In fact, the majority of contact centers are still in physical locations, which left many companies scrambling to shift people and equipment home and rapidly put in place the proper training, connectivity and security infrastructure needed for a virtual workforce. Those without clearly defined business continuity plans that factor in infrastructure needs were hard hit, impacting revenue and customer experience.
During the initial work-from-home phase, several of our contact center clients experienced up to 40% absenteeism as employees struggled to integrate work and home life. Many needed to refrain from working altogether because they had children at home to tend to, lacked a dedicated home office space or required additional bandwidth to operate. Across industries, contact centers experienced a surge of calls. This not only strained them, but also led to suboptimal customer experiences. Travel customers, for example, needed to cancel, rebook or get reservation refunds. Retail supply chain disruptions caused delivery delays that led to increased call volumes and longer hold times. And healthcare and banking organizations faced increased security risks made more complex by stringent compliance mandates.
Regardless of industry, it took the better part of a month for many of our clients to stabilize their call center work-from-home environments, which involved setting up infrastructure, establishing a new cadence of working in a distributed environment, and reskilling and training agents to address different customer inquiries. These measures, albeit essential, negatively impacted many key performance indicators (KPIs) including:
- Average handle time (AHT) increased from 3 – 6 minutes to more than 10.
- First call resolution rates fell as new multi-step workflows left agents unable to complete transactions and caused repeat customer calls.
- Average queue/hold times rose as call volumes increased, either due to the acute phases of the crisis, as policy changes were implemented, or because there were fewer agents due to absenteeism.
- Customer experience declined as new processes to handle quickly implemented policies turned agents into call routers, making the process more difficult and frustrating for customers.
- Transfer rates increased as an effect of longer AHT and average queue time (AQT).
- Abandonment rates rose from a target of 2% – 5% to more than 10% in some cases as AQT increased.
Having now shifted to a fully work-from-home model, call centers continue to face many of these same challenges. Even with basic technology in place, businesses struggle to effectively monitor their remote workers’ interactions with customers without onsite supervisors. Forced work-from-home revealed the need for a rigorous business continuity plan that can prevent business disruption. We advise setting up additional locations or backup sites where operations can resume when events such as a pandemic, hurricane or technical issue arise.