An article by Neville Doughty, Partnership Director, Contact Centre Panel.
Who would have thought on New Year’s Eve, when we were celebrating with friends and loved ones, and pontificating on what 2020 would bring – the celebrations, trips, events and the hope that something would knock Brexit from the headlines, that we’d now belonging for the day we can just meet friends for a coffee or go around to see our families.
In hindsight, we needed to be careful about what we were wishing for and appreciate many of the things we’d taken for granted.
However, nobody could have foreseen this one, or maybe the signs were there as warned by Bill Gates in a TED Talk in 2015.
Initially, there were some who ignored the #bekind memo and put their own self-interests before others by panic buying and ignoring government advice around separation. I saw a comment that said “I feel the world has sent us to our rooms to think about what we have done”. Perhaps it has, maybe the world is being reset? The tragedy is that it’s taking something so epic, which will see so many people lose loved ones, for us to acknowledge that the world we have been living in will be fundamentally different after COVID-19. Perhaps our only option is to embrace this.
We are undoubtedly social creatures and need contact from those around us. For the past 22 years I’ve been working in the contact centre industry, an area which someone said to me a few months ago “seems to hate itself”. This stopped me in my tracks. I’ve always loved being part of the industry as it has afforded me the opportunity to work with some fantastic brands, especially from being in outsourcing, and given me a range of experiences. I’ve been able to help so many deliver improved service or support to their customers and assist people when they need reassurance or information.
I’ve the utmost respect for all front-line contact centre staff, every day they are communicating with customers – dealing with questions, challenges, complaints and fixing issues. Their line managers supporting them, a role which has changed so much. When I first became a line manager things were simpler, compliance extended to whether DPA had been completed, there was no social media and people didn’t talk about their feelings. Now a line manager has to be so much more than just an excellent agent, they need to fully understand how people, systems and communication work and interact.
Maintaining the energy
Why am I raising this discussion point? Because what gets a team through the day in a busy contact centre is often the buzz, the camaraderie and the sense of belonging. I find the energy and feeling you get when walking through the door of a contact centre is an indicator of the culture and performance of the Team(s) within. The fear of saying the “Q” word for fear of creating an avalanche of calls and when you know there is a problem, due to a change in the volume level on the calling floor, that comes before the words “systems down”.
Contact centre people are problem solvers, I believe we thrive in a crisis and see the best of people when things are going wrong – whether that be for our customers, the organisation we represent or that team member who is having a crisis at home. It saddens me to see photos of empty call centres with their energy dissipated, leaving me with a unfamiliar feeling as ‘our’ purpose has always been to fill buildings with motivated people delivering solutions to customers. But a challenge was set and it appears many have delivered at pace against that need.
I fear however, that we are an industry running on adrenaline which is providing a temporary buzz. The novelty of homeworking and the focus on the broader needs of our society are providing a boost, but this may be temporary and fade in time. Our industry is therefore responsible for making sure any gap is filled and levels are maintained. We’ve heard some great stories of people using technology to deliver virtual meetings and team events, perhaps further advancement of gamification will provide extra impetus maintain the energy and engagement in the future.
The challenges of homeworking
For years we’ve been talking about how homeworking would bring opportunities and change how contact centres employ people and deliver service, creating flexibility for both people and organisations. It was a win-win and was coined as the great opportunity – yet it never really fulfilled its potential. However, due to the pandemic, in 2 weeks it has been delivered, but at what cost?
The mission was to get agents and staff working from home, protect people from the virus and continue to support and serve customers, whilst maintaining revenues. But we now have further challenges, how do we ensure that those agents handling calls from emotional customers (and we are all in a state of heightened emotion right now) receive the appropriate support and guidance from their team? How do we ensure that the services being delivered are compliant and useable long term, when potentially unsecure interim homeworking solutions have been adopted first?
The landscape has changed, if done correctly then there could be an appetite to maintain homeworking as it offers the flexibilities and opportunities as I previously mentioned. This was realised, when it was proved, that a solution to enable homeworking could be rolled out at the scale we are seeing now. In the future, could we see the contact centre becoming merely a hub for workers, offering the flexibility that many people require and giving options to both those who choose to work in the office or from home. It will open up new talent pools, enabling workers who were unable to adhere to constraints of working from an office i.e. parents with young families or people living in more remote locations. This will become the new norm so will you be ready to embrace this?
We’re here to help
None of us know what the coming months will look like, but the 2020s are already changing how we approach our lives and work. With this in mind, we are wanting to support the industry as best we can. This will include regularly keeping in touch, with a view to helping our industry in navigate these challenging times and beyond. We will support people and businesses, be a friendly voice and share our knowledge and experience to help continue to forge and maintain strong partnerships.
As part of this, we are creating a programme of content with industry leading experts on subjects such as technology, PCI Compliance, GDPR, homeworking engagement, leadership and operational management in the context of the current and anticipated landscape.
If you have any questions related to this article or on what’s happening in the industry or would like to provide feedback, email firstname.lastname@example.org.