Until very recently, only 13% of contact center agents worked remotely on a permanent basis. Now, in an environment shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, that number is rapidly growing.
In its latest report, “The Inner Circle Guide to Contact Center Remote Working Solutions,” ContactBabel surveyed US contact centers about the challenges they are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those challenges was the issue of changing workforce conditions — specifically, the need to use remote working solutions to avoid a disruption in customer support operations. Here is a look at how US contact centers are responding to the unique demands of the current climate.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, fewer than half of US contact centers allowed agents to work from home. Of the contact centers surveyed in 2019, 43% allowed at least some of their agents to work from home, while 57% either had made the firm decision to not offer remote work options at all, were in the process of evaluating remote work, or hadn’t made any moves one way or the other.
Prior to the pandemic, the biggest benefits to work-at-home agents were perceived to be improved staffing flexibility and ability to handle unexpected call volumes.
Virtualizing multiple contact centers allows agents to move easily from one virtual location to another — which increases staffing flexibility. And because remote work gives call centers a large pool of agents to draw from, as needed, it can be a major advantage in handling call spikes.
The biggest inhibitor to allowing remote workers was fear of security risks and fraud — 41% of respondents said security was their primary concern.
Respondents noted that the fear was home workers would be in unsupervised environments, increasing the risks for data security breaches and fraud compared to workers located in a supervised call center. This was especially concerning if physical paperwork was involved or the agents had to write down payment details or passwords.
In mid-April 2020, ContactBabel analysts ran a short survey of 108 US contact centers to gauge some of the changes taking place in the industry due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the sample size is smaller than usual, the survey results still offer insight into what is happening.
28% of contact centers were actively recruiting new staff at survey time. When segmented by contact center size, results show that more large contact centers (54%) are actively taking on new staff, while mid-sized contact centers appeared to be the most vulnerable to job losses.
Only 1 in 10 contact centers surveyed were seeing absence rates of over 25%, suggesting that absence due to illness or lack of childcare does not seem to be a problem for most of those surveyed. Of course, these findings vary regionally, with areas that are considered hot spots for the virus being more heavily impacted by agent absences.
Prior to the outbreak at the end of 2019, only 14% of survey respondents’ agents were remote workers. By mid-April, that number had jumped to 71%, with larger companies most embracing this change.
34% of respondents show an increase in inbound call volume, while 44% show a drop in the number of calls. However, these results are extremely sensitive to industry. While businesses like banks, grocery stores and telecoms are experiencing an increase in calls, businesses like luxury goods retailers, claims departments for car insurers and public transportation providers likely have far lower than normal contact volumes.
While mid-sized operations report a slight drop in speed to answer, smaller and larger organizations are seeing a rise in average speed to answer, ranging from 40%-50%.
Three-quarters of respondents have not made any changes to their operating hours. One in six has cut hours and 3% have shut down operations entirely. Of the largest contact centers, 8% have increased their hours of operation.
Call abandonment rates are up by about 60% industry-wide. This is an increase from 3.8% to 6.2%, according to respondent data. This change is particularly noticeable in mid-sized businesses.
The increase in remote working is supported by an uptake in cloud-based contact center solutions. And during the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a jump in the use of cloud, especially in mid-sized and large contact center operations to support remote working and business continuity.
As customers try alternate ways of contacting businesses, there has been a growth in the use of all digital channels. Fifty-one percent of contact centers report increases in email use, 47% report increases in webchats and 37% report an increase in social media use.
This article is based on a Genesys blog posted May 6, 2020 titled “Tracking the Shift in Remote Contact Center Workers Amid COVID-19”.
Publish Date: June 13, 2020 5:00 AM
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