Around the world, we are all struggling into the start of the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some countries and regions are finding it significantly more challenging than others, such as the UK, Europe, and U.S.
Unlike last year, when this started, and life changed dramatically for everyone, there is light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Vaccines, developed quickly, with the sort of furious effort and funding rarely seen outside of a disaster movie, are now being rolled out across the world. However, there is still a long road ahead. Humanity won’t be safe from Covid-19 until enough of the population is vaccinated, and new vaccines are created to fight emerging strains and variations in the virus. It could take over a year for life to return to normal.
Economically, this has caused a recession larger than in human history. Covid-19 has impacted every sector. Some have had to close, depending on the status of lockdowns and government responses to the pandemic. Whereas others have had to close offices and move staff to remote working, also known as working from home (WFH).
For those in customer service roles, and operational managers of call centres, this was a massive unexpected change in how things work, and one that had to be implemented rapidly.
How Covid-19 has impacted customer-facing staff?
In the UK, the country has been in and out of lockdowns, or various tier systems, for nearly a year, since March 2020. In that time, the government once encouraged companies to get staff back into the office. That didn’t last long. Many companies preferred to keep teams working from home rather than risk the spread of the virus.
Consequently, the majority of those in customer-facing roles have been working from home since March 2020. And this has not been easy, for anyone. For parents, step-parents and carers with young children, it’s been even more challenging.
With schools closed, many are attempting to work from home and home school at the same time. Juggling parenting and work isn’t easy. How well or not this goes partly depends on the amount of support parents have in their family and bubbles, and the way employers support them too.
For employers, managers in particular, at contact centres, let’s look at the most effective ways you can look after team members during this pandemic.
3 ways you support customer-facing staff working from home
#1: Acknowledge and recognise the impact
Before you can solve a problem, you need to acknowledge it.
Covid-19 has and is continuing to cause serious mental health challenges. It will for some time. And that goes even more so for those who have been directly affected. Staff who’ve lost loved ones will need more long-term compassionate support, and ideally, some time off work.
Whereas, for everyone, employers need to acknowledge that this is having a profound impact on the mental health of staff, and customers. Not everyone is struggling at the same time and in the same way. Everyone is different.
Some of the most common signs of mental health under siege include fear, anxiety, sleepless nights, low moods, depression, a loss of interest, loss of appetite, loss of libido, and numerous other related issues. Sadly, this is increasing suicide rates too. When thinking about the best ways to manage staff, start with recognising that this isn’t ‘business as usual.’
If staff aren’t as productive, as motivated, or need more time off, it could be that they’re struggling with the mental health (and practical) impacts of the pandemic, and need more support.
#2: Manage demand and customer expectations
Following-on from recognising the impact of the pandemic on team mental health, you need to put meaningful steps in place to support everyone more effectively.
Covid-19 shouldn’t be an excuse for providing bad customer service. However, if companies don’t have enough staff to answer calls, or demand is too high, ensure customer expectations are managed accordingly. Put as many options in-place to ensure customers can answer questions they’d usually call about, such as more FAQs, videos, chatbots, and self-serve solutions.
To support front-line staff, ensure there are AI-powered chatbots across social platforms, and give customers the option to chat to customer service teams online, alongside phone options. Doing as much as you can to manage demand should reduce call volumes and take the pressure off customer-facing teams.
#3: Invest in an employee wellbeing strategy
The main challenge with Covid-19, and the effect it’s having on everyone’s mental health, is the lack of control. The understandable fear and sense of hopelessness it causes.
Coronavirus makes us afraid of other people because we could catch or spread it. Forcing us, a social species, to go against our nature and avoid one another, to be afraid rather than interact.
In the short-term, this puts us in a position of following government guidelines: hands, face, space. Stay at home, whenever possible. Staying within households or allowed bubbles. In the medium to long-term, it means trusting the vaccines being rolled out, and hoping the science will keep up with the evolution of this virus, to ensure life can go back to normal in the years ahead.
All of this makes managing mental health even more challenging. This is where employee wellbeing strategies can play a positive role in businesses. In some companies, actively providing mental (and physical) wellbeing support was already becoming a priority before the pandemic hit.
However, if an employee wellbeing strategy and support systems aren’t something you’ve been actively considering, now is the time. Everyone needs more support than ever to get through this. Employers will find that staff perform better, absenteeism goes down, productivity goes up, and this will make a big difference for employees tackling an increase in customer-facing stress.
When customers are more stressed and anxious, as many people are right now, that fear, frustration and anger is often taken out on front-line staff. When staff get repeatedly upset by customers, they are more likely to look for work elsewhere, or simply quit, as studies are quickly demonstrating the impact of the pandemic on front-line employees.
Now is the time to invest in an employee wellbeing strategy. Get systems and processes in-place to support your front-line staff more effectively. Help them cope with work more easily, so they can look after your customers and therefore your business better than many are no doubt managing at the moment.
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