Contact centres under growing pressure amid ongoing COVID-19 crisis

Heightened customer demand and a need for staff to work from home are causing big headaches for contact centres around the country.

Airlines, banks and government agencies are among those struggling to maintain service levels amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many have had to totally reengineer their operations in just a matter of weeks.

Rather than having agents located together in a dedicated facility, organisations have had to quickly find ways to equip them to operate remotely. Ensuring reliable, secure access to communication platforms and key applications has become critical.

Pressures have mounted further as a result of the loss of offshore capacity. Virgin Australia, Qantas and Telstra are among those companies that have needed to find extra domestic resources as a result of the closure of overseas centres in countries such as India and the Philippines.

In the early stages of the crisis, Centrelink’s contact centre became a source of frustration for many people seeking information and to register for benefits. Unable to access the agency’s website, those seeking support tried to phone but experienced wait times stretching into hours.

Some operators are scrambling to increase their contact centre capabilities in an effort to meet these rising demands. IT services company Datacom plans to hire more than 2000 new staff to work in a network of contact centres designed to support federal government agencies.

Meeting demand

It’s clear that the pressures being experienced by contact centres are going to continue during coming months. With the lives of large numbers of people significantly disrupted, the need for advice, services and support will be massive.

For this reason, operators need to quickly take steps to ensure their facilities and staff are able to cope with this rising demand. Action taken now and in the weeks ahead will help to reduce disruptions and maintain service levels as the crisis unfolds.

The most important resource within any contact centre is its staff and so the most important first step is to ensure their health and safety is maintained at all times. Carefully review measures currently in place and determine where and what changes might be required.

Other steps that need to be taken include:

1. Develop a comprehensive plan: With the state of the crisis changing by the day, it’s vital for contact centres to have a clear roadmap for how they will operate in coming months. Failing to plan will be planning to fail.

2. Check supporting infrastructure: Increased demand will place significant pressure on the IT systems within contact centres. Review your infrastructure and ensure that sufficient capacity is available to support agents as call and email volumes rise.

3. Identify triggers: As part of the planning process, identify the events that could trigger significant changes to contact centre activity levels. These will vary depending on the sector being serviced, however they must be taken into account well ahead of time.

4. Anticipate illness: Unfortunately, it is very likely that some staff will fall ill during the crisis. Map out a contingency plan that identifies where additional agents can be found and how they can be put in place quickly.

5. Consider external resources: To enable your contact centre to scale to meet demands, consider taking advantage of external parties which can provide additional capacity and staffing. These can be put in place quickly to ensure service levels are maintained.

6. Looking to The Future: With the virus infection curve flattening by the day, now is also the time to see how your organisation can accelerate out of COVID-19. Review how you might drive innovation in the years ahead, what systems and processes are going to be critical, and what will be required from the business to not just get you back on track but to thrive and flourish in the new normal.

Working together

The COVID-19 crisis has caused significant changes to daily life for millions of people, and pressures will continue to mount as those affected seek services and advice.

By ensuring contact centres are functioning as effectively as possible, operators can do their part in helping to provide much this needed support. Taking steps to ensure this now will make a significant difference in the weeks and months ahead.


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