Steve Sullivan, Contact Centre Panel

Five steps to minimising risk

Article by Steve Sullivan
Head of Regulatory Compliance
Contact Centre Panel

Recent news on the emergence of the potentially more virulent Covid-19 Omicron variant has dominated the headlines globally. Inevitably, although the initial focus was on South Africa and neighbouring countries, Omicron’s impact is now being felt across the world.

And for those of us in the world of contact centres and customer experience services, offshore locations are frequently part of the service infrastructure – in which South Africa is of growing importance. Contact Centre Panel’s involvement with clients and partners, as well as anecdotal feedback, suggests that despite Covid-19 the South African contact centre sector’s rate of growth has increased still further than the annual 34% recorded in 2019.

The reasons for the growing popularity of South Africa, in particular, as a location for offshore contact centre services (both outsourced and in-house or ‘captive’) are well-established:

  • A low-cost base relative to both domestic and traditional offshore locations, bolstered by a favourable Rand to Sterling exchange rate
  • Strong cultural awareness and affinities between South Africa and the UK and US
  • Proven skills in more challenging voice-based customer service and sales activities
  • South Africa achieved greater speed and flexibility during the Spring 2020 Covid-driven pivot to home working than traditional offshore ‘rivals‘ of India and the Philippines

For a combination of reasons – encompassing cultural and management style factors, client preferences and the continued low penetration of domestic broadband – South African and other offshore centres have mostly been keen to push a return to the office-based delivery model, or certainly a hybrid approach which is centred on agents mainly working from the contact centre.

So, how will these offshore operations respond to an almost certain growth in Covid restrictions and lockdown measures? And just as importantly, what 5 steps should you take to minimise risk, optimise customer outcomes and preserve good working relationships with offshore contact centre suppliers or colleagues?

  1. Have you already updated the Business Continuity contract schedules or Standard Operating Procedures in the light of your Covid experiences? If so, that’s great so now ensure they’re followed and amended and updated as required; there’s no test of a plan like reality! Plus if you haven’t done start developing a shared approach as you work through it with the contact centre operation over the next few days and weeks.
  2. Make sure that the standard reporting and management information includes data on the split of office and home-based agents. If there are going to be behavioural and performance variations based on location then you need to be able to identify them quickly and reliably.
  3. Data and payments security is almost inevitably made more challenging when homeworking. The quasi-official degree of tolerance displayed by regulators and banks in 2020 almost certainly won’t apply today. Covid is now ‘Business As Usual’, so you need to be confident that security is robust.
  4. If you need to shift your operating model, either due to reduced overall capacity in a particular offshore location or a limit in the channels which can be serviced, then you need to very carefully consider how you inform customers. The public’s tolerance for “please bear with us” Covid messaging ran out long ago. You will need to work smartly with your proposition and digital colleagues to ensure that customer experience disruption is minimised.
  5. Finally, you have a moral and practical duty to do all you can to support your frontline teams overseas. In countries that typically have full vaccination rates of just 24% well below those in Europe and North America (32% in India, 27% in the Philippines and 24% in South Africa),  the emergence of this new Covid strain will be particularly unsettling, especially if allied to a disruptive shift to working from a less than ideal home environment. Make sure you communicate directly and ensure that the contact centre management structures are adjusted to do all they can to support agents through challenging times

At Contact Centre Panel, we have complete visibility of the contact centre outsourcing market. Our network of over 140+ outsourcers includes operators from South African, India, the Philippines and other emerging and more niche offshore locations, this means we are ideally placed to provide expert assistance on partner selection and management. So, whether you need help or guidance on the points above or any other aspect of contact centre management, technology and outsourcing just get in touch.

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