In addition to pressing public health implications, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has inflicted a great deal of uncertainty on the global economy for which no one was prepared.
In the customer service sector, when the crisis broke out and we became aware that life as we knew it was going to be temporarily put on hold, leaders turned to their business continuity plans. As the name implies, business continuity plans include guidelines for reacting to potentially critical events that jeopardize business operations. In this continuity, one of the most important aspects to be taken into account is the customer. When stores or offices shut down, customers need alternatives for support. Within the context of confinement we currently face, these alternatives must be reinforced.
Business continuity and an unforeseen shift to WFH
Some companies had thorough plans for business continuity. For this reason, they moved fast to implement work-from-home (WFH). Other companies’ plans considered only a few cases that were too specific, such as the closure of a building, a temporary network outage or the absence of a significant part of the workforce due to sudden illness. For the sake of public health, the extreme scenario of moving hundreds of people from a common environment to a remote regime overnight wasn’t in anyone’s playbook. In these circumstances, technology infrastructure and its adaptability to a new reality makes the difference between business continuity and the unfortunate alternative.
Companies on cloud solutions went through a much simpler process. An internet connection is enough to conduct business operations, at home or anywhere. Instead of being together in the same space, teams can be geographically dispersed with agents, supervisors and managers using the same tools as before.
Other companies who were evaluating the migration to the cloud — not necessarily for business continuity reasons, but looking to update to more innovative and flexible solutions — were forced to speed-up their decision-making process. They realized it was imperative to move agents to WFH in as little time as possible.
There is also a third set of companies: those that operated on-premises (tied to physical servers) and, in an attempt to face the challenges raised by this situation, activated alternatives such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). With agents working from home, a VPN virtually simulates that they are still working from the office to allow access to the company network. However, VPNs do not allow organizations to scale up and process a large volume of customer interactions. They might prove sufficient when only part of the team is working remotely, but they are not designed to support a fully virtual team. For that, more hardware is needed and the internet bandwidth expanded which consumes money and time and fails to deliver results.
When considering which WFH route to take, several questions must be asked: Are all customers supported? Do WFH agents have the tools they need to maintain and enforce quality standards? Is availability the same? Are interactions being lost? Can supervisors and managers monitor a scattered team? What is the productivity associated with improvised solutions?
The new normal
The truth is that we don’t know how long we will be in this situation. We need to face it as the new normal and guarantee efficiency for customer service areas.
As basic economic conditions have changed drastically, it is important to continue offering a level of service that is in line or better than what existed before. The sustainability of companies will depend, to a large extent, on their ability to reinvent themselves and adapt their existing models to enable a better service to more customers using the same resources. From the ability to execute this action fast comes an inherent competitive advantage that, in the end, can dictate business survival.
In the post-COVID-19 reality, a paradigm shift is expected: many businesses will never go back to what they were and will need to become more digital. The very nature of work may be deeply transformed with a higher adoption rate of remote work after its effectiveness has been proven. Investing in technology is not just thinking about the present, it is mainly thinking about the future.