Webinar “COVID-19 impact on Call & Contact centers and the future outlook”

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Review the transcript of our webinar “COVID-19 impact on Call & Contact centers and the future outlook” to learn about the changes your call center may need in a situation of the 'New Normal'. Experts from around the world shared their observations on how COVID-19 has affected the working process of call and contact centers, how the industry is changing in a situation of the 'New Normal', and shared their vision for the future.


Introduction [00:00:01]
Main part [00:05:54]
Future outlook. Final part [00:55:34]

Introduction [00:00:01]

Angelika Marchenko: We are going to start now. Hello everyone and welcome to our today's webinar "Covid-19 impact on call/contact centers and the future outlook". My name is Angelika Marchenko. I am a business development manager of Voiptime Cloud and personally, for me, it's an honor to be a host of today's event and also an honor to share the floor with our outstanding panel of experts.

So let's start. I hope everyone sees the presentation and we are starting with today's agenda. First of all, we will present our panelists from all over the globe and the host company. Then we'll turn to the main part which is the discussion and we're gonna speak about what the call centers faced with since the pandemic has begun, the main challenge the call centers faced with a pandemic and then will move further to the transformation of the call center working process due to COVID, then we'll speak and hear the expert vision of the new normal and, in terms of the call centers, in the different geographies. And in the QA session by the end of the webinar we'll have 15 minutes and participants who joined us today will have a chance to ask the panelists strategic questions about the direction in which their call center industry goes. So our thought leaders will take inquiries in real time and be able to respond to your questions. You're welcome to write your question by clicking on the chat button and the bottom of the panel or the top and our moderator will process it.

So let's start with members of the expert panel which include: 

Rod Jones,  an independent consultant to the contact center industry from Johannesburg, South Africa. Rod Jones is internationally recognized as a thought leader, industry analyst, strategic advisor, and subject matter expert in the extremely complex and specialized field of customer service delivery. He works with numerous international organizations in countries as far afield as Botswana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and so on, and so forth. Hello, Rod. Nice to see you today. 

Steve Weston, a BPO industry leader with 30 years of exclusive experience leading BPO companies and transformational client solutions, managing director and founder of SK Weston in Baltimore. Hi, nice to see you. Thank you for joining us. 

Iryna Velychko, an independent consultant to the contact center management and optimization with 10 years plus experience, board member of the Ukrainian Association of contact centers, and also co-owner of the outsourcing call center Simply Contact based in Kyiv, Ukraine. Hi, Iryna. Nice to see you here.

And last but not least Rinos Mautsa,  an entrepreneur notable for his role in pioneering and the first-ever call center development organization in Zimbabwe, the Tech24 Group director. He is a founder of the Contact Centre Association of Zimbabwe and co-owner of the Chartered Institute of Customer Management. Hi, Rinos. 

Okay. And now please allow me a moment to present the Voiptime Cloud company. Here it goes. So we are a vendor of a fully-featured Call Center solution that helps people improve customer service via phone and other channels of communication. We have more than 10 years of experience in implementing our cloud-based and on-premise call center solutions in many industries such as financial organizations, BPO, insurance, etc. In the scope of the events in the world, we are actively helping sales and customer service departments to move to the cloud call center solution in order to enable all employees to continuously perform all necessary business functions as it used to be in the office. Our main experience and knowledge do ensure the business continuity, availability, and proper functioning of clients' call centers in remote work mode. And now let's kick it off with the main part.

Main part [00:05:54]

What call centers faced with since the pandemic has begun. The main challenges [00:05:54]

Angelika Marchenko: We're gonna start speaking about what the call centers faced since the pandemic has begun. Indisputably, the essential need arisen was to ensure a safe working process and business continuity of contact centers. What were the biggest challenges at call centers faced with? Let's hear from different panelists from different parts of the world and compare what the situation was in different countries. Iryna, I give you the floor.

Iryna Velychko: Thank you. Hello, everybody. Nice to see you all. First of all, I'd like to say a huge thanks to the Voiptime Cloud company for organizing this expert panel and letting me be a part of it. And for sure it's a pleasure to discuss with such famous consultants. 

So what about Ukraine? I want to tell you some words about Ukrainian history previously for understanding a situation in our country. As far as we Ukrainians have been through some big crises for the last 30 years (including a few financial crises) we got used to being out of the zone of comfort so mainly the Ukrainians were ready for a new one. Another issue is that  the contact centers came to Ukraine very late, only at the beginning of this century that's why we received the last and the best generation of contact centers at that moment. And the last one - I think you should know Ukraine has a very powerful IT sector, which is in the top 5 in the world. As a result, for the last 10 years, our companies have started to use contact center solutions from Ukrainian vendors (for example, a solution of our organizer Voiptime) or in-house solutions based on Asterisk open-source software, for example. Almost all of them have possibilities for the work of remote agents. So I think technically Ukraine was mainly prepared for such changes in the work of contact centers.

For the last 3 months, I made 2 surveys, at the beginning of the quarantine, in the middle of March, and one week ago.  I asked the leaders of the contact centers how strongly the quarantine influenced their work. You can see the difference on this slide. Of course, the first reaction was very emotional, so 65% of responses for major changes turned into 37% after 3 months. 10% of the Ukrainian contact centers did not feel any changes at all, 30% went through them quite easily, about 10% continued to work, as before, and the rest were faced more with a psychological factor than with a technical one, but quickly overcame it. It was their first opinion about the crisis. It was not as strong as we thought about it at the start. This is a short review of Ukraine. I think it's enough for starting. Thank you, Angelika.

Angelika Marchenko: Thank you very much for your in-depth explanation. And now I would like to ask Rod what the situation is in South Africa. Please, speak on that.

Rod Jones: Here we go. Thank you that was fascinating. I don't have nice colorful slides as you do. So just a high-level overview of the South African context in the BPO industry.

Before COVID, we were running roughly 290,000 agents across the country of which an estimated 70,000 was servicing the international business through our BPO sector. The 26th of March was the announcement of our lockdown so we are a little over a hundred days now. The impact of that was significant even as much as within 48 hours every single call center in the country was shut down totally. And fortunately, a very strong trade association that we have, the BUSA, immediately started negotiations with the senior government officials and literally within 48 hours the regulations were amended and being changed to allow certain types of contact centers to go back into operation so where we are now at roughly 100 days plus into the COVID pandemic. And the sad part is that the impact is still to come. We probably will peak the impact of COVID within the next six weeks so we on growth at the moment and it's actually quite frightening. So where are we now in fact? I got the statistics from our association this afternoon so these are very real. These statistics are saying 54% of on-site operations are back in the workplace and there are very strict regulations governing the back to work protocols and 45% are remaining in a work from home environment which is something we hadn't envisaged; the high uptake of work from home which had been very successful. 

We have significant challenges on the work from home environment. One is security issues. Many of our workers, workforce in the call center industry, work and live in informal settlements, informal residential areas where there is significant crime rate, unfortunately. And therefore security is a risk. And the other very important aspect for us, industry, is bandwidth. Operators found significant problems initially with moving agents home due to bandwidth. So there that's really where we are at the moment. We are about 50 percent back to work, the social distancing has reduced the capacity of a lot of the contact centers and, as I said, the protocols for screening, safety, security are in place and as impacting quite significantly on productivity but the prospects are recovering and I'll talk about that later, you need discussions this afternoon but that's where we are at this time. Thank you.

Angelika Marchenko: This is really great, Rod. Thank you for providing such good insightful statistics and I would like to turn there now to Rinos and to talk about the situation in Zimbabwe. Please.

Rinos Mautsa: Thank you so much, Angelica. I think my...in the course of we've spoken... the cases are more or less the same. The industry was caught unaware like across the world. In terms of the statistics during the lockdown around and off March we had answer rate [response rate]  to give the key highlights for the industry. We conduct some industry research annually. And every month we also do some KPI for benchmarking research or for the industry as a whole. So in the month of March from what we gathered the answer rate was around 65%. It was 62% for the service level agreement I mean the service level agreement for the contact centers in the country. So this shows some unity claim and companies were affected. We didn't have any contact centers that had started, I mean, work-from-home concept. So they were forced to adopt it only during the lockdown. Because of that, we saw the unpreparedness of a number of companies.

But we’re also happy to say that right now if you are to check in the industry we have almost 69% of agents who are back at work. We weren't as much affected as South Africa or other countries outside Africa. Our cases are still less than 500 officially. I don't know unofficially. So because of that almost 69% of agents are back at work and 31% are still working from home. And what also helped in Zimbabwe and I think it also applies to the less extent in Zambia, our neighboring country, because we also have the statistics for Zambia what also helped us was that the Internet connectivity during the lockdown...there wasn't lack of power so we didn't have some power challenges and Internet connectivity... it really helped us. We also don't have the crime rate, the crime rate is very low so it's really helped us in terms of the work from home that's why we got such numbers.

Angelika Marchenko: Okay, thank you. That was insightful. These were interesting and good indicators which we heard and now I also would like to share my screen and go to the slide and show you the effect on the pandemic crisis on the call centers. We see here the statistics in the UK and in the US. So as we see in the UK that 84% moved to be mostly home-based and 13% still mostly office based and only 3% mostly home-based was previously by the time. So this information is according to the Contact Babel service and here we go the situation in the US. We see that it is split to the small, medium, large companies, and the statistics really matters due to the size of the call centers companies. Due to the crisis, the large contract centers stay working from home at the middle of June meanwhile small and mid-sized ones start coming back to the office. Steve, what do you think about this? Does it coincide with the situation you observe?

Steve Weston: It does and obviously depends on the region of the country because some states opened up earlier than others. You know we had certain states (especially in Northeast California) where we have dense populations where the bulk of the COVID cases were materialized which meant they were kept shut down a lot longer. Obviously, this created some challenges in the work at home moving as many people to work at home.

Now as states have started to open up over the last six weeks I believe we have every state open up in some capacity because of the social distancing rules. Yeah, the larger ones are having a larger component still at work at home for that reason. Number two will be interesting to see over the next probably four weeks. As expected when you open up your market we start to see spikes in cases. It was bound to happen. Certain states are seeing more spikes which are in Texas and Florida which have a large contact center component, a number of seats work at home. They're not going to shut back down but they're now slowing they're kind of taking a step back on the rollouts. And there are businesses hadn't fully rolled out or being halted right now until they get those cases under control. So a lot of moving parts. I think your chart is very accurate.

Angelika Marchenko: Okay, Steve. Thank you for sharing information and also, in your opinion, which sector of business was hit the most by Corona crisis and which one the less?

Steve Weston: Right. So, you know, there's two ways to look at this. And if you don't mind me addressing it this way because as they just said all verticals were hit really hard in terms of... It was, you know, it really poked holes in contact center strategies in terms of disaster recovery. Obviously, you know, we have a lot of BPOs or healthcare sector, or financial services, tech sector have presence with BPOs on shore, near shore, off shore. There were certain offshore locations that could not go to work at home due to broadband issues. Therefore... Again, it poked holes in everyone's strategy in terms of they quickly had to move calls back as much on shore as they could. Or moving them to work at home on shore for those countries that could not accommodate work at home. And, you know there were also certain technology, restrictions which was another hole in somebody's company strategies with regards to BPOs on you know whether you have premise versus cloud technology. And I know I'm preaching to the choir here with Voiptime but it's true. Those who had cloud technology could move very rapidly into a work at home and be able to move volume all around the world with a snap of a finger. The on premise has a lot of security issues and much more difficult to move. So these things affected all, all verticals.

The second area though in terms of vertical specific it's the regulated markets like financial services, certain components of healthcare which have much tighter security requirements, PCI, PHI type of requirements and being able to take a lot of those calls and moving into work at home. If you didn't already have the protocols in place, some healthcare company, some financial services had the security protocols are already in place. They had not a smaller work at home environment than they have today but they had those protocols. You know, the right security components on laptops, the security protocols in terms of call distribution, ensuring laptops are locked down, no printing capability, using cameras on the phone, on the laptops to monitor remotely to make sure that no one's using cell phones and so on. So for financial services, health care companies who didn't have that in place they really struggled. And you find that when you go to call some of these companies, you need to wait from 45 minutes to an hour just because they could not get enough people into that environment.

On the positive side, some markets actually opened up because of this crisis. This is all around contact tracing and overall COVID testing. So every state now is going into a contact tracing model in terms of they want... you know, they want to be... but as they as they become much more active in testing and as we start to see these breakouts of new cases contact tracing is becoming a huge component in trying to control those flare-ups. So they are looking for contact tracing BPOs who can support contact tracing like crazy. I mean we're talking about tens of thousands of seats, brand new. Right? This is a whole new vertical and the hope is that it will take some of the contact center agents who were doing, you know, some of the industries that have not come back like hospitality or, you know, areas such as that and utilizing those agents into the contact tracing model. So there is a positive outcome of this in terms of creating a whole new vertical.

Angelika Marchenko: Thank you, Steve. This information is really profound and I also like to add from my side that according to the source of Contact Babel more than 60% of contact centers with average size are shifting to the homework seamlessly. They already have been shifted and so they have been prepared. That's why that was pretty easy for them and they didn't feel the difficulties because they were prepared enough. Yeah I repeat it.   60% in average and one of the main reasons of coming to cloud solution is that they had outdated systems or legacy telephony solutions which did not allow them to work from home. So coming to the next question... Iryna, that will be for you. I will also stop sharing my screen so you could share that further. According to the Iryna's survey, over Ukraine call centers within the finance sector benefited more than outsourcing ones due to good technical support and automation. Is it really so for now? Please, share more on this with us.

Iryna Velychko: I would not say that everything is so simple and the financial sector outperformed outsourcing through their technology. In the real-life, in Ukraine the financial sector for the most part uses less flexible solutions for the contact centers than outsourcing, and the requirements for confidentiality are higher there, so it was more difficult to switch to remote work for the financial sector technically, you know. We talked about this. But remote work, for example, requires large capacities for servers or the delivery of computers and headsets to agents who work at home. Definitely, financial companies could afford it, but many outsourcers could not provide enough equipment for remote workers because they can't make such business investments.

You can see on this slide differences in answers among financial sector and outsourcing sector about difficulties in the period of quarantine. So I continue my topics. Besides, the banks could not transfer additional load to the outsourcing because outsourcing had a lack of people in the period of quarantine and it was no chance to get them during this period. But the financial sector again had a clear advantage such as the presence of business processes and clear regulation of work which are often lacking in outsourcing, especially in small companies. It was the panic and lack of clear instructions that prevented companies from restructuring their work quickly and efficiently. 

So you can see on this slide outsourcing has few problems with remote working places only 7% versus 25% in a financial sector. Mainly, outsourcing has problems with work at home with staff because, you know, outsourcing mainly involves students living in dormitories. Yeah. Near 36%, you can see here. But I think the problems with work we see all over the world. Maybe, contact centers were not prepared for such situation, yeah? But you can see difference in panic and in panic mood you can see 19% in outsource and only 5% in financial sector. As a co-owner of outsourcing contact centre Simply Contact, I can say it was a well-coordinated work of the staff and clear understanding of their place and task of each employee helped us transfer more than 400 people to remote work in less than one week. Simply we have a great analytic system that automatically generated reports every hour. It was very helpful to us in this work. Thus, we can check the efficiency, effectiveness of each agent and each project as a whole. As a result, we can flexibly and productively adjust the work and make sure there are no bottlenecks. That's why it was very easy for us but not for many outsourcing contact centers so we saw the answers of some companies that we will not work with outsourcing more. We must think about it and I know such situation is not only in Ukraine.

Angelika Marchenko: Yeah, there it is.

Iryna Velychko: So you can see from the total information for contact centers in Ukraine that the main problem, at the top, was a real problem with work from home for agents and the next one was panic and not enough quantity of time for preparing and receiving good solutions in such situation. So it's my opinion and the result of our surveys. Angelica, thank you. It's for the next question.

Moving to the transformation of Call center working process due to COVID-19 [00:32:03]

Angelika Marchenko: Ok, thank you very much for your statistics and in-depth explanation. It's great to know that with your Simply Contact it was organized very cooperatively you're doing well. Right now we are going to another section of questions. We are moving to the transformation of the call center working process due to COVID-19 and as far as I know, Rod, you have been doing a great job by interviewing many call center executives. Please, share with us what were the biggest challenges in this lockdown you and the contact centers faced with accordingly and how they adapted to the realities of the global pandemic.

Rod Jones: Right. Thank you very much. The coping with the pandemic has been a massive challenge for our entire industry. In effect, for our country as a whole and the economy like many countries throughout the world has been decimated. But the positive side is that the contact center operators are moving rapidly into the new normal whatever that might be by adopting policies, processes, sanitation procedures, and a whole raft of interventions that have been architected by the trade association which has been mandated by government to self-regulate the industry. And that's a first I think for our industry that the industry body has actually taken on the role of managing the reintroduction of context into operations moving forward and that's why a hundred days into lockdown we are about 50% up on for a productivity now.

The major challenges, once again, are connectivity issues, security issues. Another component which hadn't been fully anticipated is transportation. Majority, 70% of our workforce use informal taxis to travel to and from work. Stringent regulations are being imposed on taxis in terms of carrying capacity etc. So logistics of moving staff. Although the regulations allow staff to go back into the workplace we have some challenges getting the people in there as well.

What we've also found is the customer satisfaction. There was a lot of leeway. Customers were giving a lot more leeway in terms of their expectations of call centers initially. But three months into the lockdown they are expecting the same levels of service that were in place pre lockdown. So not just adding the fact that we have challenges in remote workforce etc, customer expectations are back up there the higher level of demand which is causing a lot of problems with the CSET in NPS figures etc. So those are some of the things that are facing us at the moment.

However, there are some some upsides. I think because our association moved very fast and managed to implement changes in regulations we've had a spate of new business BPO work coming into South Africa from international destinations, particularly United States and Australia who now see us as a safe haven, if you like, for operation of contact centers. This means we're small in numbers but it's encouraging nonetheless. So that's where we are at the moment. No doubt, we'll have another discussion little later about where is the new future, where is the new normal. Thank you.

Angelika Marchenko: Yeah, this is really good stuff. And the next question it's... Let's talk about that obviously there are maybe many factors impacting the customer contact outcomes while working from home. These are such as increased call lengths due to different types of queries, longer after call wrap-up (due to lack of the agent familiarity with the remote system) and depleted resource (due to staff absence), and shorter working hours. So how can the manager ensure that the agents are still hitting the core KPIs and measure success in this period? What can you tell especially from your side of experience, Rinos?

Rinos Mautsa: Ok. So what we've noticed is that during the lockdown, you know, most of the agents... we've heard from the research that we did also locally here in Zimbabwe... we noticed that the average age of a questioned agents was around 28 years. That was the average age for a call center agent across the industry. These youngsters, they love to hug, they love to talk to each other, and that company now is working from home, the challenge now as they lived that friendship, that companionship so it tends to affect, I mean, morale also to the certain extent. So morale went down from working from home because you are missing your colleagues. It wasn't about money but it's about missing your work colleagues. So definitely there was a key thing that we noticed in the industry. And that's the most money we're spending now is on how can improve the morale and one key component we're doing some group chats. They would create maybe 30 minutes chat where they'll be joking, discussing not work, just talking about social issues: how are you, how are you coping, how can we help each other. They do Skype meeting, Zoom meeting just to check on each other, just to motivate teams. There were also many agents, especially in the outbound sections they were getting commission basis but when they started working from home the commissions went down because of the adjustment to the normal, from the old normal to the new normal. So they [companies] sort of giving, maybe, increase the fixed allowance to ensure that at least they cushioned the staff members. So that really also helped in terms of fostering the morals of their staff members.

Then what we also realized and we have been recommending that to a number of players in the industry in terms of coming up with flex hours. So instead of saying “You have to work from to”... especially for outbound team members... “from 8 o'clock to 5 o'clock”, for example, we recommended saying “Let your performance be measured on targets, not on the number of hours that we are all the man hours”. So they shifted from focusing on man hours to flex hours and to the type of targets. It was very flexible for the agents to work anytime of the day or night depending on the nature of the product that they're handling so that really also boosted the morale and also helped a number of managers for them to really adjust to the new normal. And also what we've realized (not only in Zimbabwe: I think this is a common challenge also across Africa) was that most call centers across Africa had some challenges with work tools availability. You'll find that maybe, before the COVID-19, you know, people were sharing headsets, they didn't sanitize the headsets they shared especially in Africa. So what we realized after the COVID-19 was that when people were working from home they didn't have the work tools enough. Just maybe even the chair. I mean the ergonomic chairs that are so comfortable. In the normal working environment, people used good chairs and stuff. But now we are working from home. People do work before me sitting on a bed, those who are staying maybe in a one-bedroom flat, you know. So that was a huge challenge now. And also in terms of performance management. You know that Millennials love the flexibility and a number of other things so it really also affected I mean, you know, when we are now working from home, you can't press them for results, you can't be that difficult on them in terms of call quality monitoring. A lot of standards had to go down sometimes especially for the outbound section but for the inbound maybe it was a different ballgame. But in a nutshell, these are some of the measures that are in place and that we have seen also being put in place across Africa.

Angelika Marchenko: Thank you for sharing your vision, Rinos. We're going to the next question. Steve, it will be all yours. We are regarding the financial sector again. How is the BPO's work with the financial sector changed due to the COVID-19, where security data access requirements are really strict?

Steve Weston: Sure. Some of this we've discussed already but, you know...Financial services are a large component of our practice and quite a few of our BPOs support financial services today. However, not a large presence in the work at home environment and, as you stressed in your chart earlier on, our BPO sphere today and, probably, captives, you know, the capability was about 50% percent of their capability would be to work at home. This

means you have this large hole in terms of security components that BPO is needed to fill to support financial services that work at home. And we've talked about some of the protocols on that, you know, the standard lockdown, lockdown laptops, lockdown work area to ensure that they, you know, they are PCI compliant, they're not storing data. All those components that BPOs handled today in a contact center had to be transferred to work-at-home environment where which was for some of them somewhat new and so they, you know, they've had to drastically change their outlook on technology support and agent support of financial services to ensure those security components are met.

Secondly, again, as we talked about quite a few of the financial service companies are we looking at their BPO relationships now as lessons learned from the crisis and that where exactly around the globe are those calls being taken and placed and looking more carefully at disaster recovery protocols to ensure that they don't get stuck again where they can't move calls because they don't have the right security protocols in those work-at-home environments or in those country environments to support those calls. And that meant, you know, again upgrading technology that we talked about to support it, upgrading your personnel and personnel training and, most importantly, upgrading the environment in a work at home to support security protocols.

The New Normal for Call & Contact Centers [00:45:52]

Angelika Marchenko: Thank you, Steve. Yeah, that is great stuff. Now let's jump into nowadays and discuss the notion of the new normal for their call centers. What is the current situation now and how the call centers are coming back to the new normal? As far as you have given us the in-depth idea of situations happening in the different countries, continents I'd like to ask you about your vision of the new normal in the terms of the call centers. 

Rod Jones: A new normal, oh. If we could look into a crystal ball and see the future we would be very rich. But I think it's just looking ahead and as you said that in doing interviews with contact center, BPO professionals all over the world, probing for what is the vision of the new normal, but I think there is a sort of a consensus that we'll be looking at and I made a few bullet points here. 

I think the agility of an organization of BPO operators be able to move very fast and be very flexible and because this pandemic it too will pass but there may be another one just behind it. So there's an eye on that agility particular with disaster recovery and I think work from home is definitely going to be a big component. I think a BPO must be able to prove at least charge of potential clients that they have the capability to move their agents home. We're going to see, I think, lower cost of operations in some destinations and that's where Africa comes to the fore and our cost of operations. I think we will be able to leverage our labor arbitrage and attract a lot more work into the region purely based on the cost factor there.  And big issues are going to be data security and data security protocols, procedures so that's a number-one issue. We started to see as well a massive demand by outsourcing companies on their BPOs is to provide in-depth analytics and predictive analytics. So I think there's a big opportunity there as well. 

We're already seeing that the contracting of BPOs is on business outcomes more than, you know, productive hours or whatever the metrics we've been using in the past and this, of course, creates a lot of... a set of challenges but opportunities as well. And I've mentioned the flexibility is not only flexibility to be able to move agents from an on-premise to work from home but also that flexibility to scale up and scale down very quickly. So the prospect for  BPOs is having long-term fixed headcount contracts. I think there's a rethinking going to happen there. And then, of course, technologies there. As you quite rightly said, a lot of operators have been stuck with legacy technologies, on-premise technologies that just precluded any potential to move agents rapidly. And we've seen successes that those operators that have had cloud technologies, that have had technologies that are conducive to remote workforces and they've managed to deploy that very quickly, sometimes within days. One of my clients based down in Durban moved 700 agents out of fixed premises into work from home in 9 days so because of cloud technology. So that's my view of the future and I hope I'm around to see it unveil that way. Thank you.

Angelika Marchenko: Yeah, that sounds great, that nice conception of yours. And Iryna will start sharing presentation so this question…

Iryna Velychko: Yes, thank you. So we asked our contact centers about difficulties in the post-quarantine period - which issues they need to solve the nearest time so you can see...

The staff mostly do not want to return to the office. More than half of the personnel don't want to come back. The next question is the problem of higher quality distance learning, especially for new hires agents with whom no one spoke in person. Next question, next issue - difficulties in communication with people who work at home or work at the office and so on. And next one issue is the effective working process. I think we will have more and more problems with this process because people will try to work in different variants. Angelica, show, please, next slide. Yeah. So you can see here all those issues are related to the fact that in the near future contact centers will significantly change their structure, I think. You can see here how the Ukrainian contact centers are working now, different variants of their work. So it's difficult to say whether an effective system will be developed or everyone will create what is convenient only for his own company. But this slide shows that while all systems have the right to exist now and only time will tell whether some of them work best. So we will see. I think in some answers we'll make another questionnaire for our contact centers and maybe we will decide one best way and or maybe we will see a lot of differences, different variants for each contact center. So it's our opinion.

Angelika Marchenko: Yeah, that's very discussing. Let's hope for the best, for the bright future. Okay. The next question I would like to ask... Steve, so what do you see what trends and innovations taking place within the outsourcing sector nowadays.

Steve Weston: Sure. Rod eloquently highlighted quite a few of them so I don't want to be too repetitive. We have a habit of that.. we tend to... great minds think alike I guess. The big trend highlights what Rod is saying is companies are... You're always going to have transactional type businesses in the BPO marketplace but overall, companies are looking for true partners in the BPO space around CX strategy and, you know... I know saying be a partner is a kind of a cliche but they want someone who's actually going to be able to tell them about their customers how to improve that CX experience. They want them to provide analytics. They want them to really start providing a lot of the new technologies: AI, bought omnichannel. That's going to support their business and when I talk about them offering and it's not just for that BPO particularly. It's to that technology base would be utilized to across that company's enterprise and not just that BPO. Because a lot of companies you know are trying to back off a bit on some of these more advanced technologies and investing in and looking for BPOs to be the experts in those fields. So that all goes that all is intertwined into what a true and outstanding CX experience and CX strategy is going to be. And again, Rod really highlights a lot of those components of what BPOs need to do to accomplish that. But the days of companies allowing BPOs to say they're going to be a true partner and then end up being just a transactional type of BPO, those days are really are fast going behind us and the true successful BPO players are going to be those who actually are in the forefront CX strategies from a people process technology perspective.

Future outlook. Final part [00:55:34]

Angelika Marchenko: This is really good stuff. I couldn't agree more, Steve. Thanks. And now we are coming closer to the final part, to the things which pandemic has taught the call centers, the post-COVID life of call centers, what should we expect, what is the outlook for future. As far as I know, nowadays some big business companies they plan to give up the outsourcing contact centers and develop in-house call centers and invest more in their automation. So here it comes one thrilling question. What is the future of outsourcing and, concerning exactly the small and mid-sized business, will small and mid-size businesses benefit more from in-house solution or it will still go on outsourcing and it will have a place? So, please, Rod, share on this. 

Rod Jones: I just pick up on my previous discussions. I personally think that the opportunities lie for the BPO operators because therein is the high level of skill in terms of the utilization of technologies, the capacity to invest in those technologies sharing those investments is amortized across a broader client base. So I'm starting to definitely lean towards a bright future for BPO operators as long as they adhere to kind of those procedures that we mentioned in the previous question. It's going to need significant investment and that I think many of the corporates might be reluctant to do at this point in time. They're looking for their flexibility.

Just at one point to spare I wanted to add to that is I think there's going to be a significant shift in the way we recruit agents going forward. Rinos has raised a very good point and what we are seeing is the extroverts being made to work from home their productivity figures are falling because they like a fish out of water. They need to be in the call center. On the other hand, I'm seeing that the introverts are thriving on the work-from-home model, and in certain cases that are being monitored they are almost doubling their productivity and their effectiveness. So I think that points to what we've got to relook at who we employ and then appropriately place them on-premise in and work from home. That's going to be interesting then forward. So that's my view of the future. Thank you.

Angelika Marchenko: Yeah, this is definitely good point of view. Please, Rinos. I'd like to ask you the question. Just here we go. In your personal opinion... Now you see that the call centers are coming back from quarantine. How do they overcome these problems?

Rinos Mautsa: Okay, that's fine. So right now we have seen also maybe two as a starting point. We have seen a shift from relying on voice calls a bit (there's a huge increase now) and relying on the instant chats, especially due to the COVID-19 and it's also cheaper. So we found that Whatsapp for business... there are now huge volumes on Whatsapp where, you know, customer support... There's now huge interaction via web chats, via Facebook interaction or digital platforms.The voice interaction actually went down, I mean too before the COVID-19. So we have seen that so as the businesses are shifting now to the new normal or they're coming back to the offices you'll find that I mean they're resourcing more in managing the digital platforms what is just a minor shift.

I don't know about other countries but we have also seen the BPO players, the National BPO players. They're coming to set up operations and they also have that shift, the inclination on the work from home, on the digital platforms and stuff. And also because companies are saving right now due to working from home. You are no longer investing in the power, in the transport for the agents going back home, all those things - I mean water and other basics that are required when agents are working from work, working from the company premises. Because of the reduction on that costs companies are using the same components to invest in the agents who are working from home. Maybe, it gives us more allowance for data, so that they can better manage for data or internet, to invest in connectivity for their agents.

By doing so it will help to improve productivity and to also to boost the morale. So then in terms of the team engagement, it is a very key component for team engagement. It was key. Team engagement wasn't a very key aspect. I know I've attended sessions by Rod whom I really credit for most of that I know. So for team in the contact center, you know, it's very key for the team to have good morale  and all those things. But if you are to check now for team engagement it's very, very key at this moment. Why? Because as you are working from home you need to be engaged more, especially the introverts that Rod was talking about. So they need to be engaged more you need to talk to them, to hear, the challenge is more. The supervisors and the managers have a very huge role to play, to ensure that their teams are engaged. There's constant communication with their teams. If there are some challenges with the teams they need to be resolved, I mean, within the shortest period of time. You know, unlike in the past where there were some prolonged resolution in terms of the requirements by the staff members and also in terms of the automation of processes which is also a very huge challenge and which also affects to the productivity. So even before the COVID-19 you'd find that things maybe you'd need some approvals to be signed by management or by directors and it would take maybe three days or five working days to get approvals for certain things. But right now because of the processes automation approvals are now fast. I mean if you need approval from your superiors it would be approved maybe within 30 minutes or one hour which also helps to motivate the team members and another day to boost productivity, which is a very huge blast and thanks to the COVID-19.

Angelika Marchenko: This is very interesting, Rinos. And basically, you have already answered the question which we received in the chat here. So, please, feel free to ask some other questions.

Steve, the question will go to you. Let's have a look. Do you have any special advice on all of the software functionality should call center leaders invest money? Now the main problem that they are solving is reducing costs at any possible means.

Steve Weston: Sure. Sure. Right. It's a great question and there are several components here to that and it's your basic telephony and then it's your WFO, the workforce optimization type of software that you would want to look at. Again, the obvious start is cloud versus premise. Cloud allows you to ramp up, ramp down every month. You're only paying for the agents and the licenses they use for that month so it's kind of like a pay by the drink type of situation versus... and especially if you have seasonal work you're on a prem system today. As you know, you've got to pay for those licenses over a multi-year period regardless of whether you're using them or not. It's not the case in cloud. It's much more flexible. Two. You can move volume very effectively. So if you need to move volume to work at home you need to move volume to another site. You can do this, centrally no problem. Last. The maintenance costs are non-existent there is no maintenance cost for cloud for obvious reasons so it's much more effective. And also a lot less costly to maintain and to manage your center.

Then directly to your question about the software on how really to manage agents to get better productivity, better CX. There are terrific workforce optimization products out there and a lot of these are around: speech analytics, data analytics. Now the challenge with analytics obviously is that you get a ton of data, a lot of data and what happens is a lot of companies get overwhelmed by the data. The key is to have a person who actually... whether it's on staff or you have someone outside... who actually analyzes the data for you. That makes it actionable. So it tells you what you need to do to be more effective, what type of calls can you move from your ...from an individual to a digital to, you know, whether it's webchat... also what can you be doing differently on your calls with that customer, what can you do to eliminate multiple calls versus first call resolution. 

There are quite a few of these products out there in the marketplace. Again, the key is the ones that are easiest to use in terms of being able to take data and make it actionable. Then there's the... you know, artificial intelligence. I'll just address, you know, because it's, again, it's a buzzword out there. It's very effective back-office, it's still in its infancy stage in terms of call, it's getting better but in terms of being able to take calls and, you know, really automate a lot of the responses for you... It's becoming more effective on chat, more effective on the web but the actual utilization within a call environment is a bit challenging. But it has very effective workforce management, quality analytics tools which allow you to move volume, adjust your strategy to more digital strategy as well. That gives you the data, then allows you to move probably more types of calls to IVR, webchat and listen to the more complex calls. Your agents reach more value-added calls.

Angelika Marchenko: Thank you, Steve. This is a great point. Also, I see that for now that we are running out of time significantly. So I would like to thank you all so much for joining today's event! For everyone who is registered today, we'll send the video recording next Tuesday. Thank you. Special thank you, very big thank you to our experts for sharing their profound ideas and statistics today. Thank you all. That was a real pleasure to have you here today. I wish you good health and nice weekend ahead.

Tanya Gonchar

Expert in call center process automation, Head of Marketing at Voiptime Cloud. Interested in customer service, B2B sales, marketing, business analysis.

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