Business Continuity Best Practices Learned From Coronavirus
In a virtual Zendesk event, Sitel Group discussed how it’s developing new best practices to serve clients’ customer experience (CX) needs as coronavirus continues to accelerate change in many aspects of business across industries
For even the most prepared of organizations, COVID-19 has proven to be a learning curve. So two months after coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic, Zendesk invited Sitel Group and digital recruitment platform Lever to join a virtual panel to discuss their Business Continuity Planning (BCP) experiences, highlight what they believe to be best practice and predict what the new normal looks like for businesses as the threat of coronavirus subsides.
Virtual agents reduced risks
“We’re in a unique position. As well as our own BCP, from a customer experience perspective, we’re also a crucial element of 400 companies’ continuity plans. So, from a customer service standpoint, the clients that had almost zero risk were the ones with a virtual workforce before COVID hit,” explained Pete Weaklend, SVP, Sitel at Home Solutions when asked about the immediate impact of the virus. “From a BCP standpoint, I think where a company was right before COVID determined where on the recovery curve they would be after it hit. Those using our Sitel at Home model continued operating as before. Agents answered calls, emails and chats from their desks at home.”
For clients based 100% at brick-and-mortar contact centers, Sitel responded by transitioning staff as quickly and safely as possible to remote working to ensure continuity of service. Due to the group’s already existing and proven work from home platform, Sitel at Home, Sitel was able to mobilize many of its teams and transition agents working on-site to home working in 10 days or less.
In fact, 80% of Sitel Group’s U.S. contact center employees were moved to Sitel at Home in less than three weeks to enable the employees onsite to follow strict social distancing guidelines. More than 55% of the group’s global workforce is now working from home supporting more than 300 clients in 20+ countries.
Challenges to remote working
Zendesk was also quick to move to remote working, something they believed would be simpler than it was as a cloud-based company. But it still presented unexpected challenges.
“We’re already in an environment where anyone can work from home whenever they want to; but that’s different from saying ‘no one come into the office’,” remembers Zendesk’s CIO Colleen Berube. “It took us a few planning cycles to get down to finding the response to the question ‘What is the reason why every single person in the office can’t go home?’ And the answer came down to someone has to receive the mail, someone has to ship laptops to our new employees and other brass tacks operational details.”
As a unique event, the pandemic has highlighted new risks and presented new challenges that until now wouldn’t have been integrated into many companies’ BCPs.
“We had definitely made plans and had discussions,” explained Justine Matison, Director Customer service and support, Lever. “We had continuity planning in place because we’re based in San Francisco so we’re prepared for earthquakes and fires. But envisioning a global pandemic? No. However, from a security perspective we were strongly prepared and that made it a lot easier to take action and create a plan.”
In these types of situations, according to Matison, one has to start by thinking small by saying “OK, tomorrow, locally, what does this mean?” then work from there.
Understanding the impact on your customers
Because as well as impacting your own organization’s ability to operate, the pandemic has been reshaping, often on a daily basis, what those operations are. For instance, for Lever, a recruiting software company transforming the way organizations hire, it has meant some customers reducing their recruitment activity because of the virus while other customers are very quickly ramping up their operations. Lever needed to be able to respond to both types of demand equally well.
“Not all customers are created equal,” says Matison. “You need to understand what each customers’ needs really are at this moment; they haven’t gone through this before either.”
Helping customers adapt to this new normal is why Zendesk opened up a dedicated channel for customers with COVID questions.
“It quickly became our listening post,” explains Berube. “It gave us the insights we needed about what our customers were experiencing and then formulating quick responses or specific offerings that will meet those needs.”
Leveraging digital solutions
Each of Sitel’s clients have experienced surges in customer contacts as a result of coronavirus. In addition to expanding teams to help, this greater need to engage has led to intelligent use of automation, including quick-to-deploy chatbots, streamlined self-service and conversational IVR systems to stem the tide without negatively impacting customer experience.
For Weaklend, coronavirus has been a catalyst for digital adoption among companies that until now had been unsure of the perceived benefits of artificial intelligence or intelligent automation and how it integrates into customer service.
“More and more digital opportunities to serve customers have been presented by this crisis,” Weaklend said. “We’ve seen some significant solutions.”
Nevertheless going forward, these digital solutions will still work alongside human agents, empowering them and not replacing them, and increasingly, these agents will be working remotely.
A new outsourcing model?
So much so that in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry, Weaklend believes it will lead businesses that rely on BPO to deliver their services to reconsider how they select a geographical region in which to base their outsourced operations.
This is because, no matter how attractive an offshore destination may be from a cost efficiency perspective, if that country doesn’t have the infrastructure in place contact center agents can’t easily transition to remote working to provide business continuity.
Therefore, part of the new normal will be to spread this risk with a mix of off- on- and nearshore, backed by a work-at-home network, such as Sitel at Home, to ensure business as usual.
Keeping connected with your people
However, when it comes to best practice, all panel members were unanimous about the importance of tools and processes for supporting and actively encouraging virtual engagement and communication rather than simply remote working. As both Berube and Weaklend highlighted, the cloud has made the act of remote working simple, but companies are made up of teams and colleagues who need to maintain a professional and personal connection in order to do their jobs.
“For our employees, working in the office is a choice they have made. And for those people transitioning to being an internet person without the social connection can be harrowing,” explained Matison. “You have to have remote tools and we will never go back to not having virtual hangouts after this is over. The tools have actually helped communication improve tenfold. You need to take time to check in – and not just about work. You need to use these tools to improve transparency and to communicate to everyone what’s happening and to answer our people’s questions.”
To watch the webinar in full, and to discover what the panelists believe will be the enduring changes to business operations and customer relationships once the coronavirus subsides, click here.