How will Covid-19 affect the customer experience for inbound contact centres?

How will Covid-19 affect the customer experience for inbound contact centres?

Mark Beresford
April 30, 2020

In the first week of April 2020, it has been estimated that 33% of the world’s population was living under some form of restricted movement as governments around the globe enforced lockdown measures aimed at minimising the spread of Covid-19. From retailers to banks, every business has been inundated with customer enquiries during the pandemic. We are seeing the contact centre industry undergoing significant disruption from the spread of coronavirus, with businesses facing a twofold setback. Firstly, there is an increased workload because access to bank branches and shops is not always permitted, or they have been temporarily shut. Secondly, there is fewer staff to handle the increased volume. As a result of mass infections, thousands of customer call centres have been forced to close on a global scale. Changes in customer experience are inevitable, whether you have outsourced offshore, onshore, or an in-house call centre. There are fewer staff and business premises that have been forced to close due to a national or local Government lockdown.

Banks have responded by closing or restricting access to branches and doing their best to enforce social distancing while trying to convert many remaining in-office staff to work-from-home. Some banks are limiting branch access to appointments only and improving their digital tools, including the increased use of AI and chatbots. Non-customer facing employees from IT, credit, and risk teams have been drafted in to help deal with customer queries. Edgar, Dunn & Company are currently working with a number of financial institutions in North America and Europe where the management are being assigned to support the inbound customer contact centres during this unusual period of high demand and lack of supply. One bank reported a 400% increase in inbound calls.  Customer waiting times to talk with a bank representative, for one UK retail bank, is over 2 hours.

With many retailers and some banks using cloud-based systems, it has become easier for staff to work-from-home, although there are still logistical challenges. Shifting your customer agents from being based in a secure call centre to working from home is not easy. Banks must keep customer data secure; they simply cannot have their staff talking with customers in their family home or shared apartment with non-bank staff in earshot or potentially in sight of sensitive personal consumer data.  Equally, retailers dealing with consumer payment card data may not have the same security arrangements at home as they would have at their contact centre.

A recent survey of over 2,000 contact centre workers across the UK by the University of Strathclyde raised concerns that social distancing measures have not been put in place in many contact centres. Open plan office environments and face to face working will spread the virus and evidence suggests that home working is being denied for some. For the foreseeable future, maintaining operations will be a balancing act between managing demand and supply, while aiming to ensure good customer service for those who need it the most. Increased remote working needs infrastructure, new processes, and a different management approach.

Deploying collaboration tools to customer agents can allow them to continue to work effectively as a team, albeit from different locations. Other best practices include routing calls away from agents to automated messages wherever possible and focusing on the most vulnerable customers while guiding all trivial queries to other channels. Many businesses are learning new internal and external communication skills during the lockdown. Communicating little and often, arranging optional daily calls with the whole team, being open to sharing feedback and responding to concerns are all good practices that can differentiate one customer contact centre and another.

In the retail sector, disruptions to services are affecting the ability for consumers to pay via MOTO (Mail Order Telephone Order), as payment details need to be taken at a PCI compliant operation.  Businesses that are relying on MOTO transactions to accept remote payments for goods and services will not be able to change to a work-from-home arrangement easily.  For businesses with an e-commerce acceptance channel, MOTO transactions are being re-routed to websites and mobile apps, minimising potential disruptions to revenue streams.  Edgar, Dunn & Company believe that the advent of the Covid-19 virus is encouraging businesses to re-think and streamline their payment acceptance channels along with their call centre services, such as improving the customer checkout experience on websites and apps to improve the customer’s shopping journey.

The pandemic has highlighted that in many markets, consumers have choices and preferences on which forms of payment they use. As the retailing landscape continues to grow more complex and consumer expectations are higher, omnichannel retailers must adopt a new approach to accepting and processing payments. The old sales channels, such as MOTO and in-store POS, must evolve and processes must use technology to introduce innovation in the way consumers shop. Covid-19 is influencing online sales across a wide range of sectors and each payment method will have different payment cost implications. It is challenging to know where businesses should focus their payments acceptance strategy, particularly if the call centre is an important sales and customer service channel. Edgar, Dunn & Company’s 360 Payment Diagnostic is a proven methodology that examines and optimises payment acceptance for retailers.

Lockdown has allowed many customer-facing organisations to re-examine and re-think their payment acceptance, MOTO, and customer call centre arrangements. By using the 360 Payment Diagnostic businesses are able to holistically review payment acceptance costs regardless of sales channel or payment method.

The content of this article does not reflect the official opinion of Edgar, Dunn & Company. The information and views expressed in this publication belong solely to the author(s).

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