COVID changed the way consumers deal with call centre agents

COVID changed the way consumers deal with call centre agents

A second quarter survey carried out on behalf of Merchants found that half of South African consumers have been interacting with contact centres more often since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic – and perceptions around contact centre agents have shifted significantly in the last 18 months.

Essential Workers

46% of respondents said they had become more sympathetic and understanding toward contact centre agents and realised their importance as an essential service provider during the various levels of lockdown in the country.

“As the world entered various levels of lockdown during 2020, restricting the movement of people and encouraging social distancing – the contact centre was suddenly in the spotlight, as a contactless means of communicating with brands, businesses and service providers,” explains Merchants CRO, Mat Conn. “Our contact centre agent worked day and night to ensure that South Africans were able to make contact with banks, insurance companies, and other essential service providers, and solve queries and concerns as quickly as possible. Despite the personal stress that they were facing, these agents continued to show up every day to assist South African consumers. They are the driving force behind our business and we are very proud of them.”

Shifting Perceptions

Conn explains that when contacting a business or service provider, the contact centre agent is seen as a direct link to the business. It does not matter to the consumer whether they are directly employed by the business in question or by a BPO provider – they are a direct representation of the business the consumer seeks to contact.

Often, contact centre agents are met with frustration and impatience from the consumer, who is most often facing a challenge and needing to have this resolved urgently. This has changed for some consumers in the last 18 months.

“I understand we all are human and we are dealing with a pandemic, so I have empathy for them. I try to be polite and get them to resolve my issue with no hassle,” said one female from KwaZulu Natal.

“I now know that even through these hard times, call centre agents made sure we were still served to the fullest; they pushed to keep customers happy. Much appreciation to them,” said a Gauteng-based female.

Customer Experience Remains King

Not only does the survey show an increase in empathy toward the agents, but even understanding toward service providers themselves – specifically around customer experience. 53% of respondents said that have more understanding for service providers following the onset of the pandemic.

While this might be true, Conn highlights the importance of a positive customer experience in setting brands and businesses apart from their competitors. “As consumer needs shift, pricing and product offerings continue to converge across sectors. Customer experience is the single most important differentiator in today’s world, and businesses cannot use the pandemic as a reason to let this become second priority,” he says. 33% of South African consumers agree, saying they expect more from service providers moving forward.

“Everyone is working from home now, I expect to be assisted in a quick efficient manner,” said a female respondent from the Western Cape.

Problem Solving Counts

In conclusion, Conn notes that South African consumers continue to seek problem solving skills in contact centre agents, placing its importance above the need for empathy and personality. “Moving forward, businesses with the best customer service will hold the largest share of the market, and those investing in a BPO partner with strong problem-solving capabilities will ultimately remain on top.”

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