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Coping with COVID-19 Call Volumes and Overwhelming Challenges

By Juhi Fadia March 24, 2020

There is no letting up of the spread of COVID-19, as the global pandemic continues to move through the world’s largest countries, including the U.S., and now India and other densely populated regions where containment has been a challenge, along with treatment.

Entire industries are being shut down, including airlines and hotels.

Financial markets are dropping with no recovery in sight.

Entire countries like Italy are on 100% lockdown as fatalities rise.

Hospitals and healthcare systems are being stressed beyond their limits.

And people are not just worried but panicked.

What this means for contact centers across the board is that callers are anxious, and call volumes are nearly impossible to deal with.

While there are business continuity plans in place, most are inadequate to address so deep and wide a global health crisis as COVID-19. It’s one thing to prepare for a weather emergency, but how can businesses and government agencies cope with a fast-moving and morphing crisis of this size?

How can organizations deliver experiences through interactions that are as reassuring as possible, at a time when human beings wish to speak to other human beings when they are worried about a loved one or themselves?

We caught up with Jeff Tropeano, Vice President of Managed Services at Eventus, a customer experience and contact center company based in Denver to learn about their experiences over the last few weeks.

“We support hundreds of clients across many industries,” Tropeano said. “Our priority was to immediately engage with those existing clients and work with them on scenarios and options. We’ve learned, not surprisingly, that their customers are understandably nervous, and have helped them efficiently deliver what their customers, taxpayers or members crave – accurate information and calm. Our clients’ contact centers represent the face of their brands, whether commercial or government agency. We focus immediately on knowledge management and providing updated information and training.”

Tropeano also explained that supporting managers is mission-critical, as “Agent guidance is essential. Keep in mind; the agents are also experiencing a great deal of stress during this time, with often hourly jobs hanging in the balance and hard choices regarding going to work physically even while their children are being sent home. We have been working tirelessly with our clients to bolster their existing contingency plans, while also bringing new cloud-based solutions immediately to their agents and coaches. We’re doing all we can to help reduce handle times, but given the influx of calls, it’s been more challenging than ever as the last thing a caller wants when they are extremely concerned and upset is to be put on hold listening to music. We have been creating experiences that are more informative for callers on hold, including recommending resources to them offered by their local, state, or federal government or letting them know where they can find information online. We’ve been helping clients update their FAQs and so forth.”

Tropeano said experience with omnichannel solutions is paying off as there are more options to serve customers, even as they generally wish to speak with a live human expert. “By providing omnichannel connectivity with IVR, intelligent chatbots, and other customer service automation techniques, we are taking pressure off agents and reassuring those who call in that they don’t have to wait to get answers. We’ve been mapping guided experiences and helping our clients put those in place to reduce calls, emails, and chats, leading to first contact resolution while, of course, supporting escalation to agents.”

The Eventus culture also fits into the mix in increasingly important ways, Tropeano explained.

“We have been a very compassionate and caring company from our inception. When we are faced with a truly global health crisis, humanity is more important than ever. We are proud to be part of the platform for interconnectedness. Now, we are struggling to address COVID-19. The next global crisis could be another pandemic or other black swan event. As a society, as businesses, as government agencies and non-profit organizations, the need for preparedness and agility is more important now than ever, which is where advanced technologies come into play. We believe we will come out of this stronger as a society, having learned not only how challenging a pandemic can become, but how beautifully we can respond.”

The company immediately implemented a “Rapid Response” package for all clients as COVID-19 cases surged, and social distancing and work-from-home guidance and legislation was put into place in cities across the U.S. and around the world.

This initiative included:

  • Triaged Voice to Digital: moved volumes to digital channels and enhance customer self-service to help “flatten the curve.” Launched digital channels for a voice-only retail client in four hours and deflected volume for a health products company by updating a self-service knowledgebase in real-time.
  • Deployed Agent at Home: stood up business continuity platforms for over 3,100 agents enabling 615 to work from home in one weekend. Built and rolled out “Contact-Center-in-a-Box” for home agents, which were each deployed in under three days, with more being deployed every day.
  • Modeled What-If Scenarios: helped clients stress-test their service experience architecture so they could prepare without panicking, updating volume and capacity plans on a daily basis within twenty-four hours for all clients, and built special what-if COVID019 to estimate KPI impact to agent reductions in twenty-four hours.
  • Developed Reporting, Trends, and Forecasting: built COVID-19 volume driver reports for operators and senior managers within a single day and added COVID-19 special reports to their IntelligenceHub technology platform.

Juhi Fadia is an engineer, analyst, researcher and writer covering advanced and emerging technologies.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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