As restrictions on social activity ease across Australia and New Zealand, employers of all sizes are gradually welcoming staff back to the workplace. But for many organisations, there is a new meaning to ‘business as usual’, as we start to adapt to longer-term changes to how we live and work.

As a result of its rapid onset, the pandemic forced many organisations to adopt digital technologies much faster than they might otherwise have done. They’re now seeing the benefits of digital capabilities, which are opening up new market opportunities, and streamlining existing ones.

Technology has also delivered new levels of flexibility to help them respond faster to changing market conditions – a factor that may prove critical in navigating the post-COVID world.

Answering the call

To minimise disruption to workforces and customers, many local organisations were required to enable staff to work from home in a short amount of time when social restrictions began.

But this is not an effortless transition. Call centre staff, for instance, are essential frontline workers that provide a direct connection for customers, but their reliance on specialised call routing systems and information resources traditionally means they need to work from centralised locations.

Organisations such as Australian superannuation fund, CBUS, saw large spikes in customer inquiries during COVID-19, which means their contact centre employees have been required to deal with volumes far higher than regular loads, all while working remotely.

“The financial markets were under pressure and the Australian Government announced an early access to superannuation scheme for individuals financially affected by COVID-19, and these factors together led to a large increase in calls to our advice line with requests for support from our members,” said Rob Pickering, CBUS’ Chief Technology and Digital Officer. “As an organisation focused on delivering the best outcome for our members, we wanted to make sure we were available to deliver advice in the best way we could, while keeping our staff safe.”

A man wears a headset and works on a laptop computer, with a notepad and coffee mug nearby.
The guy uses hands-free headsets to work from home. He sits at a table with a laptop and speaks online. Remote work concept
Photo by Vadym Pastukh/Getty Images/iStockphoto

CBUS previously used a contact centre platform that was not suitable for a work-from-home scenario. However, earlier this year, CBUS adopted Amazon Connect, a cloud-based contact centre platform, for its internal IT help desk service. Pickering and his team immediately saw an opportunity to extend its use.

“Amazon Web Services (AWS) helped us to stand up a contact centre for our advice function in the cloud within two days,” Pickering said. “We migrated all of our advice teams, our complaints and inquiries, and reception over to the new system, and provided training for new users to help with the transition. Our business teams also adopted some of these new tools too, and this consistency has helped us to deliver great outcomes for our members.”

While CBUS will look to bring staff back into its premises as restrictions are eased, Pickering says the move to the cloud will have a long-term impact on how it manages its contact centre team, and the service they provide to customers.

“CBUS has always had a culture that strongly supports flexible working environments, so modernising our legacy contact centre platform was the last piece of the puzzle. This means we can ensure that regardless of what happens now, or in the future, our teams can be as productive as they would be in the office, from anywhere,” Pickering said.

Paying benefits over the long-term

Digital payment technology startup, mx51, knew that starting a business during COVID-19 would present unforeseen challenges, but the company wanted to ensure it could also leverage its services to support other organisations to during this time. The company had previously been a part of a payment technology provider, Assembly Payments, but recently launched as an independent business to provide merchant payment solutions for Australian banks – just as the crisis hit.

According to mx51 Chief Customer Officer, May Lam, the team immediately saw a 30 per cent decline in transactions as consumers stopped spending in March 2020. But since then, mx51 has witnessed a rapid rise in activity, as consumers gradually return to pre-pandemic spending behaviours.

“In mid-April we started to receive more calls from customers to roll out terminals. By May, we saw a 40 per cent growth in transactions compared to April, and today, we are still seeing the demand for our payment solutions grow as people start to feel confident about spending again,” Lam said.

Part of that growth has been due to the increase in demand for MOTO payment services, which enables store-based employees to process transactions that are being phoned in - something that has been essential for many restaurants that pivoted from in-house dining to home delivery options.

This was the case for Melbourne-based pastry shop, Lune Croissanterie, who needed to offer cashless payment solutions to take customer orders over the phone when they had to temporarily close their doors to customers. During the peak of COVID-19, Lune Croissanterie saw a 200-fold increase in phone orders for their pastries, and could offer a quick and seamless payment with support from mx51 and its bank partner, Westpac. This helped them to manage the growth in orders, provide a great customer experience, and continue to operate safely.

In a post-COVID world, the change in consumer behaviour to cashless transactions makes it more important than ever for organisations to provide seamless payment systems.

“Leveraging the unique technologies we have created on AWS, our ability to work with banks to scale compelling merchant propositions, and our commitment to delivering the best possible multi-channel payment solutions ensures we are well positioned to adapt for future payment needs as they change,” Lam said.

Measuring the impact

Many businesses, such as Australian customer engagement specialist, Local Measure, had to rapidly pivot their operations during COVID-19 to support customers, and continue operating. Since its launch in 2015, the company has built a strong customer base, which includes some of the world’s largest retail, government, travel, and hospitality brands, by providing insight into the experience that customers had when visiting their premises.

But according to Local Measure’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Jonathan Barouch, many of these companies were among the hardest hit by COVID-19, and something had to be done to help them.

“Our customers include some of the largest theme parks and shopping centres in the world, and the impact to those industries came very fast,” Barouch said. “We had to think about how we could support our existing customers, and create new products that would help us to scale and stay relevant during this period.”

Barouch and his team launched a new customer engagement management system built on AWS, and delivered it from concept to prototype in under six weeks.

Local Measure’s solution, Engage, brings together interactions collected across Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Web Chat, and other digital channels to create a system that enables organisations to handle inbound customer inquiries across multiple platforms. This single interface helps clients to track and measure all forms of engagement with their customers, regardless of whether they are taking place in the physical world, or online.

Barouch says this type of capability will be especially important in a post-COVID world, where brands will need to maintain close relationships with customers even if they are no longer able to visit their physical properties, and paves the way for greater levels of digital interaction.

“To maintain customer loyalty, now more than ever brands need to show how much they care, and be a responsive and reassuring voice for people who feel uncertain about returning to their lives before COVID-19. We expect to see lasting changes in consumer behaviour, and expectations of brands increase. Technology will have a significant impact in helping businesses to listen to customers, find ways to connect on a personal level, and quickly respond their needs as they change,” Barouch said.

Into the unknown

As staff begin to return to work, companies need to remain flexible to allow them to adapt to changing market conditions and consumer behaviour. One of the most critical considerations is how people’s behaviour in the physical world will change. Many organisations – from startups to enterprises – are seeing the benefits of running in the cloud which is allowing them to be more agile and innovate faster to support these changing consumer needs, now and in the future.