In March 2020 I returned to work from my honeymoon in Australia, well and truly still in holiday mode. Given the extent of Australian news coverage at the time I boarded my flight aware of little more than "There's a toilet roll shortage". I was fairly oblivious as to what faced me upon my return to the office.
Expecting this toilet roll emergency to blow over while I tortured everyone with holiday pictures, I was ushered into our boardroom and given a pandemic reality check. I was asked to prepare for our offices to close and get ready to support all of our clients as they faced the same challenge.
So how do you move over 1 million calls and 70 Virtual Switchboard staff to a remote working environment, and continue to achieve an industry leading service level, with 95% of calls answered in 3 rings? We were of course apprehensive, but we found that our business continuity planning had left us well prepared.
Without giving away the ComXo crown jewels, here's my 3 key recommendations to enable your organisation to prepare for the worst in order to consistently deliver the best:
Plan and TEST your BCP measures constantly.
- For the past 5 years, ComXo has had a unit of remote working operators logged in ready to support calls in the event there was a crisis with the office.
- This team of operators had tested our tech, software and logistics ready for a wider scale rollout of remote working.
- Our disaster recovery site is regularly tested on a scheduled and unscheduled basis.
Look after your people
- Rather than increase operator workload, we introduced more team huddles, 1-2-1s, training time and regular "check ins" to ensure the team were coping with the pandemic. Parents were given some extra, much needed TLC.
- The business took a VERY open stance to the uncertainty of the future and the roles we would all need to play in order to ensure that ComXo and our clients prospered during this period.
- Educating our staff on "The grief curve" allowed teams to meet, discuss and share experiences.
- The Zoom Christmas cocktail party and online bake off/pizza making competitions kept up team spirit. These were planned sensitively, especially once it became clear that the pandemic was going to loom for a substantial period of time, and we were conscious of Zoom fatigue.
In return, our indomitable staff responded in kind with sickness and absence levels dropping to next to zero!
Our service levels actually increased to 97.7% of calls answered within 3 rings and adverse feedback dropped to an all-time low.
Understand your true capacity
- If the workload demand of your team regularly exceeds 80% of their maximum work rate, it's possible you are heading for burnout and staff churn. Look to schedule at least 30% capacity for breathing room, shrinkage, creativity and sudden spikes in workload.
- Diversify your workforce: working with parents, students and full time professionals to align their wants and needs with your own workload forecast is a powerful thing.
- Recruit ahead of the curve - if you wait until you need the staff, you are already too late.
- If you can't measure it, you can't manage it. Understand the scientific equation that predicts your working capacity. If you don't have the tech, you can do this by simply and consistently checking in with your team and asking "Hey, on a scale of 1 - 10 how busy have you been this month?"
Ultimately, we have been very lucky that our clientele have had a mostly prosperous two years and we are proud to have been able to support them on this journey. Looking back, what would I change about ComXo's approach to the pandemic? Not a lot. But on a personal note, maybe I would have invested in some more toilet roll when I landed back in England. They weren't joking about that part.
Richard Gostelow, Director of Customer Service