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The challenge of COVID-19 requires customer service organizations to build a solid plan on work at home agents

by Olive Huang  |  March 19, 2020  |  Submit a Comment

COVID-19 has caught companies off guard. Customer service organizations are having sleepless nights to keep their contact centers open, prioritize issues and provide proactive communications. Everyone is impacted, hospitals, airlines, hotels, banks, telcos, utilities, universities, and government. As countries put emergency measures one by one, even the most thought-after fall-over plans across multiple countries could suffer. Phillipines government’s measures impacted many companies’ offshore contact centers, like Telstra explained in their post:

Telstra's customer service announcement on 17th of March, 2020

Telstra’s customer service announcement on 17th of March, 2020

Companies now try to keep their customer service operation running by enabling work at home agents. In Gartner we define crowdsourcing, WAH or telecommuting and the gig economy (or gig agent) model as new type of talent sourcing models, used in the performance of functions associated with contact centers, such as customer service, marketing, technical or product support, and sales. These models are applied by both outsourcers and in-house captive operations. When we are not in the crisis, this trend is driven by higher levels of youth unemployment and workplace expectations of Generation Z and millennials. During the crisis – the driver is then business continuity and protection of the workforce.

Using these models, agents are equipped with desktop, laptop or tablet computers, and network connections enabled by business process management tools and a virtual automatic call distributor. They work from their homes or secure hot-desk facilities, rather than from purpose-built call centers.

The challenge of COVID-19 requires customer service organizations to build a solid plans on work at home (WAH) agents. Processes, staff control and management for this model differ from those of traditional contact centers. The WAH model applies “virtual” processes in areas such as recruiting, training, deploying, scheduling (or reversed rostering) and monitoring staff.  These models mitigate business risks from a business continuity perspective and help customer service organizations from a corporate social responsibility point of view to protect employees’ health under the current situation.

While today’s Covid-19 is a crisis, it would be wrong to assume that it only bring exclusively negative outcomes. Crisis can also serve as opportunities for the organization. For example, during the last global recession, some organizations opted to invest aggressively in their capabilities, enabling them to emerge from the recession stronger as a result. After the crisis, continuing a solid WAH strategy will deliver the long term benefits of business continuity,  improved cost and margin realization, improving both top-line (by engaging harder-to-find skills) and bottom-line results (as implementing these models is less expensive than traditional agent sourcing models). It also present a more agile and scalable option for talent and skills sourcing, in return organizations are able to create job opportunities for people who cannot commute. The quality of service and productivity achieved by remote agents can rival larger traditional providers or in-house customer service centers; this also extends to the level of complexity of the work they support.

Three suggestions for customer service leaders who wish to continue developing the WAH model after this crisis:

  • Develop a scalable model for sourcing highly skilled and distributed talent, along with new service delivery models enabled by new technologies and channels. Success is dependent on acquiring new skills and adopting new approaches. A distributed and federated talent sourcing model should be considered for highly sought-after vertical or industry domain and process skills.
  • Leverage cloud and security technologies, including cybersecurity, coupled with compliance and risk plans, policies and procedures to help mitigate negative perceptions and risks.
  • Develop new talent management models and metrics that are suited to the crowdsourcing, WAH and gig agent models. Operate within local labor legislation or guide government legislation toward the gig agent model, using Uber, Lyft and other existing use cases as examples.

Gartner clients can access the research “Predicts 2020: CRM Customer Service and Support” for more information.

I want to use this chance to thank all the customer service personnels behind the phone line or chat window during this challenging time. Thank you for keeping the lights on!

Additional Resources

Getting Started With Value Segmentation to Identify Your Most Valuable Customers

CX leaders can leverage value segmentation to identify and focus on the customers most likely to maximize the business impact of CX and marketing initiatives.

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Category: crm-software-industry  crm-strategy-and-customer-experience  crm-strategy-and-customer-experience-for-technical-professionals  customer-experience  customer-service  

Tags: customer-experience  customer-service  gartnercx  wah  work-at-home  work-from-home  

Olive Huang
Research Director
1 years at Gartner
16 years IT Industry

Olive Huang is a Research Director in Gartner Research and is part of the company's CRM software research team. Her research area focuses on customer services and support, contact centers, CRM vendors and service providers, and CRM strategy and best practices in the Asia/Pacific region. Read Full Bio

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