Over the last two decades, a range of factors have led many Australian businesses to offshore their contact centres. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on this offshoring model, with the pandemic presenting both threats and opportunities to Australian businesses as they are prompted to reassess their external dependencies and risks.
The sudden closure of offshore contact centres presents an opportunity for local call centre providers here in Australia, with many organisations recognising that onshore contact centres offer a range of significant benefits around business continuity when events beyond their control happen.
More broadly, Australian businesses increasingly understand that customer satisfaction is a financial driver. With recent research showing that speaking with someone in an Australian call centre is by far the channel of choice for reaching out to companies with enquiries¹, cost containment is no longer the primary consideration around contact centre operations. Consequently, local call centres are becoming an important factor in strategic decisions around improving customer satisfaction.
Four months ago, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, India and the Philippines, two of the world’s major call centre hubs, announced total lockdowns. These measures forced call centres to close indefinitely, leaving Australian companies reliant on offshore contact centres stranded.
As a result of these offshore call centre closures, Australian businesses struggled to meet the massive customer demand that coincided with the COVID-19 crisis. Telcos were among the worst hit by the offshore lockdowns. For example in March, Optus, Vodafone and Telstra all had to quickly expand their local operations to cover shortfalls in agent capacity².
CPM’s Response to the Crisis
At CPM we had the resources, know-how and technology to quickly shift our team to a working-from-home (WFH) environment, as we determined that a WFH model was the best solution to meet our clients’ COVID response requirements.
Financial institutions and Telco call centres were not the only ones unable to keep up with the large surge in customer assistance; other industries experienced this too. For example, CPM’s customer care teams for FMCG and cosmetics clients were inundated with inbound customer queries driven solely by COVID-19 factors.
For our client L’Oréal Australia & New Zealand, COVID-19 contributed to a 140% rise in online sales for the June half³, which in turn drove more inbound customer enquiries through phone, chat, email and social. To ensure that great customer experiences and service levels were consistently delivered, we made adjustments to support the team through enhanced resources and knowledge. Our business continuity plan drove our ability to meet these increased demands through having the resourcing, processes, and technological and training resources in place to efficiently and effectively facilitate consultants to work remotely and handle increased volumes.
“CPM has shown that they have the ability to rapidly adapt to a new way of working through the successful transition to an “agent at home” working model during the COVID-19 crisis. For L’Oréal Australia & New Zealand, we’ve seen how important it is for our contact centre partner to remain agile to ensure our valued consumers still have access to our customer care agents during an extremely busy time. The role of a traditional contact centre model doesn’t work in an isolation setting and CPM were quick to ensure that the team of 25 L’Oréal Care agents had the ability to work offsite with full access to all required systems.
Having a local Melbourne based call centre has also offered great comfort to us as a business in two distinct ways:
1. the ability to service AU and NZ consumers within our time zone with staff who have the ability to safely work from home following local government restrictions; and,
2. knowing that we have assisted in offering continued and new employment for local customer service experts who may have otherwise been faced with a stand down scenario should the team not be able to transform their ways of working”
Emma Williamson, Director CX – L’Oréal Australia & NZ.
Mitigating the Impact of the Unexpected
The current pandemic crisis has demonstrated the remarkable capacity of Australia’s onshore contact centres to respond to the business challenges presented by COVID-19. As businesses everywhere adapt to new ways of operating within this new environment, CPM has identified two important learnings that we believe can assist companies as they move forward into the future:
- Having a disaster recovery and business continuity plan (BCP) in place that included remote working or work-from-home was critical
Our BCP caters for different areas of the business and incorporates a WFH contact centre. We had tested the plan prior to the COVID-19 crisis, so we were prepared to respond quickly and safely.
- Having an in-house Training, Coaching & Quality Assurance Team
To facilitate a remote working scenario while maintaining quality and service levels, our in-house training team developed and delivered WFH modules and program-specific training via eLearning tools such as video learning and webinars. As a result, the health, safety, and productivity of our staff were maintained, and the delivery of excellent customer service was not compromised.
At CPM we have also identified several trends that have been accelerated by COVID-19, which we believe will continue beyond the duration of the pandemic:
- Contact centres can now offer flexible work arrangements
COVID-19 has forced contact centres to adjust to new ways of working. Introducing flexible work arrangements that allow agents to work remotely can provide call centre staff with a work/life balance which has never before been realised.
- The onshoring trend in contact centre outsourcing is expected to grow
The 2018 Australian Contact Centre Benchmark Report4 reported that contact centre outsourcing continues to grow. Of note, a majority of organisations (78%) prefer onshore locations for contact centre outsourcing and over three-quarters of organisations utilise onshore outsourcing. Prior to COVID-19, reshoring was already happening, with this trend appearing to accelerate during the pandemic.
By rethinking the customer experience and offering customers what they value during this pandemic, businesses and their call centre partners will be better placed to anticipate and prepare for unexpected situations into the future.
Read the full report on COVID-19’s impact on the Australian contact centre industry here.