On Wednesday, the WHO officially designated the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic – a new disease that is spreading worldwide. It’s not as if the world was sitting back and waiting for an official announcement before taking action, but this announcement certainly creates a heightened sense of urgency.

As confirmed cases and quarantines grow in number, nearly every aspect of global business is feeling the effects. Non-critical travel has become a rarity, although its need was already shrinking due to rampant cancellations of business and entertainment events.

Many companies have already instituted work from home policies, and those that haven’t are either configuring the logistics to do so or developing a plan in case it’s needed in the future. College campuses are abandoned, sports teams are shut down, and airlines are seeing their lowest numbers since 9-11. Social media may be packed with the debate about how necessary it all is, but one thing is certain: we haven’t seen anything quite like this before.

A perfect storm for customer service

The strain on customer service departments is two-fold. First, call volumes are on the rise. Not surprisingly, industries feeling the impact first-hand like travel and healthcare are working hard to keep up with increased demand. But as people choose to abide by recommendations for social distancing, they are turning to ecommerce and delivery services where they may have otherwise gone to a physical store. And, of course, times of uncertainty always create a greater demand for answers no matter the industry.

This would create CX challenges under normal circumstances, but when showing up to a physical workspace is discouraged the impact is exponentially worse. Call centers across the globe are making the difficult decision to limit or suspend operations in their primary locations. In many cases, simply asking employees to work from home is not as easy as it sounds. You need the right cloud-based systems in place to even consider it, and even then there are logistical issues surrounding equipment, adequate connectivity and security.

Put simply, there are fewer available agents at a time when demand is on the rise.

So, how do you weather the storm?

Be proactive – when necessary

Undoubtedly, many of your customers are looking for the same answers, and those answers don’t require a review of the individual account. Making the answers to common questions easy to find on your website or IVR messaging can free up agents for the inquiries that truly require a two-way interaction.

You can also use email, SMS and social media to relay important information to your customers. It’s smart to notify customers of event cancellations, updated protocols for facility entry or expected delays in service times through outbound channels. Sending out an email series reminding customers to wash their hands and avoid touching their faces is probably unnecessary and just adds to the noise, however, potentially causing subsequent messages to go unread.

Embrace your georedundancy strategy

Spreading your customer service operations across multiple locations is a good business strategy with or without the presence of a global crisis. It’s probably the best way to prepare for the unexpected and offers benefits even during periods of normalcy.

In the case of COVID-19 and any other disease outbreak, the effects tend to ebb and flow regionally, meaning that having a global customer service force generally reduces the likelihood that all centers will be facing the same challenges at the same time.

But in this case, it appears things are going to get worse before they get better, so simply spreading your operations out may not be enough to innoculate you from disruption.

Utilize remote agents

Remote work has become a business norm and continues to grow in popularity. It’s often more cost-effective and it completely eliminates geography as a limiting factor in candidate consideration. The call center world has been a leader in embracing this model, meaning that many BPOs are fully prepared to be the solution for your current CX crisis.

The remote agent model is undeniably the most resistant to growing calls for quarantine – whether self-imposed or government-mandated. And its sustainability extends beyond times of crisis because it offers the same financial and talent advantages enjoyed by other industries.

Outsource call centers that have been running an at-home model for years aren’t scrambling to prepare themselves for a workplace exodus, they’re already doing it successfully. They resolved any technical issues years ago, and their agents are used to training and working in a remote environment.

Let us know if we can help

If you need guidance or assistance with adding redundancy with an additional BPO partner or at-home agents to your customer service team, Outsource Consultants can help match you with the BPO that’s a perfect fit for your organization, at no cost to you! We have heavily vetted partners who have proven their success with the at-home model and are ready to put their expertise to work for you.

To get started, request your free call center cost proposal.

About the author: Outsource Consultants