Responding to citizen surge

Call volumes to federal, state, and local agencies have skyrocketed as the public looks for information related to Coronavirus from public health, labor, financial, and other agencies. Governments are also launching new programs to assist residents and small businesses.

The federal CARES Act provides financial assistance to help states and large municipalities tackle the influx in support services. So how can government agencies make the most of the assistance? This strategy guide answers pressing questions and offers ways to improve public response in days, rather than weeks.

Government resources are stretched

The COVID-19 pandemic is placing an incredible burden on government agencies. The lack of resources and surging demand for information has agencies struggling to keep up while also trying to maintain daily government functions. Nearly every agency is affected.

Other agencies reporting massive call spikes include:

  • Emergency response services
  • Social services
  • Mental health
  • Economic development
  • Public health
  • Revenue services
  • Labor
  • Emergency management
  • State health insurance exchange
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Public works

Examples of new state & local government programs

  • Emergency food assistance
  • Small business relief fund and resource centers
  • Volunteer coordination
  • Education resources
  • Emergency housing support

3 key questions facing government contact center leaders right NOW

Q: How do I handle the flood of inbound interactions related to unemployment benefits?

Q: How can I proactively reach out to citizens with information related to unemployment, tax filings, loans, and other financial issues?

Q: How can I streamline COVID-19 testing and information and answers to the public?

How do I handle the flood of inbound interactions related to unemployment benefits?

Move quickly with a balance of humans and technology to provide quick answers to citizens about their financial future.

  1. Rapidly ramp up contact center agents and support staff. There’s no time to wait to stand up a complete center, so activate agents on a rolling basis.
  2. Shift your contact center technology and operations to support remote work. Stay-at-home orders will be in place for the foreseeable future, but operations must continue. Shift your technology and operations to a virtual workforce that matches the network security and effectiveness of an on-premise operation.
  3. Address immediate customer concerns that make up 50-60% of volume. Identify your highest-volume topics, such as “how to I file for unemployment benefits?” Prioritize agents and other resources to quickly address customer concerns and resolve questions. For example, simplify and customize IVR logic and make FAQs prominent on your website to reduce call volume.
  4. Accelerate back-office claims processing for faster turnaround. States are reporting years’ worth of claims being filed in a matter of weeks. Alleviate the backlog of claims with streamlined back-office processes and skilled people to manage the increased workflow.
  5. Train fast and well. Transitioning to a virtual environment is a different challenge for new agents and experienced agents moving home. Provide agents customer experience training that teaches work-from-home skills, program knowledge, and soft skills through an asynchronous, virtual curriculum.

How can I proactively reach out to citizens with information related to unemployment, tax filings, loans, and other financial issues?

Provide information on digital channels and leverage AI-enabled technologies to answer citizen questions proactively.

  1. Identify top FAQs and publish them on your website immediately. Reduce the volume of calls by getting the most common questions out of the way. FAQs should feature prominently on your website.
  2. Diversify your contact center channels to add messaging. Expand your contact center’s ability to connect to citizens using messaging technology. It can be scaled with agent-assisting and consumer-facing automation, enabling a reduced or newly trained workforce to handle more consumers faster (learn more later in this guide).
  3. Leverage conversational AI to improve recommendations to callers. Automation can dramatically improve contact center capacity from handling routine interactions with consumers to recommending content for agents to use (learn more later in this guide).
  4. Keep citizens informed on the status of their claims or issue. It’s critical that citizens receive these communications and proactive messaging. Use outbound SMS or mobile messaging to send individuals important updates regarding disruption to service, availability of products, order status, changes to hours of operation and more — all via digital channels.

How can I streamline COVID-19 testing information and answers to the public?

Innovate to provide facts and reassurance quickly and consistently to constituents. During a crisis, citizens are looking to their leaders for guidance and comfort through genuine conversations -- all while enabling operational flexibility, containing costs, and maximizing resources. Keep the basics of government functioning and communicate often the steps being taken to keep the public safe and healthy.

  1. Understand what is driving your top interactions around COVID-19. Focus your efforts to answer the most pressing concerns. It’s not necessary to do everything at once. Speed is essential.
  2. Spread the word over text. Proactively reach out to residents to keep them aware of new developments. Testing location maps, symptoms checkers, and important websites with FAQs can all be shared over mobile texts.
  3. Give callers options: Web messaging, conversational AI, chatbots, and automated IVR cut wait times, help agents be more efficient, and provide citizens relevant information quickly.
  4. Enable your workforce with secure tools and technology. Be deliberate and strategic in moving to a work-from-home environment. Maintain tight security protocols and monitor for any vulnerabilities.
  5. Consider the citizen experience. Enable efficiencies with messaging, automation, and IVR deflection that also improve the citizen experience.

Act NOW: Take immediate action with enhanced contact tracing

Public health agencies and task forces around the world need contact tracing to figure out who has been in recent contact with those infected. Because many people are asymptomatic, it’s critical to stay ahead of potential hot spots and understand how the disease is spreading. The knowledge impacts stay-at-home orders and social distance policies.

Every time a person tests positive, agencies need to determine who that person has been in close contact with, find those people, and encourage them go into isolation until it’s established they aren’t infected, too.

Contact tracing requires both technology and human elements. Apple and Google are working on a plan to share Bluetooth data on iPhone and Androids to alert people who were in contact with infected people based on phone data. The technology is a supplement to traditional contact tracing efforts happening in the public sector.

Health experts recommend that federal, state, and local agencies aggressively increase contact tracing immediately. The technology may help to speed up the process, but success ultimately lies with manpower:

  • Interview those infected to find out where they went and who they contacted
  • Find and contact people and businesses with warnings to quarantine or find out if they are also infected
  • Track those people for infections and start the process over again Resources are stretched and contact tracing isn’t at the levels where it needs to be.

Quickly scale with a skilled at-home workforce

Remote contact center work, which was once considered impossible for the public sector, is now becoming a quick, secure, and effective option for government operations.

From business continuity and immediate scalability to higher satisfaction, the benefits of a work-from-home model far outweigh sticking with a purely traditional model.

These results show historical improvements made by TTEC clients when moving to a home-based model from a complete brick-and-mortar contact center operation.

Enable business continuity

Seasonality, crises, and other fluctuations in volume mean there is a roller coaster nature to staffing contact centers. As we unfortunately have learned, unplanned events like widespread illness can disrupt routine contact center operations quickly.

When it comes to workforce management and productivity, the more flexibility you have in ramping up or down quickly with a variety of dispersed staff, the better you will be at meeting service levels and delivering a great experience.

Solve the talent equation

Recruiting for home-based associates isn’t limited by geography, so the quality of the talent pool automatically rises. Agencies can find the best employees for both part- and full-time work from anywhere.

With an average age of 40 and an average work experience of 11 years, at-home associates bring professional and life experience to a client program, along with higher educational backgrounds.

And since the coronavirus outbreak, the talent pool has grown even more to include experienced, skilled workers from other service sectors looking to work remotely.

The talent benefits of at-home

  • Attractive employment options for displaced workers, veterans, and those with mobility issues
  • Local experts who can relate to customers
  • Staff for particular language needs
  • Employ those with industry specialization or brand advocacy

Stay safe and secure

Information security is the number one concern when it comes to the work-from-home model, especially in the highly regulated public sector.

However there are process and technology controls that can be put in place to prevent any data and security missteps.

Process controls:

  • Manual oversight and monitoring
  • Pre-deployment formal assessment and risk readout
  • Enterprise Info Security Program
  • Live service observe and screen monitoring
  • Recorded voice and screen capture
  • Real-time Team Lead engagement/monitoring
  • Spot inspection for user engagement
  • Employee IP and System alert process for change to location or PC used to work

Technology controls:

  • Real-time access and monitoring
  • End-point security protection and VPN access solution
  • Network level controls
  • Security certificate for second factor of authentication
  • Systems scanned for latest OS and security software patch updates and for integrity of applications
  • Workstation takeover potential in case of emergency
  • Web-based cameras

Connect to citizens how they prefer – via messaging on their mobile devices

Keep citizens informed with asynchronous messaging to redirect calls to a text message format in Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat, WhatsApp, or direct SMS messaging. Messaging is fast, on-the-go, and adds a personal touch at a time when people are looking for reassurance. What’s more, agents can concurrently manage 4 messaging conversations at once, rather than just one call at a time.

Messaging enables agents to work from home, over the web without complex phone connectivity or the high bandwidth and “quiet place” a voice call requires. It can be scaled with agentassisting and consumer-facing automation, enabling a reduced or newly trained workforce to handle more consumers faster. These same benefits allow for rapid deployment timeframes. Shifting voice to messaging also helps mitigate labor shortage risks.

Rapid deployment. Messaging can be configured and launched in less than 7 days.

Expand the number of customer conversations an agent can handle. Associates can go from 1:1 to 1:4 concurrency.

Optimize a preferred channel. Broaden your reach with availability in mobile apps and SMS, giving customers options in their preferred channel.

Minimal IT support. Messaging can be deployed with minimal IT resource support and can be configured and implemented quickly.

Higher satisfaction. Clients using messaging for service report an average customer satisfaction score of 89%.

AI and automation assist citizens and agents for quick resolution

Automation can dramatically improve contact center capacity -- from handling routine interactions with consumers to recommending content for agents to use during a call. In a disruptive situation, the ability to quickly build and modify automated bots enables agencies to provide hyper-relevant responses, at scale.

Going further, conversational AI products include powerful tools that allow non-technical personnel, including agents, to classify consumer intents, design bots to automate answers to questions, and to optimize and intervene on bot conversations as needed. When new, previously unpredictable consumer questions emerge, non-technical staff can fine-tune intent recognition and automated conversation flows.

Benefits of automation for contact centers

Increase efficiency. Automate repetitive internal and external processes and augment the associate experience to work smarter.

Enhance productivity. Streamline operations and business processes. Employees can focus on activities that impact bottom line results.

Use Robotic Process Automation. Handle common, high-volume, repetitive tasks, leading to cost savings and greater efficiency, fewer errors.

Use Robotic Desktop Automation. Assist agents in how they handling simple repetitive tasks like logging in or searching for information. The automation is triggered, depending on their workflow.

Minimal IT support. Does not require access to source codes or APIs, and there are no changes to underlying applications.

Accelerated ROI. Streamlined processes and faster resolution shows immediate impact on productivity, average handle time, satisfaction, and other KPIs.

Download the full Government Contact Center Crisis Strategy Guide.

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