Don’t Forget, Contact Center Workers Are Essential Too

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In cities around the world, a new evening tradition has sprung up as residents open their windows and go out on their balconies to give a round of applause and from-the-heart community thank you to medical workers. It’s a vocal testament to the appreciation we all have for those doing the risky work to keep others healthy and safe. 

“Look for the helpers,” they say. In any calamity, there will always be people on the ground. During COVID-19, the helpers include not just medical workers but those consigned to the front lines of grocery stores and delivery services. They’re the ones putting their own health at risk every day to make sure the rest of us can stay safely sequestered at home.

However, there’s a group of helpers we’d like to give special thanks to who don’t always get a lot of press recognition: those working in contact centers around the world. As organizations both private and public transition to a remote model of working, global citizens are flooding support channels with questions, and contact center workers are the ones taking the heat.

Here are a few ways that contact center workers are stepping up during this time.

Volunteering to support those out-of-work

Here in California, where Helpshift is headquartered, workers at the California Employment Development Department (the EDD) process about a million unemployment payments a week. That’s no small task when the national unemployment rate has skyrocketed, with no sure end in sight. EDD workers are deluged with incoming applications and endless questions.

On Easter Sunday, after announcing an extra $600 in unemployment benefits to California workers who’ve lost their jobs because of coronavirus, Governor Gavin Newsom gave EDD contact center workers a much-deserved day off. Many came in anyway. As reported in the San Jose Mercury News:

“Hundreds of EDD staff have volunteered to work on the Easter holiday to ensure these first $600 extra payments are issued quickly to California residents with a recent unemployment insurance claim.”

Thank you for all you do, EDD employees.

Providing Support at Impacted Industries  

Many call center employees, of course, are reporting for work because they have to. The U.S. government has deemed certain call center workers to be “essential workers,” which makes work mandatory. And the truth is, many call center workers can’t afford to be out of work.

Contact center workers in industries like banking and air travel — both essential services no matter how bad a pandemic gets — are a crucial link to brands for many customers. While the availability of digital self-service tools have helped relieve some of the pressure, there are still many people with issues that have to be worked on by a human. This includes those that have reduced access to digital tools or those at increased risk who can’t go to a physical location, such as a bank. 

Thanks to the contact center workers helping to keep our finances in order.

Call center workers in the center of the storm

Contact center agents in e-commerce companies, banks, and medical organizations are certainly under intense pressure. But that’s nothing compared to what 9-1-1 dispatchers are going through. These are the people responsible for routing panicked calls to the right first responders and keeping the callers calm in the meantime.

In the wake of the pandemic, dispatchers have had to adjust to asking new questions to make sure people get the emergency care they need. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety, for instance, has dispatchers routinely asking:

  1. Does the patient have a fever, trouble breathing, or a cough?
  2. Has the patient been in contact with anyone who has a respiratory illness?

The answers to these questions help them make critical decisions about who to send to the location. 

Staying calm under pressure is the modus operandi of emergency call dispatchers. They’re heroes as much as anyone else right now. And sadly, simply by showing up for work, they’re sometimes putting themselves at risk, as this story of a longtime 911 operator who died of complications from coronavirus in March illustrates. But they do it to save others’ lives. 

Thank you for all you do, emergency dispatch operators. 

Keeping support agents safe

Perhaps one of the best ways that we can thank essential customer support workers is to make sure that their work environments are as safe and supportive as possible. Even as some customer service teams are stepping up their efforts to provide support for customers in a pressure cooker, others are speaking out against what they perceive to be unfair conditions. Contact center work is by its very nature close-contact work. Phone and live chat agents are often in tight quarters, less than six feet away from colleagues, handling potentially contaminated computer and phone equipment.

Customer support leaders are doing everything they can to keep contact center employees safe, knowing that it’s up to every company today to protect its workers first. Some are taking their contact centers remote for the first time, and that’s creating certain challenges, too. 

But keeping customer support teams safe and healthy isn’t just humane. It’s good business. Thank you for all you do, contact center workers around the world. You are heroes to us. 

Published May 20, 2020
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