Back during the peak of the pandemic, if one song summed up business and community sentiment during tough times it was ‘We’re all in this together' by Australian musician Ben Lee. Having to navigate border closures, social distancing and lockdowns, no one knew for certain how the world was going to look tomorrow, next week let alone a year later. Instead, there was this general acceptance that sacrifices needed to be made in order to allow society to continue to function and maintain a somewhat stable economy.
The customer service industry understood the acceptance of such sacrifices. Luckily, customers knew they had to be patient as customer service teams grappled with the sudden need to employ a remote workforce and implement new technology to support this set up. Customer experience (CX) strategies were derailed and had to be rewritten in order to support this new reality and deal with the labour force and logistical challenges they were facing.
Customers were willing to share this pain with those in the customer service industry. They understood that considerable delays were unavoidable as the pandemic was impacting them too in their own personal ways.
But, that was then and this is now. Since it’s been around two or so years since the peak of the pandemic, customers are now saying ‘you’ve had enough time to get your business on track and we are expecting more’. ‘More’ relates to improved and faster customer service and higher expectations around service delivery.
So how can businesses keep up with post-pandemic customer needs? Considering the future of their customer service resourcing to ensure they have the right people ready to go is the first priority.
Saying goodbye to customer service support
At the start of the pandemic, many businesses simply did not have the resources, connections or infrastructure to support the customer service needs of COVID-19. Whether their customer service function was onshore or offshore, if they or their outsourcing partner didn’t have the means to support remote working arrangements, the function was essentially at a stand-still. So, to save on costs, many businesses said goodbye to countless customer service representatives and administration support staff.
The concern today is that there are a number of businesses who are still at this stage, without plans to make a full return to the customer service capacities they had pre-pandemic. With their onshore teams dispersed and possible outsourcing partnerships no longer active, these businesses are still holding onto hope that the goodwill customers exhibited early on during the pandemic will remain.
This mentality is setting businesses up for failure with customer service expectations coming back in full force. In fact, outsourcing providers were well aware of the impacts COVID-19 had on their client relationships and have made it their mission to support hybrid working models in case their clients require this service again. Larger business process outsourcing (BPOs) in the Philippines were quick to respond to the needs of a remote workforce while ensuring their employees feel safe and their client's data was secure.
For businesses wanting to start reviving higher customer service standards, this can only be good news.
Repatriation strategies versus outsourcing
Businesses that participated in outsourcing pre-pandemic turned to repatriation strategies to hopefully save on costs and monitor their customer service quality a little closer to home. Telstra, as an example, had the intention in the latter half of 2020 to bring all their offshore call centre roles back to Australia. Even Westpac decided to ‘re-shore’ around 1,000 jobs during peak pandemic times.
With work-from-home transitions becoming a huge headache for businesses globally, many executives believed these repatriation strategies to be a winner. Operations were to be closer to home, facilitating a chance to promote local business stories employing local people. However, today, a few years down the track, these same players will start to question whether the costs associated with the moves outweigh the benefits of the future.
To start, Australia is currently facing one of the largest ever recorded labour shortages of its time with the unemployment rate in Australia sitting at a 48-year low of 3.9%. Employers are having to pay higher wages to attract quality talent and even then, that is sometimes not enough to secure recruits.
Outsourcing destinations like the Philippines offer employment savings of up to 70%, so those businesses that took up repatriation strategies for their customer service teams are now facing rising wage costs at a time of inflation, lower-than-expected financial results and labour shortages.
Another reason many customer service functions returned home was the businesses want to strengthen their local knowledge i.e. a Brisbane-based business with Brisbane-based customer service representatives. However, the introduction of a remote national workforce during COVID-19 meant businesses had to reach out to other cities to support their customer service needs. Brisbane may simply not have enough qualified talent to support a certain role. A Sydney-based customer service representative could easily service a Brisbane-based client at a similar service level. The justification for repatriation strategies for local knowledge improvements became redundant.
Another perceived benefit of returning to an Australian-based workforce was the theme of 'locals talking to locals'. A popular myth with outsourcing, unfortunately, is that outsourced employees have poor English skills. By re-shoring their customer service roles, businesses hope to remove this perceived bugbear of customers.
However, if these businesses were to complete their research, they would find that, in outsourcing hubs like the Philippines, English is one of their official languages.
Generally speaking, the vast majority of Filipinos are fluent in English. Both Filipino and English are used in government, education, print, broadcast media and business which is why the Philippines is one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world.
So what’s next for customer service resourcing?
Quality customer support can not only set businesses up for success but also set them apart from their competitors and poor customer service can literally break your business. Did you know that 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases with companies that offer excellent customer service? And when you consider that investing in new customers is between five and 25 times more expensive than retaining existing ones, customer service is something that is well worth getting right.
The first course of action is to get businesses that are still using the pandemic as an excuse for diminished customer service standards to realise that those days are long gone. There have been enough advancements in technology and work-from-home strategies to start delivering above-average customer service results once again. Businesses interested in restarting their outsourced customer service teams can do so confidently knowing their providers have a purpose-built solution.