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SURVEY: Contact centre agents struggled with productivity during COVID-19

Pranay Desai, Freshworks
Pranay Desai, Freshworks

The survey ran online for two weeks during October 2020 and sought to uncover the biggest challenge faced by customer service teams during the crisis, as well as which tools were most important in maintaining service levels throughout the pandemic. It also looked into the impact that COVID-19 had on contact centre agent productivity and mental health.

A total of 268 responses were captured, with 63% of respondents being at executive or middle management level, and representation across a wide range of industries, although 49% of respondents came from the IT sector.

The pandemic has been extremely stressful on customer-facing teams, especially the support team.

Three quarters (77%) of businesses had a business continuity plan in place before the crisis. Pranay Desai, Head of Enterprise Marketing at Freshworks says, “Reporting and tracking metrics was the biggest problem faced by CX leaders worldwide.” The ability to track productivity and performance was cited by 45% as the biggest challenge faced by their customer service team through the crisis, followed by operating with reduced staff (36%), delays in responding to customers and resolving issues (34%) and internal collaboration (32%).

Almost three quarters (72%) of respondents said the crisis had a negative effect on agent productivity and mental health. 15% said it had no effect whatsoever. “The pandemic has been extremely stressful on customerfacing teams, especially the support team. They were – and some still are – constantly bombarded with queries from customers. Responding to each and every simple, mundane question to complex tasks has had a negative effect on agents' mental health,” says Desai.

67% said service levels had returned to where they were before the crisis, while 65% said service levels had increased since the crisis on support channels like Phone/Livechat/ Email. “As anticipated, the pandemic has changed the way customers interact with support agents and this has caused an increase in traffic across all channels, especially digital like email, chat etc.”

Asked to list the tools that were most important in terms of helping maintain service levels through the crisis, respondents listed: collaboration tools (76%), cloudhosted customer service software (52%), live-chat across web, mobile and messaging (47%), self-service customer portals (46%) and internal knowledge management systems (38%)

Enhancing self-service capabilities (48%) was the top priority for customer service operations, followed by maintaining service quality (46%) and boosting employee morale (43%).

57% of CX agents were office-bound prior to the crisis, only 6% were completely remote. “Everyone was working from the office prior to the crisis. But going forward, work from home culture will be the norm,” he predicts.

A third (33%) of respondents have seen a decrease in the number of customer service staff compared to February 2020. “The pandemic has made companies invest in chatbots that will offload the burden faced by their existing support staff,” explains Desai. “Staffing levels are expected to recover by mid-2021.”

Customer urgency has increased since February 2020 according to 69% of survey participants. “Customer urgency has definitely seen a huge increase but this will be the status quo until the situation has become normal.”

Interestingly, only 9% expect in-store inquiries to evolve by June 2021 compared to June 2020. “Email, while traditional still seems like the primary source for all customer queries,” concludes Desai.

About the survey

A total of 268 responses were captured, with 63% of respondents being at executive or middle management level, and representation across a wide range of industries, although 49% of respondents came from the IT sector.

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