Tracking the Shift in Remote Contact Center Workers Amid COVID-19

Until very recently, only 13% of contact center agents worked remotely on a permanent basis. Now, in an environment shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, that number is rapidly growing.

In its latest report, “The Inner Circle Guide to Contact Center Remote Working Solutions,” ContactBabel surveyed US contact centers about the challenges they’re facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those challenges was the issue of changing workforce conditions — specifically, the need to use remote working solutions to avoid a disruption in customer support operations. Let’s take a look at how US contact centers are responding to the unique demands of the current climate.

Remote Work Before COVID-19: Survey Results From 2019

Before the coronavirus outbreak, fewer than half of US contact centers allowed agents to work from home. Of the contact centers surveyed in 2019, 43% allowed at least some of their agents to work from home, while 57% either had made the firm decision to not offer remote work options at all, were in the process of evaluating remote work, or hadn’t made any moves one way or the other.

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Prior to the pandemic, the biggest benefits to homeworking were perceived to be improved staffing flexibility and ability to handle unexpected call volumes.

Virtualizing multiple contact centers allows agents to move easily from one virtual location to another — and that allows for increased staffing flexibility. And because homeworking gives call centers a large pool of agents to draw from, as needed, it can be a major advantage in handling call spikes.

The biggest inhibitor to allowing remote workers was fear of security risks and fraud — 41% of respondents said security was their primary concern.

Respondents noted that the fear was home workers would be in unsupervised environments, increasing the risks for data security breaches and fraud compared to workers located in a supervised call center. This was especially concerning if physical paperwork was involved or the agents had to write down payment details or passwords.

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The State of the Industry During Coronavirus: Survey Results From April 2020

In mid-April 2020, ContactBabel analysts ran a short survey for 108 US contact centers to gauge some of the changes taking place in the industry due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the sample size is smaller than usual, the survey results still offer a flavor of what’s been happening in the industry.

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The effects of the coronavirus on employee headcount are slightly positive: More contact centers are hiring instead of than laying off people during the pandemic.

While 7% of respondents had made staff redundant and 12% put some staff on temporary furlough, 28% of contact centers were actively recruiting new staff during the crisis. When segmented by contact center size, results show that more large contact centers (54%) are actively taking on new staff, while mid-sized contact centers appeared to be the most vulnerable to job losses.

Agents aren’t staying home sick because of the coronavirus.

Only 1 in 10 contact centers surveyed were seeing absence rates of over 25%, suggesting that absence due to illness or lack of childcare doesn’t seem to be a problem for most of those surveyed. Of course, these findings vary regionally, with areas that are considered hot spots for the virus being more heavily impacted by agent absences.

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Not surprisingly, the number of remote agents has risen dramatically.

Prior to the outbreak at the end of 2019, only 14% of survey respondents’ agents had been homeworkers. By mid-April, that number had jumped to 71%, with larger companies most embracing this change.

Overall inbound call volume is down.

But to get a clearer picture, you need to look at results by vertical. While 34% of respondents show an increase in inbound call volume, 44% show a drop in the number of calls. However, these results are highly sensitive to the type of vertical. While businesses like banks, grocery stores and telecoms are experiencing an increase in calls, businesses like luxury goods retailers, claims departments for car insurers and public transportation providers likely have far lower than normal contact volumes.

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Average speed to answer is holding up fairly well across the industry.

While mid-sized operations report a very slight drop in speed to answer, smaller and larger organizations are seeing a rise in average speed to answer, ranging from 40%-50%.

Contact center opening hours have largely stayed the same.

Three-quarters of respondents have not made any changes to their opening hours. One in six has cut hours and 3% have shut down operations entirely. Of the largest contact centers, 8% have increased their opening hours.

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Call abandonment rates are rising.

The cumulative effect of higher call volumes, longer speed to answer, longer opening hours and increased staff absence has been to increase call abandonment rates by about 60% industry-wide. This is an increase from 3.8% to 6.2%, according to respondent data. While all size businesses have seen a rise in call abandonment rates, this change is particularly noticeable in mid-sized businesses.

There has been a jump in the use of cloud-based contact center solutions.

The increase in remote working is supported by an uptake in cloud-based contact center solutions. And during the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a jump in the use of cloud, especially in mid-sized and large contact center operations to support remote working and business continuity.

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The use of digital channels, especially email and webchat, has grown during the crisis.

As customers try alternate ways of contacting businesses, there has been a growth in the use of all digital channels. Fifty-one percent of contact centers report increases in email use, 47% report increases in webchats and 37% report an increase in social media use.

For a clear picture of the current state of remote workforces within the contact center, download the full report here. In addition to data on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on contact centers, the report also offers information about how different contact center solutions assist with remote working, how to approach cloud security for your virtual contact center and how to manage a remote workforce.

You’ll also get access to data about customer behaviors and preferences for different types of interactions — from high emotion to high urgency to high complexity. In addition, the report covers the current role of digital channels, self-service and artificial intelligence, and looks at what the path forward for contact centers looks like once the crisis has passed.

To read the full report, download “The Inner Circle Guide to Contact Center Remote Working Solutions.” And learn more about Genesys Ready Response to avoid disruption in your contact center.