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The future of the call center

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Good morning.

Is the call center dead? That’s one of many interesting questions COVID-19 has raised about the future of work. It’s been two decades since I first heard an enthusiastic telecom CEO talk about how call center workers would soon work from home. But now, because of COVID, it has finally happened. And according to a J.D. Power study out today (CEO Daily got an early peek) 86% of 124 customer service organizations surveyed say they plan to implement permanent work-from-home models even after the pandemic passes.

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The J.D. Power survey covered May and June, and 92% of those surveyed say their customer experience scores stayed the same (56%) or increased (36%) during work-at-home. The report noted customer satisfaction scores may have been boosted by the fact that many callers were seeking deferred payment arrangements during the pandemic—and getting them. Satisfaction could go down once those payment leniency programs end.

It also found that “Average Handle Time” for each call increased for 55% of companies. That reflected an increased complexity of calls, but also an increased degree of interaction between agents and customers. “Much of the work-at-home staff who were previously in the office live alone and have been forced to quarantine,” said one call center operator. “With this sense of social isolation has come longer AHTs as both customers and employees are using their time on calls to help bridge some of the social distance.”

Looking forward, the report said isolation and lack of support in the work-at-home model “will take its toll on performance and agent attrition.” Training new hires is also expected to be a challenge.

Bottom line: “Combine the risks of underperforming agents, agent attrition, and the scaling back of consumer-friendly financial policies, and the stage is set for a significant decrease in employee experience and customer experience for the next several quarters. Smart brands will do well to take action now to understand how well their employees fit emotionally and psychologically in a work-at-home environment.

More news below, including Citigroup’s decision to name Jane Fraser its next CEO—the first woman to head a major Wall Street bank. That was becoming a noticeable problem, as Fortune’s Claire Zillman noted in this foresightful story last year.

Alan Murray
@alansmurray

alan.murray@fortune.com