Let’s rewind back to 2020. If you had the gift of hindsight, what would you have done differently? Travelled overseas, thrown a big party, hugged a stranger?

It’s fair to say that the world we live and work in today is drastically different to just 12 months ago. Terms like social distancing and COVID-safe are part of our everyday vernacular and with that, the way we interact with our friends, family, colleagues, and customers has changed with it.

Datacom Connect is a provider of customer experience solutions. At the heart of it, we bring deep technology expertise to simplify and enable more meaningful connections for our clients and their customers. We operate on the frontline of the government's essential services and increasingly for customers in the commercial sector in outsourced arrangements. So, more often than not, we operate under the radar as an extension of our customers.

When COVID-19 hit, we had to quickly adapt to vast social change and deal with heightened demand for customer service to support Australia's response, while also keeping our people safe.

All hands on deck

I can recall many conversations with our customers, as we navigated untrodden paths together – the scale at which was initially quite overwhelming. We hired and trained around 2,000 people in a very short time; in one case, over 1,000 people in less than two weeks. To do that, we leaned on our partners and the wider Datacom group to help make some extraordinary things happen. We built CRMs (customer relationship management solutions) and virtual assistants over the course of a weekend. We rolled out a virtual desktop infrastructure and cloud telephony for over 1,000 people in less than a week and then addressed every conceivable question people might have to get them up and running.

Hire local

As Australia struggled to contemplate job losses at scale, we all started to rethink what certainty means. The outcome for many is that we became that much more attuned to an organisation's commitment to hiring locally and supporting the community. A 'homegrown' experience was a comforting one, a trend that has laid the groundwork for a strong repatriation movement which we will no doubt talk about for years to come.

COVID-19 really unlocked the power of 'work from anywhere' and a distributed workforce. One of my proudest moments during this time was looking at a map of Australia and seeing all of the dots that represented Datacom people who were supporting Australia’s response to COVID-19. We tapped into some marvellous talent in areas and industries hardest hit, with many of those people still with us today.

People want to talk to people

Over the past 12 months, the interactions we were having with the public became more emotionally charged as we engaged with some of Australia's most vulnerable. I think it’s safe to say we were all on edge.

One theme that emerged was that people wanted to talk to people, especially those in hardship where I think the trust factor is much higher human-to-human. In particular, during the various levels of lockdown, speaking with someone in a contact centre was a precious opportunity to connect. The ability to show compassion and empathy were skills in high demand for our teams. And, while that has always been the case, it has reached a whole new level of intensity. Our teams felt both exhausted and strongly connected to the vital work they were doing.

Tech helps scale the human factor

While customer service in challenging times is about connecting with people, Australia became much more reliant and comfortable on technology. In particular, customers of government services took their cues on what was possible in the commercial world: “If my banking app can do this, why can't I do this here?”.

Many public services embarked on a steep learning curve to adapt and shift to digital as they had no other choice. So, for many, part of what we needed to do was to provide some accelerated digital assistance type services.

Organisations are seeing unprecedented pressures on their service delivery engines in terms of demand, complexity, immediacy, and an absolute requirement for compassion, and that will continue for some time. As a result, many organisations have accelerated their shift from voice to digital, with a growing interest in AI (artificial intelligence) and automation. Using technology to better leverage the human element of their customer service will improve the overall customer experience.

The most inspiring thing of all during this past year is how our people have rallied around what it means to be ‘in service of their customers. We’ve learnt so much about helping strengthen the experience for our customers and their customers during challenging times. Our capability to stand up a contact centre in a matter of weeks and to galvanise the partners and build the technology plays an important role, now more than ever, as organisations leverage the power of digital in their service to their customers.

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