in contact volumes.
There are now over 2 Billion WhatsApp users and over 1.3 Billion Facebook Messenger users across the globe(2) with numbers rising each year. Brands who aren’t incorporating asynchronous communication channels into their CX strategy should expect a downwards trend in NPS scores as Millennials and Generation Z become larger customer demographic segments.
3. Harnessing automation for customer support needs to be handled carefully.
The dawn of Chat Bots is well and truly upon us and similar to messaging, consumer awareness on the convenience this technology brings has increased through COVID-19, as they search for answers to their queries. Brands that have harnessed Chat Bot capabilities in the right way have been much better equipped to deal with the large spike in contact volumes experienced and have absorbed a significant amount of this contact and handling time as a result. The ROI seen in both efficiency savings and customer experience preservation during this disruption has created a compelling business case for automation.
That being said, there are risks to customer experience when a Chat Bot conversation is not seamless. Two key aspects of a successful ChatBot strategy that have been proven through COVID-19 are:
Positioning a ChatBot in the right place, for the right intent.
It’s highly unlikely that even the most sophisticated solution can assist with every single customer query type received by a customer support team, so where you position a Bot is integral. By developing a positioning strategy that is intent driven, you’ll be able to place your Bot in front of a customer it's more likely to be able to help. Leveraging website tracking data is critical and measure your chatbot's success by analysing it's Containment Rate % is necessary.
During COVID-19, successful brands were able to swiftly train their ChatBots to offer help with COVID-19 queries and position them on specific web pages where COVID-19 related contact was being driven from, ensuring the Bot could handle the customer’s query. Customers that were prompted to use a ChatBot when it was unable to help with their query became frustrated and are likely to dismiss the channel in future, hindering adoption.
Offering a seamless escalation flow to humans is important.
COVID-19 has been an emotional ordeal, which reflects in customer behaviour. Brands that offer a ChatBot which can automatically escalate to a human when it gets stuck will achieve higher NPS scores and greater customer adoption than those who offer a standalone ChatBot. A poor hand-off process significantly impacts the time it takes to resolve a customer's query and requires greater effort from the customer as they have to repeat their question or problem when contacting support.
A counter argument however, is that integrating your ChatBot to automatically escalate to a human risks driving incremental contact volumes as it's almost too easy to contact support, which can increase your operating costs.
A delicate and important balance to get right, and one that must be thoroughly thought through during planning.
Now is the time for contact centre leaders to be reviewing their operational, channel and automation strategies and COVID-19 has taught us many lessons on how the contact centres can reduce costs whilst improving customer experience when plans are strategic and delivered successfully.
There are so many things to think about when forming your strategy and taking the wrong path can lead to a negative impact on customer experience, plus A LOT of wasted time and money. If you require help, I welcome you to get in touch.
An independent management consultant and certified Prosci®️ Change Practitioner, who specialises in helping contact centre leaders evolve CX whilst significantly reducing operating cost through strategic change & transformation.
Read time: 4-5mins
Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen many posts and articles that paint a clear picture on what’s about to happen to the workplace, as we know it.
Companies all over the globe have been forced to close their premises and adopt a home working arrangement in the blink of an eye. Many employees have now gone months without seeing their colleagues and teammates in the flesh, and most assumed that the move would be temporary, to protect the health and safety of employees. Unfortunately, the extent of Covid-19 has meant that many businesses were unprepared for such an overnight transition, impacting not only their business model but key metrics such as revenue, productivity and employee wellbeing.
Covid-19 has forced organisations to forensically evaluate their operating models and cost base, leading to a swift realisation that a permanent move to remote working for some, or all of their teams could be feasible. The opportunity to reduce overhead costs on premises, whilst also offering improvements to work life balance for employees leading to increased employee retention, is becoming a more appealing route forward every day that the virus continues to impact the world economy. Tech giants such as Facebook and Google have already announced plans to move to a remote working for the foreseeable.
In this blog I’d like to share my views on how business leaders can manage this transition successfully. I will share three fundamental steps that leaders going down this road can take, to ensure their teams successfully transition from, what employees may have thought was going to be a temporary arrangement, to a permanent desk-space at home.
Step 1 - Reflect on what’s happened
A fundamental first step is to revisit the change your people have been through to get to this point.
For most, the move to home working was sudden, due to government-imposed restrictions being announced that allowed just a few days to move teams out of the office. Covid-19 is the dominant topic of discussion around the globe at this time, with most people witnessing the devastating impacts of the virus via news and media outlets. The change would have been seen as sensible to almost everybody, plus there wasn’t much choice in the matter.
However, understanding the move doesn’t mean it was easy or desired by everyone, especially on a permanent basis.
It’s highly unlikely that all of your employees have a comfortable desk space or private office that they’ve been used too. Not everybody will have super-fast Wi-Fi that’s as robust as the office network. Aside from the tools, many employees may be trying to do their job with young children close by who want to spend time with mum or dad in the room next door, and I’m sure most of us have been on a conference call when somebody’s dog has decided to bark, right when it was their owner’s turn to speak!
These types of distractions can be stressful and the thought of persisting with them permanently, may fill some employees with dread. Lots of employees miss coming into work to see their colleagues and teammates who have become friends, so the thought of barely, if-ever, seeing them again may be extremely de-motivating.
If you don’t know how your team members are feeling about homeworking, the time to ask them is now, before you start communicating a permanent move. You need to gain a detailed understanding into how your teams are going to react to a permanent homeworking decision and ensure you address these points of concern in your communication and delivery plan. If you don’t, expect to face some resistance.
Use 1-2-1 meetings and employee surveys, as well as productivity and quality assurance data to gain a view on the impact homeworking has had. This will quite quickly paint a picture that tells you how your teams are adapting to their new office and how you’re your decision is going to land.
Step 2 - Plan thoroughly and don’t underestimate
Step 1 has shown us that there may be some varied feelings on permanent homeworking. The insight you’ve gathered here will help you identify any hurdles to overcome. Along with all of the positives to the change, these must be addressed when communicating your decision.
Questions you may end up asking yourself are:
With adequate insight-gathering, you’ll have formed a comprehensive list of questions and actions, which will give you an indication on the timescale in which you’ll be ready to communicate the decision. Your preparation may end up being a lot longer than you first thought!
Step 3 – Monitor and adjust as necessary
This is the step that most leaders or business owners know they should take, but often don’t get around to it because other priorities take over.
Once the change to permanent home working has been communicated with all of the anticipated hurdles and resistance barriers addressed, it’s integral that you repeat the insight gathering process that you completed in Step 1 a number of times. Adjustments and further tweaks to working routines are inevitable and you’ll only know what they are by listening to your employees.
By following these three steps you’ll give yourself a high chance of sustained success when moving to a remote working model. I hope you find them useful, and good luck!
Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear your thoughts and additions in the comments section below!
If you need any help or guidance in creating and delivering a comprehensive change plan for a move to home-working or any other upcoming organisational change, I’m here to help and would welcome you to get in touch.