Keeping Workers Safe and Productive (When the Contact Center Can’t Close)

When the Contact Center Can’t Close JD Fairweather

by JD Fairweather

If you asked any contact center manager two months ago about their business continuity plan, they’d likely opine on their facility’s readiness to address just about any emergency scenario. These same managers have seen their expertise and resolve put to the test in recent weeks due to COVID-19. And with effects of the virus being felt worldwide, contact center leaders are scrambling to support higher-than-projected call volumes in the wake of an ever-increasing risk of higher absenteeism.

While many organizations have transitioned the majority of their workforce to remote or work-from-home status, there are some contact centers that continue to maintain onsite operations due to business needs, technology challenges, or the inability of their staff to self-govern. These centers are now faced with meeting the growing demand for support while managing a stressed staff, many of whom do not want to be at work due to unexpected obligations at home or general anxiety about catching the virus.

Here are five ways contact centers can support their onsite workers amid the coronavirus outbreak:

1. Follow Centers for Disease Control social distancing recommendations to slow the spread of the virus.

By their very nature, contact centers are tight working environments, designed to facilitate collaboration and communications. But those same work spaces are in conflict with regulatory guidelines that require a distance of six feet from others and constant hand washing. You can lower the chance of an outbreak at the center by reducing the number of staff on the floor and increasing the amount of personal space between workers. Also, consider establishing power-shifts (e.g., ten-hour schedules with four days on, three days off) to decrease the number of days an employee has to come into the office. And don’t forgot to thoroughly clean the center between shifts, in addition to any regularly scheduled wipe downs and sprays of high-traffic areas.

2. Use upfront messaging and automated callbacks to manage call queues and wait times.

Online shopping for goods and products delivered to directly to homes is expected to double by 20 percent in the second quarter. Accordingly, call volumes and average handle times will reflect that increase. Design IVR messaging to announce hold times or service interruptions due to the outbreak and have them ready to roll when needed. If you have more than one contact center, pre-test your redundancy capabilities. At the same time, start implementing additional omnichannel routing techniques to positively and productively interact with your customers during the crisis.

3. Provide ongoing updates to your staff about the measures being taken to the keep them safe.

This is the time to communicate regularly and often. It’s also an opportunity to build trust with your staff, too. In addition to communicating about CDC safety guidelines, employers are also providing information about their benefits and well being programs such as leaves of absence, employee assistance programs, and telehealth. Any resources or tools you can offer to support your staff and their families so they can be physically, emotionally, and financially healthy, as well as socially connected, are critical right now.

4. Use this time to advance the capabilities of your workforce.

In terms of specific staff capabilities, some agents will naturally have superior skills in dealing with crises. Determine what your agents’ core competencies are by reviewing historical performance data. This data will help you map the frontline talent needed throughout the course of the pandemic, so that non-crisis-experienced agents can continue handling day-to-day customer issues at the center.

5. Plan to close the center and move the workforce to remote or work-at-home status.

By far, the most important thing you can do to protect your contact center in a crisis is to create and continuously maintain an implementable preparedness plan. That plan should have among its contingencies a strategy to close the center should things escalate locally (or even internally). Now that you’ve experienced the worst case scenario, it should be easier to prepare for scenarios that are far worse(r).

Unprecedented times like these require a certain level of preparedness and agility in crisis management. If you need assistance developing your business continuity plan, or if you are having difficulty aligning your workforce to your contact center readiness strategy, we’re here to guide you through the crisis. Contact the Taylor Reach Group at 866-334-3730 for more information.


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