Jeremy Payne of Enghouse Interactive discusses why “going green” will become a key contact centre priority, once we start moving back into our normal working routines.
While the current news agenda is understandably dominated by the evolving coronavirus outbreak, it seems certain that the issue of climate change will over the longer term re-emerge in the headlines and once again take its place at the forefront of the news agenda.
That is not least because the rapid switch to homeworking and the consequential drop in plane, train and car journeys offers a tantalizing glimpse and demonstrable reference point of what the world and environment could look like, if it were greener.
Witnesses have, for example, reported seeing jellyfish swimming in the canals of Venice that are usually murky with sediment, while photographers have captured dramatic changes to the skylines of capital cities, including India’s New Delhi, as pollution levels have dropped during lockdown.
Organizations across the world are becoming more cognisant of the need to be green and to keep their environmental footprint to a minimum. Some of this is customer-driven. Consumers are demanding more from the organizations from which they buy. They are expecting those businesses to do more to be greener and to do less harm to the planet.
Supermarkets and airlines are among those types of businesses that tend to be in the forefront of this approach. In recent times, airlines, from British Airways to Qantas and Lufthansa, have been focusing on strategies and initiatives designed to enable them to become more sustainable.
However, businesses across many other sectors of the economy are increasingly concentrating on issues of environmental efficiency.
Microsoft recently announcing its commitment to become carbon negative by 2030 has raised the stakes for all service and digital-based companies and has set a landmark from which they will be judged in the future.
Today, we are seeing organizations across the world and across all sectors following suit and increasingly asking themselves what they can do to address the issue. The contact centre industry is no exception to this rule. It too needs to be asking the question: how can it be making efforts to become ‘greener’?
Changing a Reputation
In the past, the contact centre sector has not typically been associated with sustainability. Lots of people working in the industry have spent lots of time commuting to their place of work by train, plane, bus and cars, and that commuting process has often taken place round the clock because many of these centres run in a shift pattern – sometimes 18–24 hours a day.
Indeed, a recent white paper from Exony argued that the UK’s call centre professionals are responsible for 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year through their commute, a significant proportion of which could be avoided through greater adoption of homeworking.
The stereotypical image of the traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ contact centre, with row upon row of agents sitting in serried ranks, packed together like battery hens, is far removed from concepts of sustainability and environmental efficiency.
When we think about this, though, we miss the revolution that has quietly but relentlessly happened within the industry and is now an enforced reality.
That is the ability for almost every organization to leverage the cloud and run a customer service operation in a flexible way.
Businesses are starting to realize that the more of their systems that are in the cloud, the more they can run a virtual customer service operation where they don’t necessarily need that physical office any more.
And that more environmentally friendly way of running the operation will most likely also translate to an enhanced operating income or profit to the business.
Developing a Collaborative Environment
Many organizations now use a blend of self, automated and AI-powered service to help customers serve themselves and then layer on top of that a group of highly skilled customer-facing staff that can help solve all of the awkward, ugly stuff that self and automated systems can’t.
But crucially these “networked experts” could be in any part of the world – adding value in their given specialism.
So using collaboration tools like the cloud and unified communications and using collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams or Slack to share materials and documentation and track communication within the group is key.
And using video conferencing technologies like Vidyo, to come together as a virtualized team to share thoughts and ideas and work out what the resolution is, is important.
All this collaboration capability therefore allows and encourages staff to have the ability to work from home, meaning fewer workers making a daily commute, and a smaller central office facility, requiring less energy consumption to run.
The current crisis is showing without question that the ability to work from home is here and real. Even before the events of recent months, the option to work from home was already being far more widely used within the contact centre industry than before, and that has been significantly accelerated by the current situation.
Today, working from home is a necessity in dark and difficult times, but over the long term, the benefits contact centres stand to gain in terms of enhanced flexibility and agility are likely to be far-reaching.
In the future, we are likely to see more and more contact centres looking to create a pay, management and measurement framework that allows and actively encourages people to work from home more and more in a flexible way.
Looking to the Future
The consumer demand for businesses to become greener and more environmentally sustainable is unlikely to go away. We are likely to see more large enterprises following Microsoft’s lead and facilitating bold initiatives to help counter climate change.
Technologies are already in place that enable this move to drive environmental efficiencies – not just the cloud, important though that is, but also unified communications platforms and the associated ability to run voice over IP solutions and use enhanced connectivity to route interactions to the middle and back offices.
Customers can self-serve, bots can run, the cloud infrastructure is there, unified communications there, as is the ability to connect network experts within and outside your organization to help solve customer problems, and the ability to run a social customer service platform.
Let’s acknowledge there are challenges: this is an industry troubled by high levels of staff turnover, high training costs and high levels of absenteeism. Contact centre managers are sometimes reluctant to let their staff work from home. The current crisis has created a change in perspective.
These are difficult and troubled times – but over the longer term, if the move to homeworking is sustained, it will help ensure the contact centre industry can do its bit to help reduce climate change and bring benefits for themselves, their staff and the planet.