Author: Richard Stevenson, Chief Executive Officer, Red Box
When thinking of key workers, not many would conjure up images of those that work in call centres. However, the staff at the end of a phone line, particularly those in emergency services control rooms relating directly to the pandemic, are very much on the front line when it comes to saving lives. So too are the individuals staffing NHS help lines, which were originally set up to help triage patients away from clinical care in situations where they could remain at home or in the community.
One example is the NHS 111 helpline in England. Even though NHS England had created a dedicated online resource to support sharing information with the public during the pandemic, it still received over 95,000 calls a day throughout March, an increase of over 6000% when compared with the year before.
Not all heroes wear scrubs
But there are other call centre staff who are also dealing with critical issues. One of the consequences of the UK lockdown, imposed by the government on the 14th March, has been the introduction of social distancing rules. This has had a massive impact on the economy, effectively shutting down the entire hospitality industry, and has led to a huge increase in home-working for many and job losses for some.
While enterprises are also doing their best to update customers online, it is the call centres that have felt much of the pressure of this ‘new normal’.
The effect is two-fold; firstly, staff must be set up to work effectively from home; and secondly, call volumes during the lockdown have increased across several industries directly as a result of the pandemic, such as insurance claims, personal finance woes of employees who have lost jobs, and those representing utilities or other billing providers.
This situation has certainly highlighted the need for flexible call centre solutions that allow rapid upscaling, such as bringing on additional resource from other areas, offering overtime or bonuses (which may be easier for home workers to opt for), and ensuring the technological solution in place is the best it can be.
While many call centres made great strides towards efficiency and cost savings in recent years, primarily due to the use of technology like chatbots and AI, the sheer number of calls relating to the current lockdown situation in the UK threatens to wipe out any customer service gains. From travellers calling their insurance providers, needing to cancel flights or holiday bookings, to business owners needing to contact their bank or furloughed employees hoping for a break in their mortgage payments, the volume and complexities of these calls is on the rise.
Nothing is more frustrating for customers of airlines, insurance providers or banks, for example, to have their call either left unanswered, or put on hold for hours without any kind of triage (sometimes leading to then being cut off without explanation). Our partner, Tethr, an AI powered conversation intelligence platform, recently completed a study of approximately 1 million customer-service calls involving more than 20 companies representing a broad cross-section of industries. Worryingly, they found that during the two weeks from March 11 to 26, the average company in the study saw the percentage of calls scored as "difficult" more than double from a typical level of 10% to more than 20%.
While this is indeed a worrying trend, a higher level of contact with customers can also bring about an opportunity - for a better relationship and for an increase in sales as a result.
Using the right technology
Most call centre platforms have recording and review capabilities. For those call centre staff working from home, a resilient call recording solution is essential - without it, many critical business interactions with customers, prospects and partners are not being captured. This can have a significant impact on agent coaching and training, as well as on adherence to regulatory compliance or providing evidence in a customer dispute.
Even before the added complexity of remote working, time and capacity limited many managers to manually listening to just a small sample of calls for both quality management and compliance review, which is now also compounded by the fact that training and coaching can no longer be delivered in the same way. As a result speech analytics is proving even more invaluable by enabling the analysis of calls at scale and in near real-time.
Whether that’s a simple as keyword searching of transcribed call data or more sophisticated analytics that understand context and derive meaning from conversations, these tools can help ensure the delivery of consistent and predictable messaging, identify trends, get to the root cause of issues faster, as well as highlighting coaching, training and content requirements.
From a compliance perspective, AI tools enable organisations to automate surveillance of all communications to help compliance managers identify high risk calls rather than relying on random sampling.
With the right technology partners providing the tools, enterprises can ensure their call centres are ready for the next spike in call volumes. Enterprises have the ability to strengthen their relationships with their customers by providing timely, clear and concise information at a time when many people are feeling on edge.
Put simply, it’s not just the emergency services that has seen an increase in the volumes of calls. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has put service reps, managers and leaders under pressure they’ve likely never experienced before, this is a stressful time that can be navigated with the right partner.
Those managers and employees who are able to make the most of available technology and resource to ensure scaling at speed are the most likely to be able to successfully steer a course through this pandemic and hopefully come out the other side even stronger.
About Richard Stevenson:
Since joining the company in 2016 I have worked to ensure Red Box continues to expand its global footprint and drive to develop solutions to meet the needs of customers. Having worked in the software and financial services sectors for over twenty years my track record is in leading transformation and innovation. Working with a variety of business, ranging from FTSE 100 companies to start ups, my global experience spans the USA, South Africa, Hong Kong and Germany.
About Red Box:
Red Box Recorders provides software-based voice and data recording solutions.
Published: Friday, July 31, 2020
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