Achieving scalability in a crisis
At the height of the pandemic, one of Connect Assist’s helplines that we run on behalf of a benevolent charity was receiving over ten times its usual call volumes. Many others also saw increases as people sought guidance around job losses, debt and mental health issues.
Yet none of our clients suffered service outages during lockdown. Instead, we were able to expand services to meet the increased demand at very short notice.
So, how did we manage to scale up during a crisis?
It was down to advance planning, an agile attitude, modern technology, and some very committed staff.
Business continuity planning
At Connect Assist, we a mindful to prepare for the unexpected, but a pandemic was a little beyond our worst-case scenario planning. However, building a positive mindset around change and building trust with staff all play their part.
There’s no particular wisdom in noting that business continuity planning is essential to survive tricky periods, yet one survey in the US found that just before lockdown, only 12% of businesses regarded themselves as highly prepared for Covid-19.
In our neck of the woods, we’d already been tested by severe snowstorms in 2018 and flooding that Noah himself wouldn’t have sniffed at in early 2020. Tempered by these experiences, we had the plans in place but most importantly, had the experience of enacting them – learning what worked and frankly, what didn’t.
A blessing in disguise, we had plans and procedures for successful remote working well before the pandemic hit and so were able to make the switch just before the announcement of the first lockdown in March 2020.
To be ready to scale up, you’ll need to have plans for the urgent hiring, on-boarding and training of new staff, including virtual sessions. During lockdown, Connect Assist took on 82 extra staff to support central government. Moving most of our staff to homeworking allowed these new employees to remain Covid compliant in the office.
Key to success and preparedness is an agile attitude. Of course need to plan your services but it’s vital that you build in layers of flexibility.
One crucial element is eliminating so called ‘silo’ working. The better staff are able to work cross-team, the more flexible they can be in delivering a consistent customer experience.
In fact, cross-functional teams are said to be capable of resolving more than 95% of customer queries at first contact. That increased efficiency enables your organisation to scale up its services when demand rises.
Businesses with modern technologies at their disposal were more resilient to the challenges. Good tech is a vital enabler handling scale with ease as compared to increasing staff numbers and supporting management structures.
Cloud-based computing is built for scale scalable. Instead of swopping out servers, you can simply upgrade storage and capacity and off you go.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and other security measures have to be in place – again, an enabler, ensuring that customer data is securely accessible to remote working staff, yet safe from cyber threats.
Most excitingly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) provides an option to segment customer demand. AI-powered chatbots, such as the one we designed for Calderdale Council, handled the bulk of Council Tax queries, freeing up their customer service advisors free for trickier or more complex casework.
Automated workforce management solutions used well can also take the legwork out of staffing calculations and shift rotas, helping team leaders manage their hybrid home and office working teams.
However, organisations which think that tech can ‘handle it all’ should not be misled. The key to scalability is your workforce. Your relationship with them – both personal and contractual, is hugely important.
Many of the UK’s office workers have appreciated the shift to remote working (though perhaps a little less so if they also have challenge of home-schooling, like me #terribleteacher). It’s likely that contact centre advisors will continue to work in part from home, which could give more of them the ability to work out-of-hours too.
Of course, their dedication to providing great services must never be exploited – that’s a fast track to burn-out, high workforce turnover, and staff shortages just when you most need experienced employees.
Our experience shows us that by investing in your people, adopting an agile attitude, and making the most of technology, companies can not only survive future crises, but even scale up.
If this sounds like the kind of place that you’d thrive, have a look at our current vacancies. We’re always on the lookout for talented people who understand the value their work brings to our service users.