As economies reopen firms need to be agile with their workforce and think differently about where and how they work, says Ray Bowe, a leading digital operations management and planning expert.
When we think of customer support operations, we imagine large gleaming offices filled with personnel chatting animatedly to clients and moving around freely within their workspace. However, as the economy re-opens, business owners and employees face several stark new realities. As a result, re-imagining the way we work has become an important new priority
Take the financial services sector for instance. It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that the humble kitchen table may become the future of customer support operations. Why? Because firms need to be agile with their workforce and even when some office use is planned, that use will be limited as capacity will be drastically reduced.
“In the short-to-medium term, social distancing will remain in place until a vaccine is discovered and the possibility of a second surge and subsequent restrictions remain a distinct possibility”
In a short space of time we have moved to the customer support centre of the future. What people would have said was not possible only a few weeks ago is now happening in homes across the country. In most cases it is probably operating with some gaps and without the proper management tools, but those companies who invest wisely now will reap the benefits of building proper working from home capabilities including technology and management practices to enable them to thrive in this new world.
In the short-to-medium term, social distancing will remain in place until a vaccine is discovered and the possibility of a second surge and subsequent restrictions remain a distinct possibility.
3 ways to prepare for the new normal
All of this leads to only one sensible conclusion. Namely, that remote working will remain for the majority of staff, with only occasional office visits. Twitter for example announced last week that employees will be allowed to work from home indefinitely while other organisations have indicated that they will re-evaluate their commercial property footprint.
So, what does the future hold? There are three main aspects to consider:
1. At least some if not the majority of staff will be remote
Companies will need to invest in technology to ensure that the experience for workers working remotely is seamless with office-based workers. This is likely to involve an upgrade or major change of their telephony systems.
They will also need to examine their management practices to ensure that they are fit for purpose, ensuring dispersed remote teams are engaged and stay connected. A complete set of Operational data is essential for effective management. Managers need a diverse range of real time measures to provide visibility in performance – using information from data and analytics instead of sight to manage teams. Training is required for managers in understanding and using data to make good decisions based on it.
2. Work will be blended
To ensure that service can be maintained at a reasonable cost and the customer support function has the capacity to deliver for the customer even when volumes are volatile, call activity will need to be blended with other work. Customer Support staff will need to flex between call, email and other customer queries or transactions. This means that the workflow/work management systems will need to be flexible to cater for this. It also means the operational data and management practices we mentioned above need to agile and flexible to support managers to perform in their roles. For example, work management systems that do not allow for work to be carried over into following day will be inadequate.
3. Benefits for staff
When looking at this it is easy to focus on the challenges facing companies. However, there will be benefits too:
- People who had exited the workforce as they could not achieve the balance (possibly because of a long commute) might be attracted back into the workforce
- Companies will be able to retain staff who would have left as they were moving to another part of the country. Staff will be more likely to stay with an employer that provides increased flexibility
- Customer Support centres have traditionally had high turnover as staff looked for more variety in their work – having blended work provides this but also provides work which provides a break from phone work.
4 trends that will impact the future of work
In addition, there have been some other longer-term trends which were changing the operation of contact centres:
This is being driven by customers demand for self-service, predominately now via smart phone, but is also being driven by companies desire to automate customer support. The movement of some services into digital channels has reduced to volume of calls into customer support functions, while increasing newer forms of communication such as email and webchat. Lower volumes can be more volatile and harder to resource than before.
2. Drive for efficiency
To deliver service from a traditional call centre, involves carrying a certain amount of spare capacity. If you resource to the average (resources based on average call volume and duration), then you will not achieve levels of service demanded by most customers, even allowing for good call planning tools. Companies which have traditionally delivered excellent service have carried excess cost in their customer functions. Xcentuate has seen a lot of companies which have had a large focus on cost resource to the average (or even lower) and this has resulted in pretty poor service levels in their support functions.
With simpler tasks being automated and customer’s having greater demands on their time, when they do ring to speak to someone they want to speak to an expert. They don’t want endless handoffs only to get to someone who cannot give them the information they were looking for.
These trends combined with other external factors are leading to more and more volatility in work coming into customer support functions. A new way is needed.
Ray Bowe is the chief executive of Xcentuate Management Solutions which has deployed the ActiveOps solution into a range of organisations. This provides real time visibility of activity regardless of type or location. It enables managers to manage successfully in a blended environment and the includes a management framework for effective management of remote teams.
Published: 25 May, 2020