2020 started like any other New Year. The excitement of what lay in store and all the usual fanfare associated with a New Year was palpable. But by around March, it became evident that 2020 would be like no other year in almost a hundred years. The last pandemic to scourge the world on this aggravating scale was the Spanish flu of 1918.
But there is a silver lining. The COVID-19 pandemic showed what really matters to us. Our human bonds were on display in spades. Be it spending time with our family, bonding with colleagues over a Zoom meeting, or empathizing with customer service reps when we picked up the phone to resolve some services-related issues.
Contact centers suddenly became the center of the universe for most of us while we were hunkered down in the safety of our shelter-in-places. Contact center agents had to shoulder the responsibility of helping us to get used to the new normal. All research points to the fact that these agents and frontline customer service providers went out of their ways to provide us safe and hassle-free customer service. But the sheer scale of call volumes to customer care numbers of banking, telecom, healthcare, and utility sectors, was enough to inundate even the most prepared BPOs and contact centers.
The Philippines, a major Business Process Outsourcing(BPO) destination for the United States, had to work overtime to ensure we could have a good night’s sleep. For the banking and IT sector, there is no other BPO hub like the Philippines. There are endless stories of average Americans going through painful experiences to connect with a human agent. The contact center spike in customer call volumes was unprecedented.
A furloughed Broadway actor reminisces, “I did want to cry.” He was on hold for over eight hours to block his stolen credit card and still did not get through. “Two calls, no humans,” he wrote in a tweet. Another customer trying to report unauthorized credit card charges says, “I was on hold for so long I fell asleep … when I woke up, I was still on hold.” There are countless such stories.
The challenges associated with transitioning a large contact center to a 100% work from home format are unthinkable. Overnight, the Filipino contact center workers found themselves struggling with the same issues of personal health, family well-being, financial uncertainties, logistical nightmares, and safety concerns. Yet, the frontline workers in the contact centers persevered. Their services were deemed essential to the rest of the world, just like grocers and healthcare workers anywhere.
So, amidst all this gloom and doom, the human element gave us hope. All the frustration and anger are explicable. But the COVID-19 pandemic affirmed our pursuit to bring about a global alliance and improve social bonds. International customer care workers and American consumers never felt this close. The geographic and cultural boundaries notwithstanding, there was a universal rapport since we were all fighting the same invisible enemy – coronavirus.
When Americans shared pictures of heroic healthcare workers, Filipinos shared photos of relentless contact center agents. A particular image of food and care packages left outside a Manila contact center agent’s door recovering from COVID-19 was widely shared online.
The fact that even during one of the worst pandemics in over a century, these brave agents preserved. It makes us rethink our interdependencies and take comfort in the fact that geographic and cultural differences don’t matter.
The human bond got stronger during this pandemic, and the contact center workers did a great job of supporting us all through the pandemic. Kudos to them.
Stay tuned for more such human stories from Uniphore.