On the face of it, prognosticating the end of the traditional contact center as we know it is easy enough, in light of the ongoing COVID19 pandemic that has gripped the planet. With more enterprises and outsourced contact centers pushing work to home environments, it is clear that once this perilous period is over the virtual customer management model will be more mainstream than ever. But, to believe that contact centers will be a thing of the past is wrong.
Bricks-and-mortar operations will remain an integral part of the industry, albeit one that works alongside a greater proportion of agents based out of their residences. What will be imperative for operators is to determine the optimal blueprint for managing campaigns that combine facilities-based and work-at-home agents.
From its outset, the current pandemic has made organizations rethink how they will best manage their customer experience delivery strategies in the near-to-medium term. And, it is only right that many organizations, be they enterprises or outsourcers, have virtualized a great deal of work. This has been taking place not only in developed onshore markets in North America, Western Europe and Australia / New Zealand, but also in nearshore and offshore destinations. In order to maintain customer service levels, there simply was no option other than to virtualize. And it is correct that this business model is now gaining the validity that it deserves. Work-at-home has long been an excellent manner for deriving high-quality interactions.
However, once the pandemic subsides and there is a return to normalcy, the traditional contact center will again find its footing in the customer experience paradigm.
There are important reasons why the contact center is not going the way of the dinosaur, post COVID19. Consider compliance. Note that there remain many enterprises that will simply not virtualize their customer management operations, because either they feel that it runs contrary to their own internal rules around data protection or that it may violate statutes in the jurisdictions in which they are located. Either way, this has been a major impediment to some firms looking to send work home, and it is unlikely to shift in the future.
Agent management needs to be considered, too. Despite the tools and processes around home-working having long proved the value of investment, what needs to be considered is the labor pool to manage interactions. It is widely accepted that the profile of a home-based agent is very different to one that has forged a role within a traditional bricks-and-mortar operation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that since the start of the pandemic, some BPOs are already facing situations where agents that have been moved home are feeling anxious to return to physical facilities, in order to renew relationships with colleagues and to work in a team environment. Once the COVID19 crisis passes, bringing such employees back into the contact center will be essential in order to avoid attrition and job disengagement.
The broader implications for customer management post-pandemic are clear – a new equilibrium will be required, one that takes into account virtual working in conjunction with traditional call centers. What this balance looks like will be dependent on the enterprise’s sector and the extent to which its executives are willing to look at moving customer experience work home. But, while it is clear that virtual delivery is now mainstream, it is equally true that the traditional contact center will still play an important role after the COVID19 crisis.