In March 2020, one of our customers - a government department, came to us with an urgent request. They needed 2,000 new contact centre agents ready to answer COVID-related calls within four days; and they all needed to work from home. How we achieved that is a timely demonstration of why organisations need to be agile and flexible, and how knowledge management helps hit those goals.
By the final week of March 2020, coronavirus had intensified demand on Australian contact centres to unprecedented levels. On 24 March, Telstra reported call volumes were up by more than 50%, and government call centres were experiencing three times the call volumes compared to the previous week - more than 20 times the normal call volume.
At the same time both government and enterprise in Australia were creating new COVID-19 call centres to service citizens, customers and staff, opening up thousands of job vacancies. To make matters worse, many outsourcing providers were shutting down in accordance with their own regional lockdown rules.
The effect was to put immense pressure on local contact centre staff who themselves were already dealing with their own individual COVID-19 issues. With callers ever more anxious and distressed, it was incumbent on agents to be confident with their answers as they dealt in what was often sensitive subject matter.
A good knowledge management system (KMS) could help mitigate all of these impacts. But there were other immediate priorities.
The work-from-home reality for contact centres
Back to our government client, with their 2,000 new staff needing immediate onboarding.
In lockdown, face-to-face training was out of the question, and yet the department’s new recruits still had to be able to answer customer questions.
There was no time to memorise policies, procedures, processes and company information, even if they’d wanted to. And it wouldn’t work if contact centre people had to scroll through pdfs and Word documents with the caller on the line. The system needed to deliver the answers quickly. And it needed to get the uninitiated up to speed immediately.
On top of that, the system would need to keep the agents up to date with relentless, rapid change driven by COVID-19. The only way they could achieve that was to have a reliable customer experience KMS.
The story has a happy ending. Five days later, the 2,000 new agents were all successfully working from home, set up with an easily searchable knowledge system, ready to answer calls from the community about vital COVID-19 issues.
What this highlights is the critical need for an organisation’s systems, including its KMS, to be agile and flexible. In crises, relevant staff members must be fully across what has changed in the last hour, even the last 20 minutes, and knowledge systems need to be easily updated.
Diverting resources to customer service
Some organisations have also been able to use their livepro KMS to help divert internal resources into their contact centres.
One of our clients, an industry body, provides information to organisations about industrial relations, salary and employment issues. With all the tax changes and new government benefits introduced to address COVID-19, they were inundated with calls and inquiries. They needed more people to answer calls and they all needed to be trained.
Because they were already on the cloud with livepro, the answer was to open up that access to the KMS for people who weren’t normally in customer experience roles. Very quickly the organisation was able to upskill people who were working from home, to be able to handle the call backlog.
The customer service shake-up ahead
As changes are bedded down, issues are ironed out and we’re feeling more settled, work from home is looking more like business as usual. And we’re starting to hear rumblings like, why would we ever go back to the way it was - particularly with agents who work night shift. Why would they travel on public transport to get into an office after hours when they can be more productive at home?
The customer service model is ripe for a shakeup, and over the next weeks and months, organisations are going to take a look at what’s working and what’s not. The likelihood is that remote working at least part of the time is going to be a fact of life for many.
When you have large numbers of people working remotely, it becomes even more crucial to have that one single source of truth connected to all of your different communication channels: from your chatbots, to your website, to your CRM, and telephony systems.
Customers are increasingly expecting immediacy: answers given to them straightaway in their channel of choice. And if it is complex, or the answer isn’t there, they need to be seamlessly moved between integrated channels, whether that’s between a chatbot and an agent, or a website and a chatbot and an agent - never being asked the same question twice.
That’s the future of contact centres in good times and bad: one customer, one voice and one single source of truth.
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