Contact Centre Home Working – How is the sector handling the challenge?

Virtually all organisations have had to make adjustments to their usual ways on working in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Enabling contact centre home working is mainly how this has translated for the contact centre sector along with social distancing measures.

While necessary in today’s situation, this does not come without significant challenges. The contact centre sector employs at least 4% of the UK’s population, and over 6% in the North East of England alone. Solutions to this new and novel problem are key.

The challenge of mobilising front-line staff to work from home, or put social distancing measures in place has put the sector under immense pressure over the last few weeks. So how does the contact centre sector handle the unprecedented demand of continuing to provide a service to customers whilst protecting the safety of their employees?  

greenbean is proud to lead and manage the Contact Centre Partnership as part of our ongoing commitment to our contact centre clients and the wider contact centre industry. Last week we brought together North East contact centre professionals for a virtual meeting using Microsoft Teams. We wanted to find out how they are coping with contact centre home working and social distancing measures. Admittedly we did face technical challenges due to the sheer volume of users on the software, and differing home broadband capacities. Here is a summary of the conversation below for those who, for one reason or another, were unable to join the meeting. 

So how has the sector faced the challenge of mobilising their frontline staff to work from home, or put social distancing measures in place?   

Julie Mordue opened the meeting commenting that these unprecedented times were putting contact centres under strain and testing even the most thorough of business continuity plans. 

Worldpay from FIS, global payments processing business 

Our first speaker was Sarah Cummings whose roles include senior positions within telecommunications and financial services, and currently leads the UK servicing teams for Worldpay from FIS. 

Worldpay, a global payment processing business, supports all levels of customer, corporate through to SMB. She is responsible for both in-house and vendor support. 

Sarah is an expectant mother due to go on maternity leave. She shared what they have accomplished thus far to ensure their teams are supported for contact centre home working before she goes on leave. 

As a global company we had been exploring for 5-6 weeks and acted quicker than most”. 

“We actually had pandemic training early in 2019 and had a pandemic plan in place but what that didn’t account for was governments’ reactions from country to country, so the plan had to flex to account for that”.

“Worldpay is classed as critical infrastructure; our service being unavailable would impact the global economy, so we had to continue, not only for this reason but for the individuals who use our payment services”.

Social distancing

“We prioritised social distancing – this was our first challenge which, although it moved us outside our comfort zone, we did well. It of course meant home working. This was not in our business continuity plan and we had not done it previously, but we came up with a solution. A key part, we found, was to keep staff engaged and be open about what we were doing. We have a relatively small space for our workforce of 1,000 so our initial target was to get 50% working from home. We did this well before the government advice came out. We received a fantastic reaction, which we credit to being transparent”.

Home Working

“Home working was a brand-new situation for everyone, as was the tech element, and so we knew we needed to be flexible, in particular to parents working at home with their children once the government closed schools. To help everyone adjust to this situation we found it was beneficial to give them a semblance of normality, to provide them with an anchor. For us, this means the work, the values etc. stay the same but in a different environment”.

“Currently 5-6% of our workforce still go into work – but this is just the individuals that are not able to work from home. Our next challenge is to help them set up home working”. 

“We understand that the surge of people working from home puts pressures on the networks. In this instance we are having to find new ways of doing things. Where this isn’t possible, we are just having to accept that things are moving slower and what was once instantaneous is no longer. It’s an adjustment”. 

“We know our business customers have this, too. Government changes have instigated a wave of enquiries; we initially had high volumes on online chat to deal with. We also must be flexible with our customers as they change their payment products in light of the situation. Again, our corporate customers face different challenges. As we are a global organization, we have to consider the BCP country by country and how it may be affecting them differently. We’re seeing how we can better support them. It has been a journey!”.

Home Group, social housing provider 

We then heard from Michael McGuigan, Digital Performance Leader, and Gavin Rogerson, Planning Manager from Home Group, whose frontline contact centre staff are all now working from home. 

We started planning in mid-February, when we decided to test out our business continuity plan twice. We took this a step further and considered colleague vulnerability, childcare needs, etc.” 

Home working rolled out within 48 hours

“In March the plan accelerated, and we prepared colleagues with home working kits. We purchased around 150 and staged a roll-out plan which would take place over a week. However, things changed, and this needed to be further accelerated to be rolled out within 48 hours. By the end of last week there were only 19 colleagues without kits, and this was due to them self-isolating. We have planned for these kits to be sent out to them to avoid contact”. 

“As it happens, we had planned to try out home working in 2020 as an experiment but this beat us to it. We’re adapting day-by-day. 2-3 of our staff have no broadband so we’re in the process of devising a solution using mobile tethering”. 

“Once we began home working, we noticed some of the software wasn’t what we needed and so we made the decision to move from Skype to Microsoft Teams last week”. 

“Many of our day to day call centre activities have changed over the last few weeks and we are focusing on supporting our customers with their emergency repairs”.

Well-being

“While we can’t interact in person, we are having one-to-ones with our teams, checking in with them about their wellbeing and health. Some are finding this very isolating so we’re putting some measures in place to limit this. We have an initiative where you show each other your home workstation set up and this encourages interaction between colleagues. It also means more time so we can have chats and socialise virtually. Teams are also getting more breaks than usual, with 5-6 per day”. 

“There has also been a lot of upskilling. Those who would normally be busy on the phones are learning how to use live chat as we have been getting more queries on this channel. We’re using downtime to bolster compliance efforts. We’re also going to dedicate our efforts to exhausting our incentives budget to keep teams engaged and motivated. Then colleagues will be ready when it’s time to ramp back up”. 

The future  contact centre home working? 

Julie then asked the speakers whether home working will play a part in the future of the contact centre in their organisations. 

Sarah responded “The speed of mobilisation to home working has proven we can, even if it does push the business outside of its comfort zone. It’s also pushed a lot of people outside of their comfort zones, but we will all recover and learn. I think this will spawn a hybrid working model and evolve everyone’s BCP plan. The main problem with this is the social element of work, which is very important, so I think it won’t be the go-to but a more frequently used fallback option”. 

Michael said “We don’t believe things will go back to exactly the way they were. We expect, following this, many will adapt a new contact centre model as I think many have been surprised that is has worked as well as it has – this is bound to raise questions about what the future looks like. This has shown there are options and we can support home working”. 

More about the Contact Centre Partnership

The Contact Centre Partnership is a collaboration between the public and private sectors to support the continued growth of the contact centre sector by ensuring we have a future talent pipeline to match demand. 

Our mission is to reach and communicate with our future workforce, and those who influence their career making decisions, to highlight the people, job roles and career opportunities this sector provides, changing the perceptions of those who may not have previously considered it as a ‘career of choice’. We also run a series of sharing best practice calls and meeting to bring together the contact centre community in raising standards within the industry. 

If you would like to know more or get involved please contact greenbean’s Client Relationship Manager Julie Mordue.