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How to Deal with COVID-19’s Impact on Contact Centers

I’ve been involved in contact centers for nearly 25 years. Anyone who understands this business says that’s like 50 years in other lines of work. While there might never be a dull day in contact centers, there’s rarely an easy one. And now, as the world contends with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more demanding. To that end, I want to share a few observations about how this crisis is impacting contact centers and what steps you can take to mitigate it.

By: Dee Nilles, Business Program Director, Centrical

How to Deal with COVID-19’s Impact on Contact Centers

I’ve been involved in contact centers for nearly 25 years. Anyone who understands this business says that’s like 50 years in other lines of work. While there might never be a dull day in contact centers, there’s rarely an easy one. And now, as the world contends with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more demanding. To that end, I want to share a few observations about how this crisis is impacting contact centers and what steps you can take to mitigate it.

Employees matter most

Your agents, advocates – whatever you’re calling employees – have to be what you first consider. To be clear, I’m not talking about how they’re performing. It’s whether they’re healthy and feeling some amount of safety in this perilous moment in our world’s history.

My sense is – where it’s possible – contact centers have moved their employees out of their facilities and set them up to work from home. And that’s really a great thing to do on several levels. However, as you invest and deploy infrastructure to enable employees to work from home, you also need to implement technology that’s focused on engaging as well as enabling them. Even under the best of circumstances, working remotely can impact productivity, performance, and can even lead to attrition. A feeling of disconnectedness accelerates that downward spiral.

In all you do, keep a focus on your employees. Learn how to help them make the move from centers to their homes. It’s all new to them. Add the understandable fear they’re feeling and it’s advisable to adjust their KPIs. Mind you, I’m not saying get rid of them. Take steps to spotlight a handful that relate to their new working from home situation. Then hide others that you know will either falter or not matter right now. Help them to focus and not get overwhelmed.

Along with that, connect with them as often as possible. And I don’t mean once a week or even once a day. You – and their work – represents a sense of stability, a constant in a world turned upside down. Let them know that they can reach out to you too. Make communications bi-directional between you and your team members, and amongst themselves as well.

Business continues

Most contact centers have some form of business continuity plan. They address things like technology failures, usually handled by some kind of redundancy plan, or an environmental event, like a monsoon. I’ve even seen planning for assorted job-actions, like mass walk-outs. But I am not aware of thorough planning for a full-on pandemic. Let me remind you that I’ve been around this business for quite some time, and I’ve never seen anything approaching COVID-19. In fairness, most continuity or redundancy plans are built upon past experiences or failures. This disease and how it’s impacting us is all new.

It has made an industry filled with volatility even more so. Nonetheless, you must continue on. If your business stops, there’s a good chance it’ll end. So, you really must continue.

New challenges, new skills

To deal with the new demands, the heightened pressure on your business, you have to find a way to equip your employees with new skills. Or you may need to refresh their knowledge of things they’ve not done in a while.

I am seeing centers working frantically to move resources from slower queues to those in higher demand. If call volumes are down but chat is up, shift. If it’s something else, you need to get staff in place and able to tackle the tasks.

With so many working from home, you are forced to use an effective eLearning method that trains employees in a way that lets them absorb and apply newly gained knowledge quickly. And to ensure they do get that learning and can put it to use, you also need to be able to measure it. Training without assessment and a closed communications loop to offer feedback and coaching is like no training at all.

What to do

I think it’s fair for even veteran center operations or service delivery managers to experience a moment of deer-caught-in-the-headlines syndrome. This COVID-19 thing is mind-boggling in so very many ways. But these are unusual times and you can’t operate like it’s business as usual. When it comes to implementing technology the usual time to deploy is measured in weeks, if not months.

You don’t have that sort of time to keep your employees working from home feeling connected, engaged and still part of a team, even if the nearest teammate is miles away in another home.

But you do have the ability to put in place Centrical Connect. It offers cross-channel, bi-directional communications, employee recognition, and engagement mechanisms as well as easy to deploy remote reskilling programs.

And, importantly, it can be up-and-running, benefiting you, your employees and your contact center in less than a week. It’s working for contact centers like yours. Click here to learn more.

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