The last few weeks have been difficult for companies across industries – responding to the significant pressures created by the Covid-19 crisis, while in parallel adjusting to a paradigm shift in ways of working.
Despite these significant challenges, many organisations were surprised by the adaptability of their teams and the effectiveness of working remotely; some even reported an uptick in productivity.
We believe this new way of working has the potential to become the new model for contact centres; an ‘Uber-ised’ call centre where more staff are located remotely, hours are more flexible, and demand and supply are managed in real-time.
A demand-driven contact centre model
Contact centres are continuously balancing demand and supply with the goal of ensuring adequate availability of call-handlers for customers, whilst avoiding waste during periods of low call volumes. This has typically been undertaken by mapping resource schedules to trends in historic demand data, discounting one-offs and adding in future, known variances.
Covid-19 has forced remote working on many agents, and technology to enable it was adopted overnight. This way of working may make it easier for contact centres to achieve their daily demand and supply balancing act. We can see a ‘new normal’ for contact centres emerging, operating more hub (physical centre) and spoke (multiple home workers) models. A new model which encourages staff to work when customers need them, enables more flexible (including split shift) working patterns, and allows organisations to access new talent pools.
So, before organisations start planning to go back to how they worked before March 2020—to how they’ve always done it—now is the time to critically think through what’s next, and to shape the ‘new normal’ for your contact centre operation. This ‘new normal’ will need to be built on four principles:
Start thinking about how you could link pay-rates to call demand to encourage call-handlers to work during busy periods. This is the first step towards creating a model that drives call-handlers onto the phones when lines are busy; allowing customers to access services quickly at the times when they want to.
Allowing call-handlers to flex their hours is the second principle. This releases the shackles from around the neck of supply allowing it to naturally follow demand—when call-handlers are incentivised to work. However, to develop a latent supply source, flexible access to the workplace needs to be provided. Systems that facilitate work anytime, anywhere, will facilitate service anytime, anywhere.
The trigger needed to stimulate call-handler supply is data. Real-time information is crucial for communicating the incentive level available to call-handlers; thereby opening up supply. A first step could be using historic trends to set incentive bands based on peak demand periods. Over time, contact centres will move to using real-time data to take over the role real-time management used to play, getting (or keeping) call-handlers on the phones.
Many call centres have been unable to recruit or have lost great agents due to the need to commute to a physical site or to fit rigid shift schedules around their other commitments. The new way of working allows agents to log on for an hour here or there, and to split the working day between typical morning and evening peaks. This could be beneficial for organisations and their employees. Agents’ performance management could be based on a call handler rating system powered exclusively by customer reviews, rather than internal benchmarks. This way, metrics are intrinsically linked to customer perception, quality is embedded within call-handlers’ work, and accountability for quality sits directly with them.
The obvious benefit of this new model for contact centres is the ability to deliver great service for customers through the provision of sufficient numbers of call-handlers at the right time, while at the same time empowering employees. Call-handlers can manage work around their needs rather than purely around business needs; creating a symbiotic relationship. This way of working is more reflective of modern lifestyles and changing attitudes to work and will also open up new talent pools.
Visions of call-handlers working from their homes may previously have been inconceivable for many. But Covid-19 might be the turning point for contact centre operations: customers will continue to expect uncompromising service, far-removed from thirty minute call-waiting times, and employees are less and less willing to put their families and own wellbeing at risk for their employer.
Beliefs that this new model cannot be supported by technology are being dispelled daily. The threat in the shadows is—if contact centres aren’t fundamentally remodelled—that the gap between what customers expect and employees want will widen.