By Mark Buckley, Vice President, Australia & New Zealand, Genesys
There has not been a single industry that has escaped the human and financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Australia and New Zealand, the swift government response to slow the spread of the virus meant that the needs of organisations and the economy changed overnight. While many industries and businesses have seen the customer demand for their products or services virtually disappear, others have experienced an unprecedented increase and are struggling to keep up with a massive surge in demand.
As a provider of cloud contact centre technology services, Genesys has seen a massive shift in customer needs and witnessed challenges that will have a lasting impact on how organisations across all sectors are run and may forever change the way we work and do business.
Addressing the challenges of working from home
While most large organisations had business continuity plans in place, the majority had not considered a situation where every single employee would need to work from home. None of us mere mortals did! While most cloud-based customers were able to relatively quickly transition their staff to work from home or to de-centralised hubs and satellite offices, those organisations with physical or on-premise systems needed much longer to transition their workforce. Many organisations also struggled with network and infrastructure challenges including lack of adequate resources like laptops for their staff to work from home and limited VPN capability. Cloud-based organisations that have had a nimble and flexible approach to work have paved the way for other workplaces and helped these organisations to overcome barriers that had previously and will shape the way an entire workforce will operate moving forward.
No face-to-face contact = Massive surges for contact centres:
As a result of the lockdown and its subsequent effects on the entire economy, there was a massive surge in customers contacting government agencies who deal with health and social security, particularly regarding announcements from the federal government around new policy and stimulus packages. Banks, telcos, and superannuation firms also saw similar increases as a result of these announcements, and health, medical and pharmaceutical services digitised almost instantly.
New Zealand’s Government-funded National Telehealth Service (run by Homecare Medical), and a Genesys customer, saw both their inbound and outbound call rates soar virtually overnight when they were asked by Government to establish the dedicated national health line to field citizen enquiries and concerns related to COVID-19. To deal with this surge, the organisation, like many of their essential service colleagues, pivoted and deployed a suite of Genesys applications and doubled up on their onboarding additional agents, enabling about one-third of them to work from home, This helped manage the need for physical distancing in their contact centres and the service volumes while providing a vital lifeline to the nation.
An increased interest in automation and the world of bots:
Surges in demand at contact centres have left many organisations overwhelmed even after onboarding additional agents to help deal with the spike in call volume. This has led to both increased uptake of advanced contact centre solutions including navigating how smart automation or ‘bots’ can be implemented to help both agents and customers. Some organisations are now asking questions like: ‘How can we learn from this crisis, and what can we do better moving forward?’
While COVID-19 has made companies more open to working towards the implementation of this type of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation, integrating it into the customer experience mix is not a set-and-forget project. Creating a bot is a relatively simple task, however, they are similar to a small child, in that you need to teach them, guide them and continuously look after them so that they can grow develop and learn how to communicate with people. Many organisations have re-prioritised their business cases as the old productivity paradigm changes from a time-based perspective to one that is outcome-focused, something that is better for both employees and customers. This type of environment is conducive to allowing AI to play a supportive yet vital role adding value to the customer experience where it’s needed, for simple repetitive tasks, and managing simple streams of action.
While bots offer huge possibilities in the future, you cannot just plug them into the contact centre without a strong understanding of the impact that this will have on your customers’ experience, especially at a time like this where a delicate balance needs to be maintained between a human agent and bot.
A need for greater empathy:
The closure of physical locations, retail spaces and the reduction of customer-facing roles due to the current government restrictions has caused a remarkable shift in the customer service experience. Contact centres are now the front line for interacting with customers, and agents must be encouraged and empowered to show extra empathy in times of uncertainty. Creating great customer experiences, in turn fosters long-term trust and loyalty.
With unprecedented numbers of people suffering from COVID-19 related health concerns, economic and societal stress, the need for empathy in customer experiences is more important than ever. A recent Genesys survey found just over half of ANZ consumers (52% in Australia and 57% in New Zealand) believed that organisations they regularly do business with have empathy for their individual circumstances, however, this still leaves significant room for improvement. In times of crisis, people tend to be more sensitive to tone and motive and can easily sense the difference between genuine empathy and concern and surface-level brand speak.
From business development to business survival, to business “thrival”:
There has already been a significant mindset shift for many businesses, from ‘how can we thrive to how can we simply survive?’ Where before this crisis the focus was on growth, now many are focussed on how they can keep their business running and their staff employed for the next few months.
As we begin to move forward and the economy continues to re-open, businesses will have to provide the best experience for their customers, by displaying empathy, efficiency and effectiveness, in order to survive. Moreover, they will be looking at how they can optimise their workforce and operate more cost-effectively in what is sure to be a period of great uncertainty and caution.
While the road back to recovery is going to be a challenge, one thing that has buoyed everyone at Genesys is the incredible resilience and adaptability of people in these ever-changing circumstances. This situation has shown that people can, and will, rise to the challenges that they face with determination. For all of the horrible impacts of this pandemic, we have already seen an increase in, collaboration and greater connection between people, even while social-distancing and physically isolating.
COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for people to prove exactly how capable, adaptable and skilled they are and have disproved many of the assumptions about which roles can be done remotely and what that looks like. The effects of this pandemic have generated a tsunami of professional innovation and creativity that I believe will shape a new, and better way of working for years to come.
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