The current lockdown has presented customer services teams with new challenges as consumers and employees become used to pandemic living, according to new research conducted by the CCMA (Call Centre Management Association).  Sponsored by contact centre-as-a-service leader, Puzzel, this study is the final segment of a three-part research programme, and aims to explore the ongoing impact of the pandemic on people and operations in the contact centre industry.

As contact centre leaders plan for an uncertain year, the report reveals some key themes, including an anticipation that customer expectations will fluctuate, technology will pose new opportunities and the traditional office will no longer work for contact centre organisations. The challenge on contact centres’ collective resilience following this winter lockdown means mental health will remain top of the agenda for leaders, and boosting empathy between colleagues and customers will now be a permanent component of training and day-to-day operations.

A year ago, remote working was new to many, yet when the UK government announced the latest national lockdown at the beginning of 2021, the majority of contact centre operations already had valuable experience of implementing remote working. The report reveals that, despite being offered COVID-secure offices to work, many contact centre professionals opted to work from home this time round. In fact, only a small number of businesses reported their employees want to return to the office full time, and as a result, businesses have permanently reduced their office space.

Jonathan Allan, Chief Marketing Officer, Puzzel commented: “Remote working is clearly here to stay for many contact centres across the UK, so leaders must turn their focus to the future. The biggest challenges going forward will be keeping teams connected, creating channels for collaboration, and monitoring staff wellbeing. If contacts centres opt for 100% remote working, or a hybrid approach, they will need robust technology that is not only flexible, but secure and easy to use.”

It starts and ends with people

What has always been a people-centric industry is now even more single-minded in its dedication to individual well-being. As consumer fatigue kicks in, and patience with lockdown dwindles, some agents have reportedly been at the receiving end of consumer frustrations with many seeing their customer base showing signs of anxiety.

While last spring, the leadership agenda was all about technology transformation, contact centre leaders are now focussing their attention on pastoral care. Fortunately, despite being a challenging time, there is still a huge sense of optimism among agents as the vaccine rollout continues. “Agent wellbeing is paramount – it pays to look after your employees. It is great to hear just how much emphasis contact centres are placing on staff wellbeing and the impact it is having on welfare of their frontline staff” Allan added.

Shift in focus for technology

The first lockdown saw successful rapid implementation of technology to enable colleagues to work from home effectively. This report, however, shows a clear pattern of technology priorities shifting towards empowering advisors and improving agent experience. Some, for example, have introduced the use of enhanced call-routing to guide both advisor and customers to the outcomes they need. And the majority are also using technology to track, understand and manage changes in customer demand.

Huge investments and rapid deployments were made during the pandemic, and many leaders felt this has opened their eyes to see there are still significant technological gains to be made when it comes offering an exceptional customer and agent experience. “In times of crisis, customers want a human touch. This year, contact centres must find a way to inject empathy into customer journeys with the aim of really understanding what drives people and what each customer wants as an outcome. Technology should then be used to deliver that service seamlessly,” Allan added.

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