Contact Centers: Prepare for Post-Pandemic Shocks Now

Contact Center | 2 minute read

At the moment, many call centers are faced with a torrent of unexpected demand. At Fonolo, we are watching our customers cope in real-time with this demand, with varying degrees of success.

For our banking customers, demand is related to payment deferrals, emergency loans, etc. For our partners in the travel and hospitality sectors, it’s floods of cancellations and rescheduling.

But you don’t have to take my word for it; these struggles are in the mainstream news for example here and here. Just take a look at WestJet’s current call-waiting time…

westjet wait times from website

To make matters worse, call centers are struggling with reduced staff and trying to transition to remote agents at the same time. So there’s a supply shock and a demand shock at the same time.

To cope, call centers are looking for any kind of self-serve alternative that can ease the demand on agents. The exigency is forcing them to move faster and be more adventurous with new technologies.

The sun is shining on vendors of self-serve and automation technology. My message to those vendors is: Don’t get cocky, this might be a short-lived trend.
The sun is shining on vendors of self-serve and automation technology. My message to those vendors is: Don't get cocky, this might be a short-lived trend. #customerservice #self-serve #ai Click To Tweet
Long term, the picture might be exactly the opposite. The demand shock will subside. After all the trips are cancelled and the loans renegotiated, call volumes will return to baseline. But on the supply side, we will see a swing in the other direction.

The projected wave of unemployment is like nothing in recent memory. Many workers who are laid off by this crisis can be repurposed as call center agents, either full-time or part-time.

On the whole, that’s good news, but it will certainly depress labor costs. Many companies justify a new self-service project (chatbot, IVR, RPA, etc) by looking at the savings in agent cost. So, low agent costs undercut that argument. This could result in a great many of those pandemic-related free trials being discontinued in favor of human agents on the cheap.


To summarize:

Short-term impact of COVID-19 on Contact Centers:

Increase in call volume + Decrease in agent supply (illness, quarantine, family obligation)  –>  High demand for automation

Long-term impact of COVID-19 on Contact Centers:

High unemployment –> Lower wages –> Lower agent costs –> Low demand for automation

P.S. A big piece missing in this analysis is the impact on off-shore call centers. Not obvious to me which way that goes. I’m asking people that know more about that than I do, and I’ll circle back when I have an answer.

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