Optimising the contact centre: lessons from COVID one year on

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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Article by Daniel Harding, Director – Australia Operations, MaxContact

The COVID crisis put contact centres to the test in 2020 and highlighted why it matters to ensure yours is robust and ready for anything, writes Daniel Harding, Director – Australia Operations, MaxContact

And, just like that, a year has passed since Australia recorded its first case of novel coronavirus. Since that time, the COVID-19 pandemic has up-ended societies and economies and forced manufacturers to innovate, pivot and make tough decisions on the fly. Amidst the disruption and uncertainty, the vital role played by contact centres has been thrown into sharp relief. They’ve helped manufacturers maintain continuity and been used to disseminate information and preserve customer relationships in difficult circumstances. 

Some have done a better job of it than others. 

So, what contact centre learnings can the Australian manufacturing industry take from the supremely challenging year that was 2020? Here are five of the most important.

Plan for the unexpected

Business continuity planning has always been a thing – in theory at least. In practice, it’s been a somewhat different story. Historically, many small and medium sized businesses have chosen to wing it, rather than spending time and money preparing for events which would likely never eventuate. Those that found themselves scrambling to create a Plan B, after federal and state government lockdown restrictions made business as usual in the contact centre an impossibility, are unlikely to repeat that mistake. Meanwhile, manufacturers whose continuity plans passed the COVID test with flying colours have had the wisdom of maintaining, if not increasing, their investment in continuity planning confirmed.

Test your plan

Until it’s been put to the test, a business continuity plan is only as good as the paper it’s written on. The best time to put one through its paces is before disaster strikes, not while it’s in the process of unfolding. That’s why regular simulations have become an integral aspect of contact centre continuity planning, post-COVID. For some organisations, that means ensuring sales teams can pivot easily to online and telephone selling. For most, if not all, it entails ensuring contact centre agents have the training and resources they need to work from an alternative location, or remotely, at a moment’s notice.

Use workforce management technology

Unusual events can disrupt regular activity patterns in the contact centre. In the financial services sector, for example, the economic pain that came along with COVID saw many institutions overwhelmed with calls, from customers looking to defer loans and enter into payment plans. Many parts of the manufacturing sector were disrupted by global supply chain delays causing shipment delays to customers.  Reducing wait times can lessen the stress, for callers and agents alike. A workforce management solution allows organisations to track peaks and troughs in demand and optimise rosters accordingly, thereby cutting the length of time customers are kept hanging on the line.

Harness the power of the cloud

Responding swiftly to changing conditions can be difficult if your contact centre uses legacy, on-premises software. Many organisations found this out the hard way when government shutdowns, here in Australia and globally, brought the supply chain to a sudden halt. A cloud based contact centre platform can enable you to scale up when you experience a surge in enquiries and send agents home to work remotely if your premises become inaccessible.

Take care of your team

While technology is a powerful asset, it can only take you so far. A competent and committed workforce means the difference between so-so and standout service and when there’s a crisis like COVID unfolding, never more so. You don’t amass an A Team by accident. Agents will only be in your corner when the chips are down if you demonstrate consistently that you’re in theirs – from the get-go. 

Instigating a thorough training program, regular reviews and a performance roadmap that allows top operators to advance will help you build a team of agents who’ll do whatever it takes to keep the contact centre running and customers satisfied, in all sorts of times.   

Facing the future with confidence

The events of the past year have hammered home the benefits that can accrue from having a reliable and resilient contact centre. Putting these collective learnings into practice will help you ensure yours is well placed to adapt and respond to whatever 2021 has in store.

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