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Pandemic Hits: Changes to the Call Center Industry

The pandemic has definitely brought changes in different aspects of people’s lives, and it did not spare most businesses. Included in these businesses affected by the pandemic is the BPO industry. 

BPO or business process outsourcing is discussed by The Economist as an industry that boomed in the 1990s. Before, it was a loosely defined industry that covers call center jobs and those that process invoices. It also cited that the BPO industry, specifically call centers, is strong in the Philippines, overtaking India in the field. 

Most define the industry as a third-party service provider that is hired by a specific company or business to carry out one or more of its functions. Included in the services a BPO provides are knowledge process outsourcing (KPO), research and data analysis processes, data entry, marketing, human resource, and customer support. 

For this article, we focus mainly on customer support, how it is affected by the pandemic, and why it continues to be relevant despite the challenges it faces. 

The Impact

Oxford Business Group stressed that the BPO industry, next to overseas Filipino worker (OFW) remittances, is one of the major strengths of the Philippine economy. But most of these companies that outsource business functions are from the US; as the US faced the negative effects of the pandemic, the BPO industry suffered as well. The industry is now faced with the challenge to diversify its clients and look beyond the USA.  

Some businesses were successful, while others were not. Some unfortunately shut down and discontinued their operations. A CNBC news article defines this as the “death of call centers“. One of the main factors that brought this is automation. 

As call center companies struggle to bring their employees to work, they found themselves shifting to using robots. Automation is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and voice automation to continuously offer services to their customers. 

Why are call centers still relevant

Despite some companies opting for artificial intelligence as a way to communicate with customers faster, call center agents to remain relevant. After all, customer service is one of the most important parts of a business, and a call center agent remains a vital part of it. 

Customer service is important because it allows you to retain your customers. By providing great customer service, you show your customers that you value their feedback and you are ready to help them in case they encounter a problem with your product or service. Customer service, in short, is a way to develop a good relationship with your consumers.

Therefore, customer service is personal. Using a robot to answer all customer inquiries is far from personal. Though using an automated system does have its advantages like a faster response to common inquiries, there is nothing like a real human interaction to understand a concern a robot may not understand. 

Imagine being a customer that talks to a robot. When a robot does not understand your inquiry, you go into a loop of conversation and you get frustrated. A robot will not understand this, but a call center agent can. An agent can provide a human touch to the conversation, and it becomes personal. 

This is why despite the advantages and ease brought about by automation, some businesses opt to use both humans and AIs for customer support. 

man putting on headphones

Going remote

The next important thing to address now is the problem of social distancing. Most call center setups are side-by-side cubicles in an enclosed office space. Due to this, there is a need for a remote work setup. From call center operations rose virtual contact centers.

A virtual contact center is simply a call center where agents are in remote locations. This remote setup uses cloud-based contact center solutions for customer and team interaction. This is the same software managers use to monitor agent performance and send feedback. 

Aside from the need for great software, other essentials such as a good wifi connection and a comfortable headset must be available. Since call center work involves taking voice and video calls for long hours, a great earpiece such as a Plantronics modern headset will help an agent be more comfortable while working. This type of headset allows noise cancellation that is of utmost importance if you’re working from home and living with other people or noisy neighbors.

Constant Evolution

As with most companies that shifted to a remote setup, call center industries also faced some challenges. Yet, the shift has been enlightening for some companies. These companies realize that the need for an on-site call center may not be as crucial. Shifting for a permanent work-from-home setup and employing virtual contact center agents may be the future of the business. 

As many have said, change is the only constant thing in this world, and everyone should embrace it. The call center industry has definitely seen many changes over the years. From telephone services, the industry now employs chatboxes, emails, and social media to provide customer service. Adding a remote setup wouldn’t be a big surprise.

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