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The future of the call center

September 11, 2020, 10:04 AM UTC

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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.

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

TOP NEWS

Vaccine timing

Aimin Hui, the vice president of Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Development, reckons one or more coronavirus vaccines will be "available to the public in the fourth quarter this year or early next year." Fosun has partnered with Pfizer and BioNTech to develop a vaccine that's in late-stage trials, so here's hoping. Fortune

Citigroup CEO

Citigroup's global consumer banking chief Jane Fraser is set to become the bank's CEO when Michael Corbat retires in February. In doing so, she will become the first woman to lead a major Wall Street Bank. Fraser was responsible for some of Citigroup's toughest tasks, such as helping it find its way after the financial crisis. Fortune

Rio Tinto CEO

Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques has quit, due to investor pressure over the company's destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred site in Australia. Rio Tinto's iron ore chief Chris Salisbury, and corporate relations chief Simone Niven, are also leaving. The mining giant destroyed two rock shelters in Western Australia that were of huge cultural and archeological significance, in order to expand one of its iron ore mines. CNN

TikTok deadline

TikTok owner ByteDance will reportedly miss the White House-imposed Sept. 15 deadline for selling off its U.S. operations, but President Trump insists he won't bend. Trump: "We’ll either close up TikTok in this country for security reasons, or it will be sold…There will be no extension of the TikTok deadline." Fortune

AROUND THE WATER COOLER

Election interference

Microsoft is warning of massive attempted U.S.-election interference coming from Russia, again. The software giant says Russian government hackers have in recent weeks tried to attack at least 200 organizations tied to the election—including consultants working for either side of the electoral divide. Microsoft also said China has been trying to launch cyberattacks on people tied to the Biden campaign, while Iran has been targeting the personal accounts of people associated with the Trump campaign. Wall Street Journal

Altice vs volatility

Patrick Drahi is trying to take Altice, the French telecommunications firm in which he reportedly owns a 32% stake, private. The move is intended to end five years of debt-related volatility in Altice's share price. Drahi would pay €4.11 per share through the Next Private vehicle. Bloomberg

Nikola allegations

Short-seller Hindenburg Research has published a report full of claims about zero-emissions-car firm Nikola, which just struck a major deal with GM. Hindenburg alleges that Nikola made deceptive claims about its battery-development efforts and staged a 2018 video of its hydrogen fuel-cell semi truck moving under its own power. Nikola strenuously denies all of this, but the report hit both its and GM's stock yesterday. Fortune

This year

2020 is like a colonoscopy, proposes Aaron M. Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. How so? As Sackett explains in this piece for Fortune, patients' retrospective evaluation of their colonoscopies have less to do with their average pain levels than with their peak pain levels during the procedure, and those at the end: "On Jan. 1, 2021, our evaluation of 2020 will likely be most influenced by how bad it was at its worst, and how bad it was at its end. If 2020’s peak 'pain' levels have already passed, a good ending can go a long way toward salvaging the year in retrospect." Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.