Contact center continuity: essential in the COVID-19 crisis

As the COVID-19 emergency continues, virtual contact centers are enabling businesses to integrate home workers into the contact center environment. They have become key tools in ensuring business continuity and resilience and helping companies continue serving customers. Enterprises need to get technical, regulatory and human resource issues right to make virtual contact centers a success.

Contact centers are on the frontline of customer service, and as the COVID-19 emergency continues, demand for services and support will continue to increase. Overall conversation volume has increased in contact centers by around 20% since mid-February, with verticals such as airlines and hotels experiencing call growth of 96% and 130% respectively. Enterprises need to rapidly spin up virtual contact center operations and deal with the current surge in call volumes.

The technical requirements and the importance of cloud

To rapidly deploy a virtual contact center, you need the right technologies in place. According to Gartner, approximately 90% of global organizations currently use an on-premise solution for their contact centers. This makes them ill-prepared to manage the remote work requirements and rapid scaling necessitated by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Cloud is key. A cloud-based contact center solution gives you the flexibility to manage customer service operations using a remote workforce. Cloud contact center solutions are not new, but they are a powerful solution to the customer service imperative during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The trend for homesourcing gained traction in Asia Pacific’s contact center industry several years ago but has suddenly become an essential business tool. Homesourcing was about equipping contact center agents with laptops and access to the corporate network via a VPN from their home Wi-Fi and creating a workforce of agents who did not need to come into the office. In Asia Pacific, the primary motivator at the time was cost, since homesourcing meant fewer outlays and lower OPEX. Today, it seems clear that cloud contact center’s agility and flexibility will be vital to keeping customer services up and running during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cloud contact center solutions are underpinned by virtual call management technology, which re-routes calls to agents and enables them to respond to queries while working from home. The customer should notice no difference in quality of service and experience than if they were calling a physical contact center with an inquiry.

By the end of March, the number of users remotely connecting to their companies' networks via the Orange network increased by 700%.

From the afternoon of Monday 16th, the SAMU 33 service was able to manage 180 simultaneous calls on the emergency number platform. At the same time, the number of call handlers was increased threefold. An interactive voice service now re-directs COVID-19 related calls to prioritize emergency calls, no more calls are lost and caller waiting times are four times shorter. After two weeks of peak activity in April, the medical emergency number finally saw a return to normal.

You also need to ensure your network is up to the task of powering your virtual contact center. During the COVID-19 crisis, with so many people working from home, demands on networking infrastructures will be unprecedented. To help our customers with this, Orange increased its network capacity and upgraded service platforms to manage the emergency. By the end of March on the Orange network, the number of users connecting to their companies' networks remotely had already increased by 700%.

Regulatory compliance remains

Your contact center is a step along your customer’s journey, even if it is now virtual. That means you are duty-bound to take measures to protect their data. It could be the EU’s GDPR, Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, PCI or GLBA, but you will still need to ensure compliance. While your contact center agents are working from home, make sure you understand and track your customers’ data and that you have a legitimate reason for retaining customer records, and keep track of what data your remote workers can see. Encryption can help, as can regular training of your workers on data protection priorities.

The human side

Many enterprises now have large numbers of employees facing new situations, and those workers will have uncertainties and questions. Having a mechanism in place to address human resources (HR) concerns and internal communication issues makes sense, and your remote employees will benefit from having a way to get their questions answered easily.

For example, one Orange customer recently found its HR department was fielding large numbers of health and safety questions from employees about COVID-19. To help them respond, Orange quickly developed a chatbot that responded to employee questions with official answers from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The future of contact centers in the new normal

In normal times, before the COVID-19 outbreak, virtual contact centers had already been identified as delivering benefits. According to a report by IDC and Genesys of companies that shifted their on-premise contact center operations to cloud contact centers, 72% said they saw improved customer service, 70% improved agent efficiency and productivity and 71% improved scalability.

These benefits seem ideal for addressing business need as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and virtual contact centers become increasingly important and the new normal. Working norms will continue to shift, and business leaders will need to focus on enabling the home workforce in virtual contact centers to stay competitive and keep giving customers a seamless experience.

Read how an AI chatbot takes the strain off helplines and how Orange supported a large insurance group with its customer experience during the pandemic.