are pleased to have as this month’s lead article/infographic another
original submission from NACC member Mark Pereira, Trainer/On-Site
Supervisor at Briljent LLC. We truly appreciate Mark’s
support of this newsletter and encourage other NACC members to
contribute their articles and stories to In Queue. Mark can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Show Must Go On: Why Contact Centers Can't Close Down Like A
Neighborhood Bar, & What To Do About It
live on Chicago’s North Side, and two of my favorite places are closed
at the moment due to COVID-19.
One of these places, called Templestowe Pub, feels like it’s straight
out of the old comedy show Cheers. It’s a simple bar with six draft
beer lines, trivia on Tuesdays and bingo on Thursdays. No food and no
frills, but everyone knows your name.
The other place is called Hopleaf. Hopleaf usually boasts 68 draft
beers, including many Belgian beers unavailable elsewhere, along with a
European-inspired menu that includes frites, captivating cheeses, a
Montreal-style brisket sandwich and (apparently, since it’s not my
thing) the best mussels west of the Atlantic.
While I may think these businesses are essential, our governor has made
the more rational decision to order them shuttered for the time being
in the interest of public safety.
However, contact centers satisfy a more enduring purpose than Trappist
ales, manchego cheese and overpriced French fries doused with
house-made aioli. Keeping the contact center open might mean literally
the difference between life and death.
If someone has a medical issue and cannot contact their insurance
company, results might include the limitation of services available,
the timeliness and quality of care received, or a significant financial
impact when the bill comes. If a person’s credit card is declined and
they cannot reach their bank, they may not be able to make day-to-day
purchases such as food and medicine.
Oh, and don’t forget, if there is an emergency, we call 911. Since our
childhood, we have had the number of that vital contact center drummed
into our memory. And, the list extends well beyond those examples to
include utilities, communications providers, airlines, delivery
companies and shopping.
However, contact centers present a unique challenge as it relates to
the spread of viruses. Many contact centers have 36- to 42-inch
cubicles with low-rise walls. Oftentimes our team will see 600 people
working out of a pole barn structure with limited personal space. So
much for 6-foot social distancing.
So, how should contact center leaders balance both the need for
uninterrupted service to customers with the safety of their staff? This
is a complex challenge, but here are a few suggestions:
1. Send as many
people as you can home, as fast as you can. Although customer
service cannot close down for several weeks, it’s hard to imagine
anything worse than an outbreak at the office. This might mean hard
decisions to send people home with desktop computers or to recognize
that certain policies may not be followed and risks may have to be
accepted in the very near future.
2. Put in place
safeguards for staff who must work at the office. If some staff
need to continue working from the office, implement the strongest
possible no symptoms policy. In addition, space out the workspace to
whatever extent is possible to allow for distance between staff. Make
hand sanitizer, desk wipes and screen wipes available to the maximum
3. Create an
internal help desk. Working from home could create a
multiplicity of new challenges – including bandwidth, virtual private
network (VPN) access and other technical issues. In addition, working
from home may limit the ability for customer service representatives to
ask questions and access other physical help resources they might rely
upon at the office.
4. Don’t forget
about fraud and other risks. Many contact centers have spent
years refining their “secure floor” policies to ensure that customer
information isn’t subject to identify theft by employees. The new way
of working might involve rethinking the use of technology – such as
biometrics and interactive voice response (IVR) systems – to limiting
the access of remote staff to social security, credit card and bank
5. Be intentional
about employee engagement and communication. Even if employees
become out of sight, they still need regular communication,
interaction, oversight and training. All of this is still true when
working from home and requires deliberate planning.
6. Build a
virtualization roadmap and schedule. Some of the technology
vendors in the marketplace have messaging about how to migrate agents
home within 48 hours. While that may be partially true, the work is not
complete once people get home. Coaching, quality, workforce management,
oversight, policies and procedures all need to be reinterpreted through
the lens of remote work.
Templestowe and Hopleaf remain closed for now. However, customer
service remains open. Serving the customer while protecting employees
will require constant vigilance and planning.
has created a perfect storm for the call center industry.
Many companies are grappling with unprecedented call volume as a result
of disruptions to their core business while, at the same time, contact
center managers are moving their agents to work from home. These are
unique challenges on their own, but they're now compounded by
increasing pressures to reduce costs in an uncertain economy.
Meanwhile, customers are paying attention to how companies respond and
will remember their experience and the service they receive.
Organizations that meet customers' expectations will retain them for
life, those that do not risk losing customers for years to come.
Fortunately, there are now tools available that make it easier than
ever to continue to provide exceptional Customer experience while
navigating the eye of the storm.
One such option lies with AI-driven Omnichannel virtual agents.
Chatbots, IVRs and self-service technologies are not new. Many have
been in place for years as part of strategies to deflect calls from
live agents in the call center. However, with the advancement of cloud
infrastructure and natural language processing, these tools have
significantly improved their effectiveness and support new deployment
You can even get started with intelligent and conversational voice
automation with just one or two call types regardless of whatever phone
system or IVR you're using today. This ensures you can respond quickly
to your crisis needs, and expand at your own pace.
As an example, The City of Kansas City, MO (KCMO) was able to deploy a
Cognitive IVR to handle calls into their 311 center from citizens that
needed to report missed trash pickups. They were able to start with
just one call type and immediately improve caller experience by
reducing queue times and call abandon rates. Additionally, the City
saved 85% per call by deflecting these calls from live agents. The City
has since expanded the use of this technology to handle a wider range
of calls. The results produce continuous cost savings while offering a
compelling caller experience to their citizens.
Another innovative strategy is to move customers to digital
self-service when they enter your IVR by providing the option to have
their questions answered by an AI powered SMS bot. Many digitally
native customers actually prefer SMS and texting over speaking on the
phone, so this can be the perfect way to service their needs and
There are several types of customer interactions that are well suited
for AI powered automation, such as answering Frequently Asked
Questions, processing reservation and appointment changes, level-one
tech support, routine account maintenance calls, and checking order
You don't need a massive upgrade to your existing contact center to
enable voicebots, chatbots or an SMS-based IVR either. Many omnichannel
virtual agents work with whatever phone system you have in place today
and can even integrate with your CRM or back office systems to realize
the full benefit of automation.
The best way to meet your current crisis objectives is to start simple
and iterate. Contact centers tend to be pragmatic in their planning,
however, you can still be pragmatic and move fast by adopting more
Each of these technologies and interventions can be deployed within
hours or days with no capital expense (CAPEX) and will have an
immediate impact on your call center and business.
Chris Crosby is the Founder and CEO of
Xaqt. For more information on the concept of AI-enabled virtual agents,
contact Chris at email@example.com or www.xaqt.com
In This Issue...
From Home Advice
Show Must Go On!
AI Agents & COVID-19
"Wisdom is the reward
you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd have preferred to talk."
~ Doug Larson
NACC has been burning
the midnight oil and typing until our fingers are sore to bring out
reports to our members. Each is listed below. If you are interested to
see what we are writing about, click on the links
below and download the executive summary of each. If you like
what you see, join the NACC so that you can view these reports and
others that will be coming out soon on our website. These reports will
ensure that you know the latest trends in the industry.