As the COVID shutdown wreaked havoc upon business, and in particular contact centres, companies found themselves confronting three distinct phases: respond, recover, and ideally thrive.

That’s the subject of an ebook published by Deloitte entitled The Contact Centre Of 2030 Can’t Wait, It’s Now…

According to the authors of the ebook, “The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted all aspects of life, and contact centres — as the first point of contact for a wide range of issues — were among the earliest and hardest hit.” Calls, chat messages, and emails came pouring in as people around the world scrambled for information and help with everything from medical advice and rearranging travel plans, to filing for unemployment benefits and obtaining emergency loans.”

Meanwhile, they write, contact centres found themselves crippled by COVID-related challenges like employee illness, social distancing requirements, and global disruption of offshore operations.

The end result was widespread contact centre service failures, including endless busy signals and days-long hold times.

In many cases contact volumes and wait times remain high in many sectors, months into the pandemic. But, they write, conditions are in some cases stabilising, and contact centre leaders are starting to think about the future — reviewing their operations so they can try to avoid similar disruptions when the next crisis hits.

Initial focus

According to Ciaran O’Connell, Principal, Technology, Strategy & Transformation practice at Deloitte, “In the initial respond phase of the crisis, the focus was on speed, stabilisation, and attempting to limit the impacts of the call backlog.”

It was also the time when many organisations discovered that the technology debt they were carrying was impeding their ability to respond at the very moment that the organisation was under maximum pressure.

Ciaran O’Connell
Principal, Consulting, Deloitte

“This was the acute moment in the crisis and the emphasis was necessarily on speed. Still, this was also a time when companies needed to understand the limitations of their approach and what they could learn from critical failures, says O’Connell.

Unfortunately for many organisations at the wrong point in the technology maturity cycle, their contact centre systems were simply not capable of delivering an effective response to COVID — and in particular to the rapid shift to work-from-home arrangements.

According to O’Connell, “This was a wake-up call for how contact centres should operate. When companies were deep in response mode they wanted to quickly get to operational stabilisation. Decision-making was understandably tactical, but as they moved from respond to recover, they often found themselves having to unwind some of those tactical responses as they sought to put in place a more strategic long-term approach.”

During the second phase the focus was recalibrated around understanding what needed to be done to deliver long-term success, he says.

“In this phase organisations were thinking about operating models.”

The third phase, which Deloitte calls Thrive, is really about what is needed to future-proof the organisation.

“That means asking questions like; How do you design in adaptability? How do you make use of the technology to drive change and using data and AI to enable more meaningful connections with customers? How would you think about workforce mobility in the future? How would you reduce concentration risk?

“In the Thrive phase, companies are embracing next-generation technologies and moving beyond the traditional ways of imagining the contact centre. The goal is maximum flexibility, managing the total cost of ownership and capitalising on innovations.”

O’Connell says there is a genuine opportunity for organisations to take their contact centre capabilities to a much higher level.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed how fundamentally flawed the typical continuity plans for contact centres really were. It also highlighted that the standard contact centre operating models simply weren’t flexible enough to cope with highly unpredictable events.

Even though the acute phase of the COVID shutdown has passed, it would still be a mistake for organisations to believe they can simply tweak what they were doing before COVID.

According to O’Connell, “Organisations who take a more strategic view will seize the opportunity to shift to more adaptable and resilient ways of working, to true omni-channel and personalised services to gain a competitive edge with their customers.

“The better approach is to leverage recent technology and process innovations to ensure you improve your ability to serve customers and design-in more intelligent operations to future-proof customer contact.”

Read the full e-Book: The Contact Centre Of 2030 Can’t Wait, It’s Now…

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