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Call centres report huge surge in interactions, creating hundreds of jobs

Call centres are booming in lockdown as they help companies deal with an unprecedented number of calls.

British call centres now employ 1.3million workers, equivalent to four per cent of the UK workforce, despite the rise of automated systems, increasing online interaction and cheaper overseas options. 

One company, CallCare – with four centres in the North – has seen the average number of calls increase from 300,000 a month to one million, since lockdown began.

It has also reported a 37 per cent increase in demand during the coronavirus when compared to the same time last year.

Booming: British call centres employ 1.3million workers which is equivalent to 4% of the UK workforce

Booming: British call centres employ 1.3million workers which is equivalent to 4% of the UK workforce

To cope with the extra demand, the centre has hired an additional 50 staff members, many who had been furloughed or lost their job due to the lockdown – and it is still recruiting now.

New members brings the total number of employees to 500 but this is expected to double in the coming months due to the increased demand.  

Gemma Harding, head of client services at CallCare, said: ‘The biggest boom in demand has been because companies have previously used offshore call centres.

‘However, other countries have different coronavirus legislation, meaning many completely shut down. In England, we have key worker status so could carry on.’

For many of the firms that outsourced call centres abroad, they had to turn to UK based centres to take over the service after their usual offshore centres closed. 

A number of other companies that also used to deal with their own customer service calls were unable to do so after they began working from home and instead asked call centres to step in.

Now CallCare, which is open all day everyday, is working with the NHS, Public Health England and other online retailers who, due to furlough and increased demand, have outsourced their switchboards.

Call centres not only deal with customer service calls, as some might think, but they can also as receptionists, switchboard operators and offer diary management services. 

For example, with CallCare’s work with the NHS, it works with GPs, books patient appointments, deals with lone worker services and supports Macmillan Cancer Research.

Some firms that outsourced their call centres abroad had to instead turn to UK based centres

Some firms that outsourced their call centres abroad had to instead turn to UK based centres

Change in consumer behaviour 

One sector that is responsible for an increase in calls to call centres is from e-commerce customers with calls from these consumers rising to 100,000 a day.

Those who have decided to take up DIY in the lockdown period have been responsible for a particularly high number of those calls as they seek advice on the items they have purchased or request a refund for a product they realise they will not actually use. 

Similarly, CallCare has noticed a surge in people shopping online at 10pm in the evening.

Harding said: ‘I’ve noticed that people’s behaviour has changed since lockdown. We used to get a Monday morning rush but people are now much more happy to call on the weekends.’

The change is likely due to the high number of people being furloughed and those working from home meaning they have more time to call the helplines. 

It is not just when people call that has changed, how call centres are run has also been altered by the coronavirus.

Cheaper outsourced alternatives in Asia, the rise of robots and automated AI systems as well as an increase in customers using social media to interact, complain and enquire, has meant call centres have had to work hard to survive. 

But now, people realise they want to have a personal conversation with someone, according to CallCare, rather than just press buttons on the phone to get a generic response.  

Harding added: ‘Covid has changed how people want to deal with call centres. Before, most centres were robotic and process driven. 

‘Customers now want to speak to an actual person on the phone rather than a robot.’ 

Despite the recent surge in calls being due to the coronavirus outbreak, after the lockdown has ended and more people go back to work, CallCare still expects to remain busy and continue with its high call numbers. 

Many of its clients are contracted for two or three years meaning they will be working together for the foreseeable future. 

As a result of the surge in demand, its turnover is set to rise from £11million to £20million this year. 

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