As the coronavirus crisis escalated in February and March, companies prepared to rapidly adjust their operations to stop the spread of the virus. The outsourcing industry was no exception.
Outsourcers have been critical to helping companies respond to the crisis, working to minimize disruption to customer service or quality, while also managing their own teams under stressful conditions. Of course, while some outsourcers shifted relatively nimbly to work-from-home arrangements in collaboration with their clients, others fell behind.
As the world continues to reconfigure what the future will look like after coronavirus, there are a number of impacts that businesses and outsourcers will need to face together to ensure both short- and long-term resilience.
In the coming weeks and months, businesses and outsourcers will need to focus on adapting operations to accommodate a remote workforce while maintaining high-quality customer service, especially where demand has spiked. Success will depend upon addressing these key considerations:
- Accelerate digital transformation programs: For many companies, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused call volumes to skyrocket. The only way to handle such an onslaught of inquiries while maintaining customer service levels is to implement digital solutions like chatbots and voice bots that can handle low-complexity queries quickly and proficiently. AI solutions give customers the immediate attention they need, while freeing agents up to take on more sensitive issues.
- Resolve legal loose ends resulting from urgent decisions: With public health directives changing from day to day, businesses and outsourcers have been forced to rapidly implement pandemic policies and procedures. For the most part, the legal and operational implications of these changes could not be properly examined before being enacted. In the short term, companies will need to look closely at GDPR or privacy laws to understand if updates are needed to their contracts, policies and/or procedures.
- Assess technology infrastructure models and security: Businesses and their providers that didn’t have adequate IT infrastructure to accommodate a remote workforce became quickly aware of the pitfalls. Productivity in IT support during the pandemic is predicted to have dropped by as much as 40–50 percent due to a lack of remote infrastructure. Ensuring continued productivity depends on businesses and outsourcers working together to ensure employees have sufficient work-from-home technology, including appropriate network bandwidth, VPN, collaboration tools, video conferencing and SOC 2-compliant information security. It also means continually monitoring data centers, servers and networks while taking into account increased usage.
- Evaluate geo-diversification: Some North American companies will bring work back from offshore as a quick way to ensure infrastructure availability and mitigate geographic concentration. This could result in growth in the U.S. market and a change to the outsourcing landscape. Companies should consider their relationship with their current providers and explore expanding their provider ecosystem to balance their global footprints.
Tackling COVID-19 on a global scale is proving to be more of a marathon than a sprint. Epidemiologists predict intermittent spikes in cases over the next year or more. To stay afloat, businesses and outsources will need to weigh these key considerations over the long term:
- Build global pandemic scenarios into BCPs: Beyond managing the current pandemic, businesses and outsourcers are realizing that they were and are woefully underprepared to deal with large-scale crises in general. Building more accurate emergency scenarios into BCPs includes selecting new and diverse site locations and geographies to mitigate risk, creating rebalancing plans between locations if productivity drops, establishing globally distributed shared services, and making work-from-home an option everywhere.
- Increase outsourced services: Having strong relationships with outsourcers has enabled companies across the globe to successfully weather the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Now that companies are realizing their capacity to work with teams and providers in any location, the door is open to new possibilities to increase cost takeout and risk mitigation. This could include outsourcing more nonstrategic services and accelerating the shift to digital channels.
- Meet new customer expectations: As more companies implement AI solutions in the contact center, more people will get used to interacting with chatbots and voice bots. As a result, customers will demonstrate a preference for the quick results an AI-powered solution can provide and will be less willing to wait on hold for minutes or hours to speak with a human agent. This widespread acceptance of bots will increase customer expectations and put pressure on companies to deliver a better experience.
- Ramp up remote security and data privacy: Security and data privacy are perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to establishing a sustainable remote workforce going forward. All outsourcer employees must know and follow SOC 2-compliant protocols for protecting personally identifiable information (PII) while working from home. This includes having procedures for identifying and escalating threats, reducing the risk of data being stored at endpoint devices, and implementing multifactor authentication processes.
For contact centers, meeting the unique challenges of COVID-19 has demanded a new level of collaboration between businesses and outsourcers. As companies pivot to establish adequate IT infrastructure and assemble business continuity planning (BCP) agreements, they are more prepared than ever to mitigate current risks. Even more promising, their capacity to manage future crises has been heightened as a result of the pandemic, creating strengthened partnerships and new possibilities for collaboration.