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How Contact Centers Can Evolve After the COVID-19 Crisis


Many contact centers, even those with carefully crafted disaster recovery plans, were left scrambling to assemble strategy in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Having personally led these efforts over the years in response to natural disasters, global events, severe weather, and more, I can say that COVID-19 has required a much, much different strategy, one that we can learn from for the future.

For frontline managers and even more senior leaders of the contact centers, it’s important to pump the brakes when some semblance of normalcy returns. In my opinion, your first step should be to gather all of the key players together and hold an after-action review (AAR). An AAR can facilitate different conversations to move forward strategically.

While COVID-19 is a wholly unique situation, there will likely be more unique situations that arise in the future. The AAR takes the time to review the moments, issues, or measures seen as relevant for the next unique situation. It’s also then followed by action taken by the same small group of key players who were brought in to discuss and strategize. It’s a simple process - hold the meeting, document the findings, and then move to action.

Here are four questions which must be answered during the AAR:

  • What were the intended results? (goals/objectives of the action)
  • What were the actual results? (goals/objectives met or not met)
  • What caused the results that we got?
  • What actions will we keep, what should be revised/improved, and what should be dumped?

When this model is adopted, the chances of meeting performance objectives and protecting customer experiences greatly improves. The process doesn’t have to be utilized just for a pandemic; it can also be leveraged mid-project, for new deployments, unique strategies, following events, and beyond. It informs future decisions based on quick reactions.

It should be noted that this process is very different than a project post-mortem, which is also typically held for all involved parties to dissect past events to document and explain what happened. Many times, the post-mortem is an uncomfortable process for not-so-successful projects, and is often used to find out who did what and find someone to potentially blame. It’s less focused on learning and more focused on accountability.

Many news reports have surfaced around massive call volume increases for several companies, agencies, governments and health care facilities during COVID-19. Many companies simply did not have the staff present to absorb the influx. At the same time, many contact centers that had not previously strategized an at-home-agent strategy were left scrambling with some critical technology and privacy considerations. It is highly likely that organizations that have not yet built unified communications, work-from-home workforces, AI, or even other self-service solutions will be reprioritizing their spend or project lineups. Some organizations were so underprepared that they resorted to agents checking voicemails and then calling back a large backlog of customers as needed.

In the past week, I’ve spoken with IT executives who were quickly attempting to spin up video conferencing services, attempting to add Slack or Teams for better collaboration, and were quickly trying to determine how to move their entire workforces virtual.

During this current crisis, our contact center teams should be recognized for keeping their minds on the communication channels. Those who came into the contact center or handled contacts in their pajamas for weeks have been challenged with empathizing, listening to, and solving problems during times of increased mental stress. However your organization proceeds after the crisis, I think giving gratitude for those who continue to serve your most important asset as a business is a great first step.

Following up with some sort of review/learning session and identifying the go-forward strategy is an ideal next step for leaders. This helps ensure we continue to protect and improve the employee experience and customer experience in times of uncertainty.