The impact on customer service provision

In the Queen’s Speech this week, Boris Johnson’s government made a commitment for the UK to leave the European Union by 31st October 2019. Whether a deal is struck or (as seems more likely) not, there’s little doubt that business throughout the UK will be affected.
Back in 2016 this article predicted that up to 32,000 jobs in the contact centre would disappear partly because of the effects of Brexit, but thankfully that seems to have been a very pessimistic view. However, with the planned leaving day only a couple of weeks away, there will definitely be some impact.

Brexit’s effect on customer service

How will UK based contact centres be affected by our potential departure of the EU? An internet search for ‘Brexit customer service’ probably presents different results every week, but as we write this article the results are dominated by big brands’ holding statements, reassuring customers that the effects of Brexit will be kept to a minimum for them. It’s interesting to see that the top results are almost all from financial services organisations – a leading source of work for the contact centre industry.
These web pages are published to reduce the volume of questions on Brexit that would otherwise be handled by customer service agents. Customers need reassurance and with so much uncertainty still surrounding the Brexit process and how it will practically affect businesses operating in the UK, it’s still very difficult to prepare agents to answer specific questions.
As the 31st October passes, we can expect an increased volume of inbound enquiries to customer service agents for Brexit-related enquiries. Some will be seeking reassurance but others will be needing factual and practical guidance on issues, ranging from travelling out of the UK (or back in), to sending goods internationally, to checking whether licenses and permits are valid.

Deal or no deal?

There’s a strong argument that UK business would be better prepared to leave the EU if a deal had already been struck. With daily news dominated by the progress, or lack of it, being achieved at a high level, there has been very little detail about how operations will need to change from 1st November onwards.
It’s this uncertainty which has been affecting international currency fluctuations and suppressing the share values of UK registered companies, but whether this uncertainty will result in a long-lasting slowdown of the UK’s growth is yet to be seen. However, the ability of UK contact centres and customer service operations to handle Brexit-related enquiries is currently compromised until the facts become clear. A deal would at least have allowed businesses to prepare FAQs and communicate with their customers to explain how their interests will be looked after. Without this, we can expect a spike in activity once the way we will leave the EU is finalised.
The EU has prepared a checklist for companies doing business in the EU which, surprisingly is only on Version 3 as we write – Read the official checklist here – This document is a useful list of signposts about what to check.
Customer service operations will need to be ready for this spike in inbound enquiries, with fast deployment of FAQ information to agents and efficient and proactive communications to customers.

International customer service moving out of the UK?

For offshore and nearshore customer service businesses, the introduction of GDPR last year has created an environment of reassurance for the best operators and has removed some less scrupulous businesses from the industry. EU law provides for the transmission of personal data across EU Member States without additional requirements, but after 31st October the UK will be a ‘third country’ so businesses which operate in more than one country including the UK will need to ensure that they comply with EU rules. Some more details from the EU can be seen in this document. This will affect not only businesses based in the UK with overseas operations, but (and possibly more importantly) UK contact centres which work for EU clients. There may be a withdrawal of business from UK call centres back into Europe, simply to avoid additional data transfer regulations.
It’s important to note, though, that some leading offshore customer service operations use data that’s handled exclusively in the UK and therefore will not be affected by data transfer regulations after Brexit, just as they aren’t today. Businesses like these, with their established models and uncomplicated international service might emerge stronger once the UK leaves the EU.

So what does all this mean for customer service?

Uncertainty creates questions. With Brexit presenting a major source of uncertainty in customers’ minds it’s inevitable that customer service providers and contact centres will see an increase in enquiries as the 31st October approaches and passes. The UK outside the EU will need to adapt to changes in regulation and to new ways to move goods, services and people.
There will, therefore, need to be customer service agents ready to respond to these questions. A spike in activity will no doubt occur, but how high the spike is and how long it will last is very difficult to predict. Some businesses may need to seek additional resources to cope with the demand and if that’s the case, Contact Centre Panel would be happy to help.
Whatever the next few weeks holds for Brexit, the customer service industry will be affected as our clients finalise their last-minute preparations for the UK becoming a ‘third country’. We will be keeping a watchful eye on the results.