Don’t waste this opportunity to build resilience into your call centre operations—this won’t be the last crisis we face.
By Neville Chamberlain, Business Development Manager, ContinuitySA
The call centre industry as a whole deserves praise for its quick response to an emergency of which the full ramifications none of us anticipated. One hears amazing stories of large call centres of 1 700 agents being fully functional within a few short weeks—a project that, if planned, would have taken months or even years.
Just another reason why South Africa continues to rank as the second most preferred country for customer experience business process outsourcing—not only do we offer good quality English-speaking talent at a great price and supported by great technology, but we also have a can-do attitude which clients value.
For call centres, as with the rest of business, the obvious fall-back strategy was to enable agents to work from home. This presented numerous challenges, both technical and managerial, but with huge collaborative efforts, these challenges were overcome. In business, there is generally some consensus emerging that working from home (WFH) has turned out to have many benefits, and we are hearing a lot of talk about how WFH is likely to become part of business as usual in the future. At the very least, it appears that WFH builds a certain amount of operational resilience into the organisation.
One is even hearing this same refrain within the call centre community itself.
In general, there is no doubt that there are definite advantages to WFH. Employees are enjoying the elimination of commuting, and the greater flexibility all round. Many report that they are more productive away from the usual office distractions, although those people probably do not have children!
But there are hurdles to overcome as well, among them privacy and confidentiality concerns—particularly relevant for many call centres. There are also challenges when it comes to managing a distributed workforce and, of course, some people ultimately find that working on their own is lonely.
A more pressing concern though, is that the employee’s home becomes a kind of mini corporate office. Ensuring cybersecurity is one issue, another is the impact of load-shedding, which is now back with us and may even become more frequent and lengthy. They are likely to remain a feature of our lives for the unforeseeable future. Securing and power-proofing every employee’s home is going to be both expensive and difficult to manage. If many agents are unavailable for their shift, the customer experience is impacted and huge burdens are placed on colleagues. Such instances have the real potential to impact the company’s reputation negatively and, ultimately, its bottom line.
In our experience at ContinuitySA, the much more favourable alternative is to adopt a hybrid model that includes some WFH but also leverages the many advantages of a fully managed alternative site. Work-area facilities offer true peace of mind because they are maintained to the highest standards in terms of equipment, facilities, technical support and, of course, security. They also have robust contingency plans in place for water or power outages and cast-iron connectivity.
Several of ContinuitySA clients throughout the country invoked a disaster with us and were able to use work-area recovery seats as a way to build extra resilience into their workplaces, with some employees working from home, some from the primary client site and some from the ContinuitySA facilities. Dedicated work-area recovery facilities are particularly suited for mission-critical call centres because they are secure, offer privacy, have the technology in place and there is no significant “management gap” as there is when agents are distributed.
Several clients have moved all or part of their production sites to ContinuitySA’s managed workspace facilities, thus benefitting from the built-in resilience of a business continuity provider plus the reduced administrative burden of a fully managed solution. Best of all, because most of the recovery space is syndicated across multiple clients, it is an extremely cost-effective option.
In the end, we should not confuse an emergency, on-the-fly response with a fully-fledged resilience solution. Call centres are highly specialised entities, and WFH is a stop-gap, not a long-term option — seize the opportunity to build resilience into your call centre now.
 According to research conducted by Ryan Strategic Advisory, available at https://ryanadvisory.com/india-is-2020s-most-favored-offshore-location/.