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Could Your Contact Center Handle Another Pandemic In 2021?

Could your customer service operation manage another pandemic? It’s not a trick question (and I know we are all tired of the present one). Although the last time we saw a pandemic on this scale was the Spanish Flu a century ago, there have been many zoonotic disease outbreaks in just the past two decades. SARS, MERS, Avian flu, Ebola, and Zika are just a few examples. What if another outbreak becomes a future pandemic?

Your customer service processes need to be flexible enough to cope with any future situation – we can never see another 2020 ever again. At the policy level, most governments are just focused on getting past Covid-19 so there has not been much planning around how governments would handle a similar problem. The assumption is that we would see a return to lockdowns and business disruption.

It’s up to business leaders to think about this first, but there are many variables at play. The most obvious change in 2020 was the ability for contact centers to keep operating with their agents based at home. This required more than just sending everyone home with a laptop. At Nearsol we had to adjust our security so that home networks could be just as secure as an agent sitting in the contact center.

But we also had to adjust the way we all work. When managers have their team distributed in many different locations they need to adjust their leadership style. Communication has to increase and team leaders need to be more open and explicit about expectations and targets – everything has to be more focused because we don’t see the body language or unspoken communication of colleagues all sitting at the same table.

But I think as we move into 2021 there will be three important questions that every executive needs to ask when they think about how their customer service team should operate in the near future:

  • How is customer behavior changing? How is the interaction between customers and brands changing? Expectations around better self-service are increasing and customers appear to be far more receptive to asynchronous messaging than live chat (tools like WhatsApp for example) so how does this affect the way your customer service processes are designed?
  • What can we do to adapt quickly? You need to be thinking beyond just adding new communication channels. How can you connect self-service, greater automation with chatbots, and additional channels? The design of an omnichannel interface has to move beyond buzzwords and ambition so you can offer a simple way for customers to interact on the channel they prefer. A single HELP button.
  • How do we build long-term flexibility? This is where your previous experience of work-from-home will be vital. How can you continue to use a percentage of home-based workers, or ensure that all your agents can work from home or the contact center? You must build flexibility into the delivery model so any future lockdowns or other events related to a pandemic can be mitigated.

The long-term answer for customer service processes will focus initially on this question of how agile you can make your team, but these other points are worth considering. Customers are constantly adapting and changing behavior and Covid itself has initiated many changes. You can’t design a future strategy just by suggesting that you will make your 2019 operation more flexible.

Customers are changing. Covid has changed the way that businesses and contact centers need to operate, but it has also changed customer expectations – all this needs to be factored into your 2021 customer service strategy.

Our customers are expecting us to better address pandemics and outbreaks in our Business Continuity Plans. I’d love to hear what are you doing to be prepared for potential future outbreaks? Fill out the form here or contact me directly to share your thoughts.

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