The COVID-19 crisis has completely changed the contact centre industry, with more customer service agents than ever working from home. 

Going forward if we are to establish effective post-COVID customer service, we will need to ensure that the contact centre lies at the heart of a company’s digital transformation strategy. ​Therefore, it’s important that contact centre managers ask themselves if they have the platforms, tools, and technologies in place to support the evolution in working practices.

Homeworking: Shaping the new contact centre workforce

According to the ONS, in April 2020, nearly half (46.6 per cent) of people in employment worked in part from home, with the vast majority (86 per cent) of these homeworkers stating that this was because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This has had a significant impact on contact centres and has shaped the future of the workforce from being mainly office-based to hybrid – with staff working some of the time from home and the rest of the time in the office.

It is essential for contact centre managers to be able to accompany employees through the transition from being office-based to adopting a hybrid model. Being able to focus on the job both at home and at work is critical in ensuring quality control standards are maintained. It’s therefore essential to make sure that employees’ home environments are compatible with voice calls and that they have an appropriate broadband management solution to protect call quality.

Staff need to be equipped with the right tools and software to start work, regardless of location. That means making sure solutions are available on the cloud, staff have no connectivity issues and enough bandwidth, and that these solutions remain secure (essentially ensuring that there is corporate-level cyber security, even for remote workers). It also means making sure they have the right personal tech – noise cancelling headphones, the ability to join calls ‘hands free’ in the office as well as a comfortable home office setup.  All these things are essential for employees to be able to work seamlessly wherever they are located, and this will help maintain staff retention over time.

Providing for a more inclusive workforce

Remote working has drastically changed the opportunities for disabled people and has opened up opportunities for contact centres to be more inclusive when they recruit.

A YouGov poll conducted in 2019 for Scope found that 1 million disabled people in the UK wanted to work but are not being given the opportunities. Thanks to the availability of digital tools and software, many people with mobility issues prefer to work from the comfort of their own home without the burden of a commute. Greater awareness of the benefits of a diverse workforce including those from all genders, ethnicities and backgrounds has potentially altered hiring processes for many contact centres. Improving work practices such as empowering employees to focus on their skills and abilities leads to improved job satisfaction. An inclusive culture is essential, not just for customer service agent morale but it’s also important to make sure that all agents are equipped with the same knowledge and expertise to provide for a consistent customer experience.

The digital (R)evolution

The transition to online has been radical since the start of the pandemic and many retailers have closed stores and shifted their business model to focus on online.  Contact centres are having to up their game and need to leverage digital channels to manage new customer demands. We could imagine that the sales assistant of tomorrow will take the form of the contact centre agent walking through the virtual store and using avatars or video in combination with browsing to aid customer understanding, selecting, and purchasing the goods they seek.

Customers still expect excellent customer service even when they shop online and it will be up to contact centres to provide a quality experience. That’s why hiring the right people and providing dedicated training programs to improve their product knowledge and expertise will be essential to helping retailers and brands to stand out.

Future-proof your business

The digitalisation of companies across the globe has been accelerated by the pandemic and this is set to continue in the years to come. In fact, digital customer service interactions are expected to continue increasing by a staggering 40 per cent according to Forrester. This is a positive prospect for contact centre managers but the competition in the market will inevitably increase and contact centres will be forced to compete on price as more solutions emerge. According to research, 89 per cent of UK contact centre leaders say covid-19 has changed the UK contact centre industry forever. By identifying trends in the market and making sure that the appropriate infrastructure is in place so that employees can work wherever they are will help contact centres adapt to any potential shifts in the market in the coming years. It’s therefore more crucial than ever to stay ahead of new developments in the market and to be able to pivot and adapt within a very short space of time. One thing is for certain, life as we knew it pre-pandemic is not likely to return.

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