Simply answering a call. How challenging it can be during wartime! This difficulty arises not so much due to technical reasons but rather due to the fact, that during a crisis call centers become critically important communication hubs. In moments of chaos, your customers rely on you more than ever. They need information. They might be so tense, upset, disoriented, or irritable that it negatively affects the psychological well-being of your operators.
The full-scale invasion has left its mark on every aspect of people’s lives and continues to have a profound impact. Many Ukrainian consumers who have been forced to leave the country due to the war have experienced European customer service. This experience wasn’t always positive, highlighting the right directions for customer service development in Ukraine. However, there are several lessons that domestic companies should learn. We’ll share our experience and how to ensure quality customer service during wartime and crisis situations.
Unique Crisis Management Experience for Call Centers
Staying connected, despite the chaos, terrorist attacks, power outages, and sometimes even loss of communication, is crucial. Minimizing or entirely avoiding losses for the business while maintaining and increasing customer loyalty is the goal. Very few companies have managed to do just that, making the experience we’re discussing today truly unique.
As you know, Global Bilgi develops call center software and provides contact center services through outsourcing. One of our largest projects involves providing a call center action plan for telecommunications operator, the third-largest mobile provider in Ukraine. We believe that the experience we’ve gained will be beneficial for businesses of any scale in Ukraine.
Why Customer Service Must Be Prepared for Crisis Situations?
A crisis is any situation that disrupts the functioning of a business and poses a serious threat to its reputation, employees, or finances. During a crisis, the customer service center is on the front lines. Agents handle more calls than usual, address requests despite panic, and reassure customers. They have to show more compassion and empathy than usual while remaining resilient.
Yes, emergencies are unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for them. Preparations for potential crises should be made in advance to minimize damage. Your team doesn’t necessarily need complete information about what might happen to create plans for unforeseen circumstances. There are basic preparedness principles, and we’ll explain them step by step
Preparation Is the Key to Success
Our preparations for a potential escalation of hostilities in Ukraine began in the spring of 2021. Call center preparation was carried out in three directions:
- Development of a crisis management plan.
- Technical aspects of crisis readiness.
- Psychological readiness of employees.
According to a survey by PwC, about 30% of companies did not have a coordinated crisis team when the COVID-19 pandemic began. We took this into account, so by the start of the invasion, we already had a core team for responding to potential events and a set of clear corporate procedures that regulate the actions of IT specialists in crisis situations. We also formed an additional group of employees who could replace call center staff in case of their unavailability.
Preparing in a technical sense was equally important. We ensured the availability of diesel generators for backup power in our offices, redundancy of internet service providers, and used a hybrid model for operator placement, allowing them to work both from the office and remotely. We forecasted the load on all communication channels (calls, online chats, messengers, emails, social media) to handle inquiries as required by the client.
Customer service is a challenging job even under normal circumstances. During a crisis, customer service can quickly become emotionally draining and impact the mental well-being of call center employees. We’d like to highlight that Global Bilgi had an ongoing colleague support program in place even before the full-scale invasion. Our specialists could always receive guidance from professional psychologists. To reduce overall anxiety, in January and February 2022, we conducted several open webinars on managing anxiety.
Controlling the Situation at the Onset of War
Before the war, 244 agents were providing outsourcing contact center services for our client. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, 36 percent of them couldn’t work for various reasons. Frequent air raid warnings and active military actions significantly disrupted the workflow. Due to the destruction of cell towers or electronic warfare, many people faced connectivity issues. Despite this, the contact center continued to experience a consistently high workload from January to April 2022. To maintain control and ensure customer service levels, we took the following actions:
- Established communication with all agents, incorporated personnel from the “Telesales” project, as well as employees from partially occupied departments into customer service.
- Initiated additional agent recruitment with meticulous reputation checks, creating a necessary personnel buffer for each shift.
- Developed and implemented a rapid training program for agents.
- Provided psychological support to all employees and advanced salary payments during the initial months of the war.
- Agreed with the client on exceptionally lenient KPI measurement conditions.
- Focused on one specific goal: processing as many calls as possible.
Thanks to our preparation and pre-planned actions, we managed to achieve planned operational project performance by the 47th day of the full-scale war (April 11, 2022), continuing to improve performance. By May 2022, customer service was provided by 243 agents working both in offices and remotely. Their coordinated efforts, combined with modern contact center software, led to a 32% increase in the Net Promoter Score (NPS). The Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) grew by 2.14%, which is an outstanding outcome of our team’s efforts. Despite a significant drop in cross-sales revenue in March, by May, it had reached pre-war levels, significantly exceeding planned targets for the summer months.
Despite the decline in operational performance during the first months of the full-scale war, the financial aspect of the project only decreased by 24%. The rapid recovery in performance during April and May validates the correctness of our strategy. In June, we surpassed the financial targets set for January, achieving 100% of the planned goals and exceeding all KPIs.
Meeting New Challenges: Ensuring Quality Service During Rocket Attacks
Commencing on September 11, 2022, extensive rocket attacks and drone strikes led to the destruction of critical infrastructure and widespread regional power outages, leaving people in densely populated cities and areas without electricity. Cable and mobile internet providers struggled to maintain connectivity for millions of users across the country simultaneously. Mobile high-speed 3G/4G networks were particularly vulnerable to power outages as ensuring thousands of base stations with uninterruptible power sources proved exceedingly difficult.
Power outages rendered the work of many agents impossible. Simultaneously, the load on the contact center increased. Our HR specialists had to work tirelessly to find individuals capable of working reliably, which was a challenging task. Nevertheless, following the onset of rocket attacks, we managed to maintain the agent headcount at a stable level. Our operators, team leaders, and managers did everything within their power to assist customers in obtaining valuable information and high-quality service.
Call Center Action Plan: The Importance of Crisis Management for Call Centers
After overcoming the crisis moments at the beginning of the war and an incredibly challenging period from September 2022 to March 2023, we continue to provide high-quality customer service for client company through our call center action plan. We decided to share our experience in managing crisis situations at the “European Contact Centre & Customer Service Awards 2022” international competition and received recognition and a silver award in the “Best Crisis Management Approach” category in November 2022.
If you’re not employing fundamental crisis management methods and lack a plan for continuous customer service in a situation that disrupts operations and poses a serious threat to your company’s activity, reputation, employees, or finances – we are ready to offer our expertise in call center action planning. By turning to us, you’ll benefit from high-quality service and financial efficiency in call center outsourcing during crisis situations. The outcome of our collaboration will be reduced financial losses, decreased stress levels, greater customer loyalty, and trust, all while mitigating the negative consequences of a crisis.
Business is filled with uncertainty, and it’s foolish to anticipate that you’ll never encounter a new crisis. However, with a strategic crisis management plan, the right software, and experienced personnel, you will be better equipped to weather the storm more confidently next time.