Will Today’s Contact Centers Become Extinct?
As the novel coronavirus continues to make headlines, many can’t help but think of the 1995 thriller Outbreak. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman, the film focuses on an outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus in Zaire, and later in a small town in the United States. The plot speculates how far military and civilian agencies might go to contain the spread of a deadly, contagious disease. However, it is not the incredible acting that stands out most with this film, it’s the incredible reality that it is based on Richard Preston's nonfiction book The Hot Zone and the real-life spread of incurable disease between Central Africa and the United States.
Rapid Spread, Major Impact
The rapid spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has sparked worldwide alarm. Since the virus was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 31, 2019, it has spread from Wuhan, China to 46 countries with nearly 122,000 cases and 4,400 deaths; it is being compared to SARS, swine flu, Zika, and other epidemics. Some scientists have estimated that the number of cases doubles about every seven days.
The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably, promoting swift and significant actions. All of Italy has been put on lockdown, as the government ferociously tries to gain control of the virus spread. Large event gatherings are being cancelled or postponed and universities across the globe are extending spring break to give professors time to move curriculum to an online format. Vietnam has temporarily suspended entry for eight European countries as India suspends all tourist visas until April 15.
Impact on Contact Centers
Second to frequent hand washing, social distancing has become WHO’s strongest recommendation to stop the spread and the world is complying. Unfortunately, with brick and mortar contact centers, such distance is nearly impossible as people work in close proximity, often sharing phones, cubicles spaces, desks, computers, and more, making agents more susceptible to communicable diseases.
According to A.T. Kearney, the total number of contact center workers in the United States—both in-house and outsourced—is roughly 3.4 million. The consulting firm also estimates that there are 1.1 million agents employed in Indian BPOs. The IT & BPO Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) reports that there are 1.15 million workers currently employed within business process outsourcers (BPOs) and estimates the workforce to reach 1.8 million in 2022. Australia, China, Vietnam, and Malaysia are rapidly challenging the status quo as they are proving to be some of the fastest growing countries for BPO in comparison.
The ten largest contact centers in the United States employ nearly 355,000 people; and while most of the largest contact centers in the United States belong to recognized brands in the Fortune 150, number one on the list is a BPO that employs contact center agents in 14 countries in 130 locations with more than 100,000 employees. Touting numerous healthcare companies, travel organizations, retailers, and more as its clients, this one outsourcer could easily turn Outbreak, the movie, into reality.
In 2014, the Indian Journal of Community Medicine published a research note focusing on health issues amongst contact center employees. Citing numerous factors (sleep habits, food habits and addictions, social life, and physical and mental health), it was found that contact center workers are exposed to a “volley of problems” and health issues. Just this week, news reports surfaced, pointing to a coronavirus cluster, connected to a call center in one of the busiest areas of Seoul has raised alarms that South Korea's outbreak has gained a strong foothold in the more populated capital region. In the Philippines, where the first death outside of China was reported, the government has faced intense criticism over its handling of the outbreak as many fear the country is woefully ill-prepared in grappling with coronavirus threat.
As the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued interim guidance for businesses and employers to plan and respond to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), encouraging organizations to review their current pandemic flu plan or develop a new plan, particularly one that incorporates work-from-home policies. Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have already asked staff to work from home because of coronavirus.
With that, many organizations remain overworked and overwhelmed as they find alternative solutions to ensure contact centers remain open and operational for all customers. Many are considering moving their brick and mortar contact centers to a virtual environment; however, the need to address proper time management, quality assurance and suitable oversight of agents, continuous learning and upskills, technology implementation, and proper communications are driving even greater concern for business leaders. Those who focus on customer experience are faced with numerous challenges as they scramble to ensure customer trust and loyalty.
Arise - A Simple Solution
More than 25 years ago, Arise Virtual Solutions envisioned the cloud-based technologies that could unite work-from-home customer care Service Partners with large companies to deliver future-proof scalability and incredible day, week and event flexibility. With customer trust and loyalty in mind, the Arise Platform stands ready to offer business continuity to all those who require customer support services. Arise’s efforts are already well-tested and underway in preparation of support to any business or social disruption that may be associated with COVID-19.
When finding the right agents to provide top-notch support, Arise incorporates skill-based testing, voice analysis, and background checks to source educated and experienced brand advocates. Additionally, Arise offers a form of learning that utilizes cloud-based services for delivery, interaction, facilitation, demonstration and evaluation of learning material. Taking into consideration today’s adult learning principles, Arise incorporates several dimensions of learning like auditory, visual and kinesthetic. Instructors are equipped with both a traditional and modern-day skill set to keep learners engaged.
Arise has instituted highly effective processes and procedures to aid in communications and rigorous monitoring of performance. The company’s award-winning Starmatic™ Scheduling System allows Service Partners to schedule in 30-minute intervals to ensure the greatest levels of flexibility and on-demand burst capacity at scale.
Security is of utmost importance. Service Partners connect via encrypted VPN to a dedicated firewall. All connections are encrypted via SSL based VPN and no administrative access is possible without two-factor authentication. Upon request, Arise can implement the Arise Secure Desktop (ASD) tool, a proprietary, thin client solution providing a physical barrier between client sensitive data and Service Partners. Arise is Level 1 PCI certified annually and undergoes a SSAE18 SOC1 Type II audit by Grant Thornton.
In addition, Arise has taken additional precautionary measures as it applies to the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Practiced procedures and team assignments for emergency operations
- Procedures to monitor the status of affected service partners using the Arise Platform so appropriate adjustments to service time and fulfillment can be made
- Multiple channels to communicate updates and warnings to all Service Partners and continuously update as the situation changes
- Coordination and planning with third-party suppliers to recognize and mitigate risk posed by any loss of their service during the emergency
- Updated hiring policies to ensure key staff are not clustered in a single area
- Significant investment in cross-training to develop and maintain “depth on the bench” if the primary and even secondary subject matter expert is impacted
- Well-developed standard operating procedures and automation to ensure key processes are not dependent on any single person
The novel coronavirus is having dramatic impact on businesses all around the globe and those with physical contact centers or BPO partners in brick and mortar facilities are especially at risk. Forced to reevaluate their business continuity plans, organizations are not just changing their day to day processes and operations, they’re changing the way people work.
Following the recommendations of the WHO, CDC, and other government organizations, many organizations are instituting well-constructed, remote work policies as they transition their contact centers to a carefully planned virtual environment. Many others seek expertise and support from experienced, cloud-based outsourcers that can quickly and effectively ramp to support unprecedented volume.
When contact volume surges, and organizations risk slow response to their customers, that’s when the most help is needed – and quickly. The Arise Platform is here for its clients regardless of fluctuating demand. Organizations can ramp up to provide as much as a 400% increase in support on the platform as they connect to a network of remote Service Partners who are ready to jump into action. Even when volume increases come as a surprise, clients on the platform can scale up to 70% and handle it quickly. Whether support is needed for a couple of hours, a day, a week, or a whole season, the Arise Platform strives to make every contact an authentic customer experience.
 Cohen, Tyler, Bill Gates Is Really Worried About the Coronavirus. Here’s Why., Bloomberg.com, March 3, 2020.
 Jiwa, Nick, Market Size: Just How Big Is the Call Center Industry?, CustomerServ.com, October 25, 2017.
 Mazareanu, E., Largest U.S. call centers by number of employees 2018, Statista, October 16, 2019.
 Raja, Jeyapal Dinesh and Bhasin, Sanjiv Kumar, Health Issues Amongst Call Center Employees, An Emerging Occupational Group in India, Indian Journal of Community Medicine, July-September, 2014.