Welsh Contact Forum’s Sandra Busby: Covid-19 statement

By Sandra Busby, managing director, Welsh Contact Centre Forum 

The coronavirus crisis has left more of us needing help than at any time in recent memory. To get through these uncertain times, people across the country need support and reassurance, whether that’s medical, mental or financial. Our wonderful NHS is proving the critical frontline in this situation. When showing symptoms of the virus, the public were initially urged to call the 111 number. Highly skilled contact centre agents have dealt with thousands of calls from concerned people across Wales.

This is a stressful time for a lot of people and we all need the peace of mind to know that if we pick up the phone, send an email or open a web chat about a symptom, a bill or a policy, that someone is there to help. We’re finding call times are increasing by 20 seconds on average as the public want to chat about coronavirus on every call. We would ask the public only to call for assistance they’re unable to check online.

We may not think of contact centre agents as key workers, but with a nation at home and in need of reassurance on a number of fronts, contact centres have been the unsung heroes of this crisis. We’re relying on our home broadband connections more than ever to run businesses, stay entertained and keep in touch. What’s the potential impact on our mental health if the line goes down and there’s no one to talk to do solve the problem?

Thousands of us have concerns over outgoing bills, mortgage payment, insurance policy or planned holiday. How good does it feel to speak to a bank, building society, insurer or travel company and know financial matters are taken care of? Nobody wants a blockage in their drain at the best of times, let alone now. Contact centres at utility companies are on hand to get that fixed. But this national need doesn’t mean it’s business as usual in Wales’ contact centres.

The contact centres who to continue to operate from physical offices need to do so with safety and well-being paramount and social distancing between colleagues. We’re seeing staff sat on every other desk, more flexible working patterns and deep cleans happening after every shift. Many centres have already adopted the agile working practices we’ve long advocated at the Welsh Contact Centre Forum. Some businesses who aren’t geared up to go will learn lessons from this situation.

Where companies don’t have the right levels of equipment, we’re already seeing new starters being recruited who have their own laptops, with security systems then installed on their personal machines.

This situation will see certain suppliers to the industry win big, particularly companies who specialise in IT, security and home working. We’re seeing an urgent need for skilled people in certain sectors of the contact centre industry, while others inevitably have more downtime.

Our role at the Forum has involved matching businesses who are under-resourced with those gearing up to meet new surges in demand. Wales has a highly experienced contact centre workforce meaning we’re well placed to accommodate in times like this.

Our website now includes a COVID-19 best practice section, where we’ll be sharing best practice from our 200+ centres on innovations in how they’re continuing to provide the service the nation needs. Buzzwales, the industry’s recruitment portal, will continue to be the place to share your latest roles and to look for a career in contact centres in Wales.

We’ll be launching a series of free, demand-led webinars, covering all the big issues important to our industry in these trying times. If you have something you can offer your peers, get in touch. In these uncertain times, the Forum is here to do what it’s always done. We’ll always adapt to the changing landscape to provide the support, advice and training one of Wales’ most vibrant industry needs.