The COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed the way we all live but also the way we do business. As soon as the pandemic’s early days restricted social gatherings, closed schools, and forced restaurants and other businesses to pivot to delivery and curbside pickup, the far-reaching impacts of pandemic were clear and immediate.
But as we move toward a post-pandemic era, some of the shifts we’ve experienced in the past two years are likely here to stay. While the world has begun re-opening to varying extents, many of the effects of the pandemic still linger – including those on the contact center industry.
The Evolution of Customer Service from a Distance
Since the onset of COVID-19, companies have had to rethink their customer service outsourcing strategies. In its early days, the virus struck with force across the entire world, severely impacting countries such as India, the Philippines, Malaysia, China, and all across southern Europe.
Companies that relied heavily on labor from these countries also suffered. Social distancing and physical isolation can be very challenging in urban centers with large populations and little space to roam. Large and centralized call center environments can be a challenge to manage and to ensure employee safety during a pandemic. These obstacles left many outsourcers with very few options to maintain their customer service operations. In some cases, entire customer service operations were disrupted or shut down due to safety and health concerns.
As a result, the industry continues to evolve from a model that relied on large numbers of employees in concentrated areas to one that embraces work-from-home models. How we communicate has changed from face-to-face meetings, discussions, and coaching sessions to remote communications over Microsoft Teams, Zoom meetings, Google Hangouts, Slack channels, conference calls, emails, and chat sessions. Company cultures that took years to build have had to find new ways to thrive and flourish from a distance.
None of this is easy, and it’s all brand new to most of us. It takes time to adjust and to work out all of the kinks, but many are finding new ways to move forward.
The FCR Business Model:
Protect, Preserve, and Persevere.
There are good news stories out there, however.
FCR’s unique, small-town focused operating model has made it possible to achieve many company-wide objectives during the pandemic. We’ve been able to protect our colleagues, communities, and clients while maintaining business operations. In fact, our model allowed us to pivot faster than other organizations to a work-from-home setup when we needed to.
The Pacific Northwest of the United States felt the impact of Coronavirus before most of the country. FCR had a front-row seat to it all with our locations in Oregon and Washington, and we took the spread of COVID-19 very seriously right from the start. FCR was one of the first on-premise outsourcers to pivot the majority of its workforce to a work-from-home environment. We took a proactive approach, rather than a reactive response, through a multi-stage process.
Our Operations teams immediately moved into action and set clear and consistent direction and expectations for sanitation standards across all sites should an exposure to the virus occur. Clear instructions for handwashing protocols and social distancing were established. When a suspected exposure to the virus occurred in our call centers, we made the difficult decision to shut the center down, and then followed up with deep cleaning with medical-grade solutions. FCR changed its attendance and sick policy to encourage those who exhibited symptoms to go home without any worry of adverse action. Our primary goal from the beginning has been to protect our colleagues from getting sick.
When it became clear that FCR would no longer be able to operate in our traditional model of centralized call centers, we pivoted once again. We moved to preserve our colleagues’ jobs while reducing any impact on our clients’ business downtime.
By moving our entire call center operations to work-from-home, we successfully transitioned over 90% of our colleagues to a safer environment in less than two weeks. FCR now has more than 1,800 colleagues working from home in three U.S. states and nine cities and towns. Our model of operating in smaller cities with close-knit communities spread across the states of Oregon, Montana, and Washington, has allowed us to continue our operations without interruption.
This manner in which FCR conducts business will no doubt continue to evolve as time passes. Our clients expect no less. We must anticipate and adapt on a daily basis. We have learned what to do and what not to do in such a short period, and that process will continually evolve. However, the foundation of FCR will remain the same: small towns, rural communities, U.S.-focused solutions. By operating in smaller communities, we are spread across a vast geographic landscape, limiting our exposure to large populations.
Moving to a large-scale, work-from-home solution has made it possible to support our clients with the same quality of service and flexibility they have come to expect. It has also enabled us to provide solutions for new clients who are currently struggling. We believe all of these operational decisions have positioned FCR as a true industry leader – now and for many years to come.
Matthew Achak, President, FCR
Matthew Achak is president and cofounder of FCR, a TTEC company. His role within FCR involves actively managing all company-wide sales, marketing, business development, social media, public relations, client-facing communications, and ongoing program growth. Founded in 2005 in Roseburg, OR , FCR provides innovative support to innovative companies.