The recent worldwide spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), now confirmed as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), has affected numerous aspects of our lives, everyday hygiene, travel, social gatherings and perhaps most significantly here, the workplace.
What will the impact be for the collections industry, for customers and for employees, and how will this impact our day-to-day interactions as a team?
It’s difficult to foresee at this stage, but nevertheless, these are questions we now need to ask.
We are expecting government advice for workplaces to centre around potentially closing offices and events where there are large gatherings of people. For the collections industry, one of the key concerns would be the potential reduction in call centre capacity as employees may not be able to get to work. This could impact customer support capability, and indeed areas of performance around keeping customers out of arrears.
From a consumer perspective, we are also expecting a potential increase in financial hardship levels. Customers may fall ill themselves, have their workplace closed or need to be home for childcare reasons; all of this could affect their ability to maintain payments, including on existing repayment plans. Collections departments may need to look at alternative strategies to assist impacted customers for the duration of this outbreak, and indeed many banks are already moving in this direction.
If the viral outbreak restrictions are in place longer, we will need to think about alternative ways of working; this goes for both call centre and non-call centre staff, each of which presents their own challenges.
Call centre staff may potentially need infrastructure changes to be able to fulfil their role from a remote location or multiple locations. Without this, there is a danger of a sustained loss of capacity impacting performance.
Luckily, many non-call centre staff are already able to work remotely, and we expect this to become even more commonplace. If not usual practice already, this may create challenges for teamwork and cooperation, to which organisations will need to adjust by using video/telephone to replace face-to-face interaction.
After this is over (whenever that may be), what does the future hold? Will this change our working styles forever? This does seem likely.
Companies may well have been through the pain of shuttering and distributing work from large call centres, and we will all have had to manage with limited travel for a while. We will likely see some trends emerge:
- A move to more remote working, even from holdouts (companies where this was not accepted).
- Increased use of video conferencing to gain more personal interaction.
- Greater emphasis on digital strategies and building collections paths without human intervention, which also builds resilience.
- Dispersed smaller calls centres and use of new channels (such as mobile chat) to spread the risk and provide functionality.
If productivity and project deliverables have not massively slipped, these could start to be a new normal. The outcome will depend on the results and impacts over the next few months.
Organisations should start to examine and review their business continuity processes now, if not doing so already, to ensure that they are fully prepared for any similar national or international health emergencies in the future. Considerations need to be given to working locations for staff:
- Is working from home a viable option?
- What equipment do staff need to enable home working?
- Can new technologies mitigate any security concerns that organisations may have around remote access for call centre staff?
Although this health emergency is unprecedented in our lifetimes, at Arum we have decades of experience designing and transforming processes, using technology to create robust automation. If you need help or resource to implement change quickly and effectively, please contact us.
Principal Consultant and Delivery Lead