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Crisis response: shifting the contact centre to the cloud

(Image credit: Image Credit: Tyler Olson / Shutterstock)

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on enterprises around the globe. With entire populations in lock-down, adapting day-to-day operations to address the realities of the ‘new normal’ has become a mission-critical priority. This is especially true of the contact centre.

In times of crisis, the contact centre has a pivotal role to play in responding to citizens who need answers, information and support. Enabling the contact centre to shift at speed to a remote work-from-home model is essential for maintaining business continuity in the face of a steep increase in call volumes. According to The Economist, the contact centre industry employs 1.3 million people in the UK, equating to four per cent of the workforce. It’s also vital, therefore, to ensure this significant proportion of the workforce is able to work from home and stay protected from any unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus in the current emergency.

Transitioning to a remote working model, however, isn’t without challenges – everything from workforce performance and wellbeing to addressing the regulatory and security implications of the distributed environment will need to be addressed.

Initiating a flexible remote-working infrastructure – at speed

Social-distancing restrictions remain in force, and there is uncertainty around how and when a return to normalcy is likely to happen. As such, organisations face the very real possibility that initiating flexible work scenarios due to quick-triggered population lockdowns in the face of outbreaks will be a lasting legacy of the current pandemic.

Having the right technologies in place will ensure that contact centres can respond at a moment’s notice, and place all or selected members of the workforce into home-working mode. For this reason, many contact centres are accelerating the adoption of cloud-based technologies that make it easy to keep the workforce productive and working from anywhere.

A cloud-based contact-centre-as-a-service (CCaaS) platform represents an ‘out of the box’ service that gives organisations the speed and flexibility needed to get a remote workforce up and running in days. Unlike legacy on-premises infrastructure, these browser-based solutions make it easy to act fast, with little or no notice, and enable a fully-fledged remote working infrastructure. All that agents and supervisors will need is an internet-enabled device and they can deliver the same seamless omnichannel customer experience that was previously provided from a physical contact centre location.

Featuring all the management systems and processes required to support an effective remote workforce, CCaaS platforms make it fast and easy to give agents the same capabilities they’re used to encountering within a conventional contact centre environment – including email, text, chat, and social media channels. Plus, these cloud-based solutions give organisations the scalability, reliability and availability that’s needed to respond to customer demands – including the ability to add new agents fast.

Many contact centres who have sent agents home find themselves unable to process payments in a PCI-compliant way. The best cloud solutions can provide secure over-the-phone payments up to the highest PCI DSS Level 1 certification, meaning full transaction capabilities are maintained after the dispersal.

Even the largest contact centres that currently operate on-premises can put a cloud contact centre in front of their legacy systems to enable a remote workforce in ultra-fast time-frames – often within a few days.

Enabling the remote workforce

Maintaining customer engagement and satisfaction and ensuring that employees can be trusted to do a good job while working unsupervised will be front of mind for many contact centre management teams.

Today’s CCaaS platforms feature all the management systems and processes needed to support the remote workforce in operating effectively and securely. Alongside automated services, intelligent routing and queuing capabilities, and real-time reporting, agents are presented with familiar desktop features – including call recording and integrated information databases.

Screen recording capabilities enable supervisors to keep their eye on agents, while giving agents the confidence that their actions are being monitored and that they can access virtual training on request. For example, sharing screens to enable constant monitoring will ensure supervisors are on hand to step in and offer consolation or support when a caller is aggressive.

Leading cloud solutions provide full supervision of agents from anywhere, including the ability to join a call or chat and ‘whisper’ to the agent. Meanwhile the latest dashboards show the performance of the dispersed workforce in real time.

These features provide opportunities for supervisors to recognise exceptional performance and acknowledge agents who maintain the same excellent standards of customer experience in the face of the current challenging work environment. Alongside this, the ability to see agents working will be critical for maintaining the wellbeing of individual workers.

Taking care of people

While getting agents rapidly up to speed is important, supervisors will need to recognise that work-at-home models pose new challenges as far as the management of workforce wellbeing is concerned.

Continuous communication and monitoring between call agents and supervisors will help agents to feel supported while working away from colleagues. It is also vital for spotting when the sheer volume of calls could lead to agent burnout or identifying when additional training is needed.

Combining CCaaS with a unified communications platform, for example, can help enable a more comprehensive overview of the entire environment and support enhanced collaboration and support between team members. For example, this could take the form of a group ‘huddle’ where team members can air issues or discuss current issues and share insights and successes. Utilising these insights, management teams can tweak workflows to better address customer needs and support and streamline how agents interact with callers and access the information systems they need to perform optimally.

Although it is not possible to look over an agent’s shoulder while they are at home, screen recording gives vital insight into the behaviour of home agents, particularly highlighting any areas where they may be struggling. Combined with scorecards and auditing this allows full Quality Management monitoring to be carried out during dispersed operations.

By analysing recordings of key interactions between call agents and customers, trainers will also be able to identify what best practice looks like – and where knowledge gaps need to be plugged.

Preparing for an unpredictable future

Organisations that make the move to cloud-based CCaaS platforms in response to the current crisis will have laid the technology foundations for maintaining and improving ‘business as usual’ operations, no matter how the future unfolds.

For many, the work-from-home models now being implemented could well become the basis for a lasting change in how future contact centre operations are resourced. Opening the way to initiating flexible working models that empower agents who want to work from home will help them fit their shifts in around family responsibilities while supporting 24/7 operations without any need to leave the house.

By implementing the right technologies now, organisations will be able to respond fast to the challenges created by COVID-19 – providing consistent and trusted support to customers, while taking care of their people during the crisis. But alongside bolstering operational resilience in the face of the current unfolding global health crisis, they will also be able to unlock new ways of working and build a culture that supports unprecedented work flexibility.

Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO, Content Guru