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The Pandemic Broke the Old Model of Customer Care. Here’s the New Landscape.

work from home

The global pandemic pushed business relationships to the brink — consumer hypersensitivity left shelves bare, our supply chains were disrupted, and we sent our employees to work from home. Within the contact center industry, the downstream impacts directly affected businesses’ customer care models.


 As the virus took hold, the industry was forced to throw out historical models. In some cases, like retail and financial customer care programs, the number of calls, emails, texts, and chats increased dramatically. In one case, we saw a jump of almost 120% in the number of callers for a single retail program, with the majority of customers asking when toilet paper would be available again. This is not something anyone could have forecasted.

At first, customers were patient with the weak points of customer care providers handling their calls, but pandemic fatigue set in and customers’ expectations returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The industry, however, is not back to where it was pre-pandemic, and it might never be. In their Customer Experience Management State of the Market Report (2021), Everest Group reported that the percentage of agents working at home grew from less than 10% in 2019 to as much as 80% during the height of the health crisis.

With such a large percentage of agents at home, it’s time for companies to rethink their customer care model and, perhaps, their choice of providers. Many of these vendors focused on their “key clientele” and left other, smaller, less profitable clients at the doorstep with unanswered calls, emails never read, and chats left blinking on customer’s computer screens.

The winners were contact center companies who quickly relocated their agents from a brick-and-mortar facility to a WFH environment while still maintaining quality.

 This pivot isn’t effortless and pushed some providers to the edge. They were now being asked to implement a customer care model that allowed agents to work remotely in a secure environment while still achieving the same service levels as if they were still in their brick-and-mortar facility. Some couldn’t achieve this, and for some, they were only able to implement a system for their priority clients while leaving some clients out in the cold in the middle of a pandemic.

The contact center companies that overcame these obstacles were able to provide agents with the right tools to focus on the customer. The preparation really began before we experienced a pandemic that disrupted business around the world.

It began with agent training. Agents benefit when they undergo client-specific training, and those who exhibited the right behaviors, such as high performance, were approved and eligible to work from their homes. And once they were working from a home environment, providers should also have had the capability – and flexibility - to recall these very same agents for additional training in their facilities. This model safeguards against unexpected disruptions—from poor weather to pandemics—while providing customer care service as reliable and consistent as agents working in an office building.

With this foundation in place, providers can then focus on critical items such as background noise, uptime, and, most important, information security. Here is more info on each:

  • Background noise can ruin an interaction and ultimately lead to a customer walking away. Ambient noise is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome in a work-from-home deployment. We know the clatter of a call center is distracting and even annoying, but so are barking dogs, air conditioners, and doorbells. There are tools available that deploy AI that learns what sounds to filter out, recognizing and removing background noise in real-time. This leaves only the agent's voice in the customer’s ear.
  • Providers have to be able to monitor an agent’s desktop from their servers, checking for latency, as well as any disruption of data and voice connectivity to ensure a quality customer experience. Not only does this maximize the customer experience, but you’re also improving the agent’s experience by helping prioritize troubleshooting for any connectivity issues. This avoids any agent reluctance to self-report any issues.
  • Information and data security is top of mind for everyone – and for a good reason. A provider’s technology infrastructure should ensure quick and seamless deployment, giving them the ability to support an agent onsite one day and then from home the very next. This limits the downtime you’d typically see in this quick-moving scenario. Employees should even be able to use their own devices while the provider maintains 100% control over their computer for continual security compliance.

Additional Everest research further indicates that the global market for customer experience will grow at about 20 percent during the next five years, identifying serious opportunities for growth potential if the right partner is chosen.

A customer care provider needs to remove all the friction points brands experienced during the pandemic. Businesses are looking for companies that recruit and train agents who take ownership of customer problems and resolve issues quickly from home while maintaining high customer satisfaction scores, sales conversions, and other key metrics. And they’re also looking for customer care providers who have the infrastructure in place to support their agents when the next disruption occurs.


Topics: Customer Experience, Employee Experience, Remote And Virtual Teams