Real talk: COVID-19 is an apocalyptic storm that is ravaging the BPO and CX outsourcing world, completely blindsiding the industry and forcing every traditional provider into a corner.

When enforced social distancing and quarantine measures came into place, contact centers and BPO offices around the world were shut down indefinitely, leading most of the industry to rely on last-minute work-at-home alternatives. For many providers, the new reality is maintaining operational efficiency without the relative stability they’re used to in-center.

Agents have been scattered to the four winds with only a computer and some last-minute directives to follow, primarily due to the industry’s lackluster approach to work-at-home implementations pre-COVID. This failure to prepare has been hugely detrimental to the industry, with CX outsourcing clients taking the brunt of the damage.

Providers are now scrambling to maintain digital connectivity, ensure high levels of security across a dispersed workforce, and outline their options for recovery, all while relying on stressed-out employees to deliver great CX in an unstable environment.

Unfortunately, this unsustainable reality doesn’t end once COVID-19 passes, as the industry will have a whole new set of challenges to worry about.

Instability and the Human Element

After years of pitching reliable, dependable jobs with opportunities for career growth and a “people first” culture, COVID-19 forced many BPOs into a u-turn overnight, resulting in them either laying off staff or furloughing people for weeks before finally delivering the necessary equipment for virtual work.

For the industry’s employees—and ex-employees—this lack of preparedness has likely caused huge reputational damage throughout the workforce, which has the disastrous knock-on effect of being highly detrimental to CX.

Even then, once employees return to call centers after months in confinement, what exactly will they return to?

Once the contact centers reopen, employees will face a very different working environment than they’re used to. It’s difficult to see any situation without strict social distancing rules, regular hand sanitizing requirements, team separations, and a paranoid-fuelling work environment. If god forbid someone gets sick, it could cause panic among the ranks and more absenteeism.

Think of it this way: what level of CX quality can agents realistically provide under such stressful conditions?

Agitating the Curve

The difference between pre-COVID contact centers and those in the “new normal” will be vast and is likely to result in an unprecedented mental toll on agents, even if they prefer working in-center. But what about those who are more comfortable at home?

People are discovering the valuable benefits of virtual employment, such as no commuting costs, more free time, and, in some cases, the flexibility to control how they work—many agents will find it extremely difficult to give that up.

If providers cannot continue to offer work-at-home positions or at least a financial alternative to the benefits, they risk alienating a large chunk of their workforce, which will almost certainly boost attrition rates to record highs. On top of that, potential candidates will begin to shun contact center work in favor of any other industry that offers work-at-home as an option.

After so much effort to position BPO and CX outsourcing as a viable employment choice, can the industry really afford to risk going back to pure-play brick-and-mortar CX delivery? We certainly don’t think so.

News Flash: The Alternative is Already Available

For brands that understand the value that great CX outsourcing providers can deliver, I’m here to tell you that there’s a better alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar services, and it’s called SmartVirtual™.

Here at Activus Connect, our SmartVirtual™ approach to CX allows us to operate right in the eye of the storm, representing the lowest risk, highest return option available in the US market. We’re fortunate enough that we can continue to provide enhanced customer experiences without being exposed to the damaging headwinds of the pandemic.

It’s difficult not to sound like we’re blowing smoke, but the simple fact is there is an alternative to the chaos, and we’ve been lucky enough to help brands find it. As the BPO and CX outsourcing industry faces a long and uncertain period of recovery, think about how pure-play SmartVirtual™ providers like Activus Connect can help your brand weather that storm.