How contact centres and the BPO sector are evolving due to COVID-19

Mark Chana
3 min readDec 9, 2020

It’s difficult to remember a time before COVID-19. The pandemic has been with us for less than a year, but it feels much longer. And this is particularly the case for workplaces around the world forced to profoundly alter their operations.

These challenges have affected every industry sector in just about every country, as the world has battled against the impact of COVID-19. And it’s no different for the BPO and contact centre industry sector. Measuring the efficacy of the way the industry has handled its response to the pandemic is still in its early stages. However, there’s little doubt that the BPO sector that emerges from the pandemic is fundamentally altered.

Meeting the challenges of COVID-19
Business continuity planning (BCP) is nothing new, of course. However, when the pandemic hit, it quickly became apparent for most companies that their BCP just didn’t go far enough. For BPOs, typical planning revolved around what to do if one location went down, or one country couldn’t operate. Solutions include moving staff and agents physically to a different location or expanding to a new office.

In other words, BPO contingency planning focused on local crises. The idea of a pandemic striking down multiple locations around the world at the same time was unprecedented. So as contact centre leaders, we had to think on our feet and make quick decisive moves to ensure employees were safe and service delivery continued. A distributed work model became the solution to COVID-19’s impact on the BPO sector. Even for BPOs with a few key locations, such as CCI South Africa’s Durban offices, this proved to be the most logical, cost-effective, and safe way to combat the situation.

Most BPOs are now working with a combination of home working and in-office working. Exactly how this works depends on the company’s physical location and the status of the virus. We’re coming to the end of 2020 and can see that the US and Europe remain hardest hit, with many Asian countries containing the virus in a more successful way. Second waves are currently raging through the UK and much of Europe, forcing Governments to implement a range of lockdown measures.

Here in South Africa, we are facing a potential second wave, according to some media outlets. But I’m confident in the processes we now have in place at CCI’s Durban and Johannesburg contact centres. We are equipped to deal with any resurgence of the virus without putting employees at risk or failing to deliver our services. This is a huge achievement of which I’m very proud. And until a global vaccine is in place, we will continue to be flexible in our approach.

Distributed working patterns, with some staff working from home and others in the office, bring their own challenges, of course. From supervision and management to ensuring technology is available to everyone, there are limitations on this way of working.

An ongoing crisis leads to a flexible BPO sector

Our immediate concerns as BPO leaders was to ensure the safety of employees, the security of customer data, and continuity of service. We had to mitigate the risks involved in running a distributed network of agents suddenly working without the traditional framework they were used to.

Solutions to the sudden change to distributed working include:

1. Ensuring all affected employees have reliable internet connectivity in their homes.

2. Providing all of the necessary tech and equipment they need to their homes.

3. Devising new supervisory and communication frameworks to ensure no-one feels alone.

4. Encouraging teamwork through collaboration tools and apps.

BPOs must continue to remove any risk from their operations. Future BCPs will involve a much wider remit of possible crises and how we will deal with them. This might mean adding locations, branching out to multiple services or ensuring that clients and businesses are diverse enough to future-proof the service operator. This prolonged — and still ongoing — global crisis will ultimately filter out those BPOs that don’t adapt quickly enough.

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Mark Chana
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I’m Mark Chana, Group COO of CCI Global and former Managing Director of CCI South Africa — www.markchana.com/mark-chana