The global impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on business operations of all kinds, including call centres in the Philippines, have been varied and far-reaching. While the government responds to the infection level in the country, taking needed precautions to mitigate the spread and limit impacts, three major trends have emerged regarding the health crisis and its effects on call centre operations in the Philippines. “Of these three trends, two have emerged as a direct response to the fallout from the pandemic. The third was an existing trend within the industry that has simply accelerated in response to the changes brought on by this global health crisis,” says Ralf Ellspermann, CEO of PITON-Global, an award-winning call centre in the Philippines.
COVID-19’s effects will likely continue to be far-reaching, and the impacts on the call centre outsourcing industry are likely to continue, even when the FDA-approved vaccines become widely distributed. The long-term negative impact of the pandemic will be profound, causing job losses overall. While call centre outsourcing to the Philippines will by no means discontinue, there has been a rapid reduction in volume of new business.
Reshoring of Support Programs
Over the last two decades, the BPO industry in the Philippines enjoyed exponential growth, thanks to large multinational corporations choosing to utilise the third-party outsourcing providers located in the country. “Companies like JPMorgan Chase & Co., Amazon, Facebook, and others contributed to the Philippines becoming a global hub of over a million workers. Due in large part to this drive to outsource to call centres in the Philippines, these companies found themselves in a conundrum once the pandemic hit,” says Ellspermann.
In March, an enhanced community quarantine for the entire island of Luzon meant more than 60 million Filipinos were in protective lockdown, and agents were unable to report to work. This meant call centres in the Philippines were forced to temporarily shut down. “While the government quickly took the needed steps to protect its citizens, there was little time to prepare for the impact on the businesses that relied on the call centres for customer support. Many responded to the challenges posed by both the pandemic and the outsourcing of customer support by pulling back, reducing their operations, and bringing call centre jobs back onshore. The ‘reshoring’ of call centre jobs will very likely continue over the next twelve months,” he adds.
Transitioning to a Work-from-Home (WFH) Customer Support Model
While some industries have successfully and easily transitioned to a work-from-home (WFH) model, customer support positions can be tricky. This proves especially true in a developing nation like the Philippines. “Providing functional customer support from a home-based setting comes with a unique set of challenges, including inconsistent internet access, data security concerns, or power outages. Companies that fall into the financial, healthcare, and e-commerce categories face the additional challenges of meeting PCI or HIPAA compliance requirements. For them, the WFH model isn’t even an option,” says Ellspermann. With these concerns taken into consideration, the WFH model for call centres in the Philippines is a temporary solution at best and is not sustainable in the long term.
Accelerated Development and Adaptation of Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The final of the three industry trends caused by COVID-19 was on the horizon before the global pandemic. Many call centres in the Philippines had already begun to implement AI to enhance the performance of their employees and to streamline the experience for customers as well. Thanks to the dramatic increase in e-commerce and rise in demand for remote services and interactions, the implementation and development of these AI technologies have rapidly accelerated. “Thanks to the support of AI, call centre agents in the Philippines are able to provide more consistency. In addition, AI helps to reduce call times, maximise first-call resolutions, and relieve some of the pressure and fatigue that can occur when agents receive a dramatically increased workload. As AI continues to evolve, it only increases productivity and customer experience overall, making it an incredibly smart investment in an ever-changing field,” says Ellspermann. The use of AI in call centres in the Philippines will play an even more important role in the very near future.