It has been about six weeks since our first survey results were released detailing service and support leader sentiment surrounding the economic impact of COVID-19. At the time, respondents appeared cautiously optimistic about the revenue and budget impacts of the newly declared pandemic. It is not surprising to see that optimism has waned in the second pulse survey, but it was a surprise to see just how much optimism has waned…with a 706% increase in survey respondents anticipating a “high” impact to 2020 budgets as a result of the crisis.

For our second survey, we dug deeper into trends our clients had begun sharing with us, namely around the shift to remote workers and dramatic changes to typical contact volumes.

Observation #1: The migration to remote work is truly remarkable

Shifting workers around the globe into home offices proved to be a more complicated endeavor for contact center teams than most corporate functions. Laptops had to be procured, technology had to be enabled for remote call routing and remote workforce management, and thousands of hourly workers were faced with the prospect of working from home for the first time.

Work-from-home (WFH), or remote agent, programs have been a “hot topic” for contact center leaders for the last 15 years—it was actually one of the very first topics I worked on when joining the Customer Contact Council research team back in 2004. While the popularity of these programs has grown over the years, most companies continue to approach them as rewards for high performers and tend to cap the number of remote contact center staff somewhere around 20%.

In our most recent survey results, I was a little surprised to see that 37% of companies had ZERO work-from-home presence in their customer service and support teams pre-pandemic. Keeping that in mind, it is truly remarkable to see how quickly the massive shift to WFH occurred— 63% of respondents now report their service and support teams are operating ENTIRELY from home.

It will be interesting to see how organizations approach the return to brick and mortar work now that they have seen that remote workforces ARE possible. One respondent pointed out that their organization is closely monitoring staff productivity and service quality to build the internal business case for a more permanent shift to work from home. This commenter pointed out that working from home is a skill and memory muscle should be built with at least periodic WFH periods in the future. Leaders have long believed that WFH programs that reward high performers are a retention driver, so it stands to reason that once given a taste of remote work it will be that much harder to retain employees who are required to return to brick and mortar work.

Observation #2: Shifts in contact volumes are severe

Prior to this second survey, we’d begun to hear one-off from our clients that call volumes were down. Nevertheless, the survey results on this topic are rather surprising—more than 50% report a decrease of at least 16% in live contacts (phone, email, chat), with nearly a third saying volume is down by more than 25%.

Any customer service or support leader’s first reaction to those kinds of numbers is inevitably going to be “how do I keep my team busy and productive?” We asked what your peers are doing in this regard, and the results were intriguing. Download the infographic for the full list of responses, but as a highlight I’ll point out that 41% are using the extra time to catch-up on training, pull people off the phones for special projects, and conduct more coaching conversations (check out our previous blog for some tips on coaching remotely). In the spirit of “Some Good News,” let’s applaud those companies that are working hard to take care of their people and invest in their professional development during such a chaotic time. We predict these forward-thinking organizations will have more engaged employees when it comes time to return to offices.

Challenger’s Effortless Experience team continues to gather resources to help you navigate these unprecedented times. Please check our hub for new updates weekly!

Lauren Pragoff

Lauren Pragoff

Lauren Pragoff is the Vice President of Challenger's Service practice, Effortless Experience. In her role, Lauren manages several tailored product offerings designed to help companies in their journey to become low-effort service organizations.