The impact of the pandemic, everyday challenges and the way forward for customer service


Following the recent news on how ‘customers are fed up with the Covid excuse for bad service’[1], a business at the forefront of the customer service market, Europa, which has its Contact Centre based in Ashford, Kent, shares its thoughts on the challenges and solutions experienced over the last 18 months.

The pandemic resulted in a huge increase in enquiries across the board, from individuals desperate to get through to busy GP surgeries, or on the other end of the scale to retailers who were dealing with the outcomes of the e-commerce boom.

This vast unprecedented increase added a huge amount of pressure on customer service teams, which at the time were battling a new way of working, after having to close offices almost overnight.

Now, a new report from the UK Institute of Customer Service has revealed that over the last six months, the number of complaints about poor service has reached its highest level since 2009.

Is it fair to say that the pandemic was the single cause of such a rise or has it simply heightened challenges already being faced by businesses as a result of the increase of e-commerce trading and customer expectations?

Mat Jobson, General Manager at Europa Contact Centre, reflects on some of the challenges faced and how outsourcing contact centre services can support moving forward.

He comments: “The speed at which businesses had to adapt to maintain a quality customer service environment required real agility – having to implement new solutions in technology (moving away from on-site telephony to new cloud based solutions), find new platforms to ensure excellent employee engagement, knowledge share and manage data integrity to follow regulations and maintain compliance obligations.

“In addition was the challenge of resourcing and training staff to deal with the peaks and troughs in demand, at a time when mid to long term forecasting was near impossible, and unplanned absences and furlough were having a significant impact on staff attendance.

“All of this at a time when customer engagement was most critical – consumers were most likely only reaching out to businesses if there was no other option and they had a real problem (all being mindful not to swamp the systems).

“As both a business manager and a consumer I was acutely aware (and sympathetic) to the contact centre staff working tirelessly to support us all through the pandemic – it was no easy task. There was no doubt the issues being faced were caused by the pandemic, the afore mentioned challenges were, are and will continue to be faced by every growing or changing business – whilst massively exacerbated by the pandemic, they are not new, nor are they going away.

“There is no doubt in the months ahead many businesses, not least the small to medium size enterprises, will find it difficult to juggle their everyday operational and commercial activities and at the same time, give the required focus to putting in place fit for purpose strategies to ensure strong growth, excellent customer service and strong business continuity plans. There can be little argument that the investment needed, both in time and money can make it seem like a real challenge!

“This is when having a strong partnership with an experienced outsourcer really comes into its own. Outsource contact centres have the practical tools to support with the day to day challenges of running a customer service team, already having in place key factors including technology platforms that manage multi-channel communication, staff resourcing strategies to support planned and unplanned peaks, established structures to manage training and data intelligence to support ongoing improvements.

“A good outsource organisation will work alongside a business to develop and improve its customer journey programme in a cost efficient way and in a manner that keeps that business fully informed and in control of the total customer experience.”