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Sunday, 29 November 2020 20:54

Together apart: why remote contact centres can deliver big benefits for Australian companies

By
Shad Mortazavi, Founder and Managing Director, OpenIQ Shad Mortazavi, Founder and Managing Director, OpenIQ

The COVID crisis has demonstrated the viability of mass remote working and embracing the practice long term has significant advantages, writes Shad Mortazavi, Founder and Managing Director, OpenIQ

GUEST OPINION by Shad Mortazavi, Founder and Managing Director, OpenIQ: Did your company’s contact centre make a sudden shift to remote working when the COVID crisis struck? If so, you’re in good company. In the wake of government shutdown announcements in March 2020, scores of Australian organisations equipped their agents with mobile devices and dispatched them home to work.

For many organisations, this approach has proven a great success. Insurance Australia Group, the parent company of well-known insurance brands such as NRMA, CGU and SGIO, now has a home-based workforce of more than 3,000 agents.

Provided businesses have occupational health and safety in hand, policies to monitor and manage performance, and rigorous data protection measures, the model can have significant advantages over the traditional office-based arrangement.

Here are four of the most compelling.

A wider talent pool

Even during times of high unemployment, good agents can be hard to find. If you’re running a centrally located contact centre, your catchment will be limited to whatever’s considered a manageable commuting distance. Go remote and your horizons instantly broaden. You’ll have the option of tapping into talent pools all over the country, including regional areas where employment opportunities are limited and regular, reasonably paid white collar work is in high demand.

Flexibility

Labour is far and away the greatest cost associated with running a contact centre. Optimising staffing levels can be challenging but becomes less so if you’re able to call on agents for whom short, flexible shifts are attractive, rather than off-putting. Think those with young children or other carer responsibilities, who can’t commit to nine to five but who’d be more than happy to log on for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, or late in the evening. Putting them on the payroll remotely can be a win-win that helps you deal with peaks and troughs more effectively and provides them with regular employment that’s compatible with their lifestyle.

Staff retention

If you’ve been running a contact centre for a while, you’ll possibly know this truth firsthand: manning the phones is a high-churn occupation. Industry research from 2019 suggests an average attrition rate of 45 per cent per annum. That means frontline agents will stick around for just 22 months, on average. This revolving door in staff means companies must continually spend big bucks on training new team members. However, retaining remote working agents appears much less of a challenge. Anecdotal reports suggest these people appreciate the benefits of remote working – greater flexibility, more time with family and fewer hours spent in traffic or on public transport to get to the office – and will spend longer in the role, as a result.

Resilience

The fragility of the centralised contact centre model became rapidly apparent in early 2020, when the COVID shutdowns came into effect. Many companies, particularly those which had offshored their communications to developing countries, found themselves unable to service customers. That’s an unenviable – and unwise – position for any business to be in, and at a time of upheaval and uncertainty, triply so.

Meanwhile, closer to home, we’ve seen companies implement back to work plans which entail splitting their workforces into A, B and C teams, to minimise the risk of wholesale disruption to operations, should a team member be diagnosed with the virus.

A remote contact centre makes such precautions unnecessary because it’s resilient by design. A highly distributed team of agents eliminates the risk of a single point of failure and means organisations can keep on keeping on, when localised disruption occurs.

Investing in a strong foundation

A remote contact centre is only as good as the technology that underpins it. A robust cloud platform, which is hosted and supported locally and has failover provisions in place, can help to ensure business continuity, when disruption occurs. For enterprises that are considering implementing a permanent work-from-home model, it can be an investment that pays for itself many times over.

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