How is COVID-19 changing the future of call centres?

Mark Chana
4 min readJun 18, 2020

As the pandemic continues to disrupt just about every industry on a global scale, I want to examine the likely long-term effect on call centres. Contact centres and call centres underpin the success of multiple industries, and as such hold an important yet often unreported position within the business ecosystem.

How much will the pandemic change the way call centres work? And what will the future look like as the world begins to move out of lockdown and into a new normal? I’ve been in the industry for many years and as MD of CCI South Africa, I’m clear on the way successful call centres should work.

A customer-centric approach forms the core of every successful call centre. We refer to our customers as partners, which demonstrates the level at which we work with them to ensure their messages are conveyed. A two-pronged approach ensures our client partners are fully on board, while consumers receive a seamless, omnichannel response. This is what raises customer satisfaction.

Shifting from legacy to cloud-based systems is the future of call centres

Every successful call centre or contact centre works by properly managing multiple teams of agents who work with partners across different industries. The complexity of a call centre’s mission relies on tried and tested platforms and systems.

When COVID-19 forced a sudden and epic shift to remote working, this meant call centres navigating unprecedented challenges. Forced to find ways to deliver services in different ways with agents working from home from unfamiliar platforms, call centres are finding ways to survive. Providing a seamless service to consumers on the end of the phone or digital response under these circumstances is extremely challenging. And some may not make it through the pandemic intact.

Without flexibility and innovation, call centres will not work in the ‘new normal’. Consumers are largely unaware of just how ubiquitous call centres are. For example, figures from contact centre industry analyst Contact Babel show that in the UK alone there are more than 6,000 contact centres. Comparatively, in the US there are 39,959 contact centres with more than 3.6 million agents. Responding adequately to the pandemic is forcing a rate of change across the global industry that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred.

What will the new normal look like for call centres?

As we move through the initial shock of the pandemic, restrictions are being lifted. How this works depends on each country’s approach to managing the pandemic, and this will also affect how call centres review their working practices. We can therefore expect the ‘new normal’ to vary depending on the country of origin.

However, the universal challenge for call centre leaders is to find a new way of working that incorporates flexible working, digital innovation, remote working and new ways to provide consumers with the expected service. It’s a challenge unlike anything I’ve seen face the industry.

Providing a smooth, seamless, omnichannel, 24/7 service under these new circumstances means shifting to cloud-based systems is now essential. Without the technology, it will be impossible to provide the necessary service with a remote workforce. However, while challenging, I think the changes that the industry will make at a fundamental level over the next 12 months will reshape it into something more future proof.

A combination of remote working, flexible shiftwork, cloud-based tech, AI and restructured approaches to delivering customer service will mark a radical shift for call centres.

Moving to cloud-based services is now essential

At CCI South Africa, innovative technology allowing multiple approaches to customer communication are the norm. But many call centres before the pandemic were relying on traditional organisational structures with a centralised system. For these companies, the need to shift to cloud-based platforms is now essential rather than optional.

In this way the pandemic is a catalyst for much-needed change at a global level. Without the innovative, flexible tech required to manage a functional call centre with remote agents, there will be little opportunity to survive the new normal. The good news about cloud-based technology optimised for customer engagement is that the implementation times are short. The tech can also be installed alongside, or in front of, legacy systems.

The software underpinning cloud-based platforms is known as Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS). Because it supports a vast range of hardware, it’s ideal for companies that want to make a fast transition from legacy systems to remote working. Once implemented, the system allows access for any call centre agent or manager who can log on remotely. Employees will need a laptop and headset and with those they can work from anywhere to deliver the service necessary to partners and consumers.

Companies that need to switch to this quickly can implement a hybrid deployment, where some services are shifted to the cloud while the agent desktop remains the same. For example, automated services, routing and queuing capabilities could be quickly moved to the cloud while other services remain the same. This allows a manageable shift to a new system for the long-term without damaging the service provided by agents in the short-term.

Coronavirus will fundamentally alter the future of call centres

There’s no doubt in my mind that the pandemic will force call centres to embrace new systems, flexible technology and completely different ways of working to manage the new-look future. The virus will fundamentally change the industry at a global level, but this is ultimately good news for call centres. We must move with the times and constantly adapt and react to changing circumstances. COVID-19 is an extreme form of this, and as such will speed up the transformation.

Call centre managers must consider flexible working, different shift patterns, allowing agents to work around family and childcare, and encourage innovative solutions to long-term challenges. A combination of remote and in-office working, along with cloud-based platforms and virtual communications will change the way we work and improve the way we can adapt to future challenges.

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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