The ongoing restrictions have had a significant impact on the way businesses operate, particularly how they engage with their customers.
We’ve made it through phase one – where businesses made significant changes, and quickly – and we’re now in the middle of phase two, with companies attempting to stabilise their current approach and regain something close to pre-pandemic levels of productivity.
We must accept that there won’t be a return to ‘business as usual’ for any of us, not for a while at least. The impact of what we’ve been through over the past few weeks will mean that, when we are able to return to some level of normality, certain restrictions and regulations will remain, undoubtedly making things different to before.
So, phase three is about creating that new environment. And it’s safe to say that, in many ways, it’s not going to be like the old one. Contact centres might well have walls and rooms and a business centre, but customer service won’t be exactly like the old environment. It should be more dynamic, with a blended team of in-centre and work-at-home agents, as well as more support available for consumers, such as customer self-service and automation.
Businesses should already have started thinking about what comes next. How do we learn from recent experiences and use these to inform our approach? How do we look to the future, without forgetting about the past?
Phase three requires a level of future thinking, and this requires investment.
A key question that businesses should ask themselves is: will they make the solution themselves or will they buy it?
If companies are able to go straight back to how things were before lockdown, the incentive to invest is low. But, because they need something similar, but with additional elements and provisions, their journey back could be long and difficult unless they establish the partnerships and relationships needed to introduce those additional capabilities.
The real questions that businesses need decide the answers to are: do we need to get things done quickly? Or can we afford to take years over the process? Equally, will investing in our model now help to differentiate us in the market?
Of course, not every company will want work-at-home as part of their customer service going forward, so they’ll be keen to take this back in-centre as soon as it is safe to do so.
But even going in-centre isn’t going to look exactly as it did before. For example, social distancing rules may mean that people need to be separated by 2 metres in every direction from their colleagues. Companies may need to reconfigure their contact centres to avoid employees congregating in canteens, training rooms, etc. This could even mean that training is no longer held in the classroom but is delivered virtually as employees sit at their own desks.
In addition to this, businesses moving fully back in house must use what’s been learned during the crisis to identify opportunities to better serve customers, using customer self-service and automation.
So, even going back-in centre doesn’t mean that customer service can simply return to exactly what it was before.