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COVID: A/NZ businesses unprepared in business continuity planning

A new study of Australian and New Zealand organisations has highlighted a need for business continuity planning and regular reviews for customer contact centres as the region faces back-to-back disasters.

Results from a survey by cloud customer experience technology provider, Genesys, have revealed that Australian and New Zealand organisations were somewhat underprepared in their business continuity planning for managing a crisis of the scale and magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Genesys surveyed a segment of its A/NZ customers to understand how organisations and, in particular, contact centres, responded to the pandemic. Respondents came from a variety of sectors including government, finance, telecommunications, transportation, travel, education, energy, healthcare, and technology. 

Focusing on five key areas, the survey explored: issues and concerns stemming from COVID-19; effectiveness of business continuity plans; shift to remote working and a home-based workforce; managing workforce engagement; and the new normal.

A significant finding was that while many of the organisations surveyed had business continuity plans in place, only three-quarters (76%) had formally enacted that by June 2020. Those who chose not to enact their formal BCP either did so because they felt their BCP did not cater adequately to a pandemic, or they were able to respond to the situation without officially enacting their BCP. 

The survey found that the majority of BCPs tend to focus on risks or threats to the physical premises or technology infrastructure and were based on the likelihood of addressing natural disasters, such as floods, bushfires or earthquakes. The pandemic tested even the most resilient BCPs as only a few had taken into account this specific type of event that had a severe impact on their workforce and workspace but did not compromise the physical or technology infrastructure. 

The rapid shift to remote home-based workforce

COVID-19 has revolutionised the workforce and workspaces creating flexibility not seen before. To continue serving their customers at the beginning of the pandemic, it was critical that organisations shift their contact centre workforce from centralised locations to remote working within a matter of days. 

Organisations were primarily driven to prevent outbreaks in the workplace that could have led to widespread ramifications to their customer operations, financial outcomes, and public opinion. On top of the need to move rapidly to a remote working arrangement, many contact centres also experienced unprecedented surges in customer demand due to the volatility and uncertainty of the situation, which impacted all aspects of work and travel. In fact, almost 60% of organisations surveyed reported experiencing a huge surge in call volumes.

All organisations surveyed were able to rapidly shift at least part, if not all, of their contact centre workforce to remote working with very little downtime, including even those organisations with no remote operations before COVID-19. 

Before the pandemic, only an average of 14% of contact centre agents worked remotely, however, at the height of the first wave in June this number had increased five-fold to approximately 72% of the workforce. Most organisations surveyed anticipate that most of their workforce will return to an office but approximately 32% of the workforce will remain remote. 

"Although there is greater impetus and urgency now to pursue digital and automation options, our customers recognise the paramount importance of continuing to engage and care for their employees, instead of being hyper-vigilant about productivity," says Prashanth Sreetharan, principal consultant - strategic business consulting A/NZ at Genesys.

"Creating a flexible, digitally-enabled, and highly-engaged workforce could prove to be the most crucial element for future Business Continuity Planning," he says.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • The issues most commonly experienced by those organisations surveyed were site shutdown (65%), a surge in customer contact volume (58%), reduced workforce capacity (53%) and technology outages (30%).
  • During the height of the lockdown, the biggest concern for most organisations was sustaining or maintaining pre-COVID levels of customer experience and satisfaction (65%), followed closely by maintaining employee engagement (approx. 63%) without daily contact. 
  • As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, organisations are now primarily concerned with employee productivity (58%) and workforce flexibility and scalability (56%). These concerns can likely be attributed to the velocity in the shift to remote working, which by necessity skipped the usual process development frameworks.
  • About 94% of those organisations surveyed claim they would not be returning to business as usual once restrictions are lifted.
  • Approximately, 64% will retain some aspects of remote-based operations and 31% will retain most of them.
  • Only 6% of respondents claimed that they would revert to their pre-COVID operations.