State and federal government agencies get more calls due to COVID-19 contact tracing.

Contact Tracing – Empowering Your Call Center Agents Has Never Been More Important

Through most of 2020, the world has been rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Countries large and small in every corner of the globe have had to rapidly adjust and execute to fight the virus that is infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands.  In the US, as many states are shifting cautiously to reopening, a decades-old mitigation tactic, defined by the CDC has emerged front and center as our best fight against the novel coronavirus, contact tracing.

I’ve spent the last many months speaking with operational leaders and CIO’s across state and federal government agencies discussing their challenges and I’ve gained some really interesting insight into how those challenges are going to stack up once agency contact centers embark on contact tracing efforts at scale. 

The short answer is, it’s INCREDIBLY daunting.  Most agencies are struggling with exponential increases in call volumes as a result of the pandemic.  One unnamed agency told me that they experienced an over 3000% jump in call volume.  The scariest part of that datapoint is that agency had not yet begun executing contact tracing efforts. 

News headlines are packed full of stories following the massive hiring effort that is unfolding around the country to staff the armies of contact center agents that state and local government agencies will need to accommodate such a massive workload.  The truth though, is that no agency has a blank check to write for as many resources as they need.  Which tilts the conversation and underlying need to productivity.  How do you expedite contact center workflows so that agents have the bandwidth to accommodate their day jobs (standard agency business) and contact tracing?

The answer is digital channel activation.   After decades of adoption, today digital channels are a ubiquitous part of our lives.  Think about it, how often do you ‘call’ a friend these days?  Isn’t it easier and quicker to text or connect via social?  We share pictures and stories with our loved ones via social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  In the retail space, through online retail giants like Amazon, we can purchase everything from groceries to technology, all without the need to speak to a person.  What we’ve grown accustomed to, is the speed and efficiency those digital interactions create, resulting in a quantum leap in convenience from what we were accustomed to 20 years ago.   When contact centers meet their constituents in the digital channels they live in, it drives a myriad of advantages.  Through the lens of a pandemic response, several of those advantages are incredibly meaningful for the agencies spearheading contact tracing.

Speed and EfficiencyNICE inContact Flash Survey Highlights of Contact Center Shifts During the Pandemic

If you’re an agency operating a majority of your contact center through ACD and IVR, its time to look at your digital options.  In a recent survey conducted by NICE inContact, an overwhelming 92% of contact centers experienced an increase in call volume as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 62% of that being through digital channels.  This is actually good news for state and local government contact centers that are already besieged by historic call volumes and now taking on contact tracing.  

Your agents can do more proactive outreach and follow up by leveraging digital over traditional voice channels.  What’s more, leveraging a contact center software platform that builds in functions like Workforce Optimization (WFO) and Workforce Management (WFM) to help supervisors maintain visibility across contact tracing efforts offers new and on-demand clarity into key contact center KPI’s.  .  The best contact center software solutions present the agent with a user-intuitive interface, enabling them to see all channel activity and simultaneously handle a considerably larger number of interactions.  In the fight against an invasive global pandemic, the speed that these digital channels provide an agency is a no brainer. 

Information Capture and Sharing 

Case investigation workflow of contact tracing from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC’s Contact Tracing Guide states that contact tracing efforts “require excellent communication between staff to ensure clarity and prompt transfer of information, limited redundancy, and cohesive messaging to clients with COVID-19 and their contacts. Given each patient with COVID-19 will likely have multiple close contacts, staffing plans should include a greater number of contact tracers to meet this demand.”   Having a unified agent dashboard that allows agents to see across channels and easily capture information plays an important part of information sharing across agents.  The CDC also notes that contact tracing teams are traditionally made up of a ‘case investigator’ and then the ‘contact tracer.’  This best practice asserts that at minimum there will be multiple teams needing to share information quickly, accurately and freely with others to expediently and accurately complete a chain of contact tracing efforts. 

Ongoing contact

Contact tracing is not a “one and done” activity.  The number of additional proactive contact will be determined by

  • the number of people a COVID-19 patient has encountered
  • how many people those individuals have been in contact with

Just in this single example, one case may result in dozens of additional outreach.  At scale, that number can easily start to tumble into a mind-bending (and blood pressure raising) uptick in your contact center’s call volume.   This is precisely where digital channels can help accelerate the contact tracing workflow.  And while the first outreach may actually be via voice, undoubtedly that patient will have additional questions.  

Digital communications are asynchronous in nature, meaning that unlike a voice call where you may sit and wait on hold, a tweet or text does not need to be responded to the second it is received, no one is waiting in a hold queue and when the agent does respond, it is typically a quicker transaction digitally than it would be over a phone call.  This help to reduce frustration on the citizen side when they are likely to have scores of questions or may remember additional people that they need to add to their list of contacts for the agency.  It also frees up precious time and resource for the agent as they move from case to case.  If an agent is corresponding over a digital channel the interaction is typically much faster than a voice call which may take as much as 30 minutes of an agent’s time. 

Reduce Contact Chasing

From a speed and productivity standpoint, digital channels unquestionably have a role to play in speeding up the case investigation and contact tracing process.  Today’s contact tracers DO conduct a significant amount of case work via traditional voice calls.  It makes sense, if one of us are contacted, we are likely at our must vulnerable, in shock, scared and full of questions.  It absolutely makes sense to have a human voice on the other line.  However, with the onslaught of robo calls we all receive, its likely that contact tracers may spend a lot of time chasing an individual who is not responding to calls, wasting precious cycles on call backs.

Take for instance contact tracing efforts going on today in Connecticut.  In a recent CBS This Morning story, Melissa Thomas, a contact tracer for New Haven Department of Health in Connecticut spends her days investigating cases. 

“I think the hardest part is getting the people to answer the phone in the first place, for those that we actually reach out and talk to whether they answer the phone or call us back, they’re very willing to help.” 

Thomas estimates that she is able to conduct 2-3 calls an hour, the city is experiencing 100 new diagnosed cases a day.   This is precisely where digital proactive outreach may accelerate initial case investigation, allowing contact tracers or case investigators like Melissa to realize a greater percentage of “people responding to the outreach.”

Whether they are literally answering a voice call, a text or social media message.   By thoughtfully and surgically implementing the use of digital channels, contact centers can reduce all the calls that go unanswered.  In this instance, exploring basics like predictive dialer solutions can offer agents an enormous advantage in driving a connection on first contact.  NICE inContact Personal Connection drives increased connect rates for immediate connections, helping contact center leaders save precious time and resource utilization throughout contact tracing efforts. 

Tracking and Reporting
NICE inContact Personal Connection drives increased connect rates for immediate connections, helping contact center leaders save precious time and resource utilization throughout contact tracing efforts. The last key element in contact tracing is capturing data so that it can be analyzed and visualized.  The ability to track and report on current cases, resolved cases and unresolved cases is not just a nice to have from a KPI tracking standpoint.  Tracking and reporting will play a significant role in an agency’s ability to communicate progress reports.

 Leveraging a workforce management platform allows agency contact center leaders to produce more accurate forecasts and results quickly.  A good WFM Solution will deliver unified dashboards that provide both supervisors AND agents with at a glance insight into intraday trending for AHT, ASA and volume based on volume or preset objectives, from there contact center supervisors can make adjustments to existing tactics or make data-sourced recommendations on how to drive improvements in the call center.

And lastly, scalability

As state and local governments hire additional headcount to service contact tracing, the ability to activate new users quickly is paramount.  Cloud-based platforms allow for the underpinning infrastructure to scale elastically and responsively to accommodate new users, whether they are remote users or based in a contact center facility (although, let’s be honest, most agents during this pandemic will be remote.)

 Infrastructure scalability is important and will keep your IT and operations personnel from cursing your name, yet in a recent NICE inContact study, we found that an average of only 35% are using cloud, which is an astonishingly low number as contact center volumes, even before the pandemic have been trending upward.  (I should note, that this study was also conducted BEFORE the pandemic so it is likely this number has moved much higher in recent months.) 

There is no debate that cloud platforms drive significant improvements to infrastructure deployments and reduce considerable frustration and delays with IT staff.  However, scalability ALSO means allowing agents to more quickly onboard, scaling your contact center at the human resource level, also a critical component to any contact tracing deployment strategy.  To accommodate rapid onboarding, its important that the contact center software solution you choose is user intuitive, allowing agents to quickly understand their production level as well as quickly navigate between channels on a single desktop interface.When contact centers meet their constituents in the digital channels they live in, it drives a myriad of advantages. Woman texts government agency about contact tracing.

Conclusion

Together, these five variables account for the difference between successful contact tracing efforts, or contact tracing efforts that result in negative impacts to your agency’s contact center.  It’s no secret that agents across state and local government agencies are experiencing high levels of attrition, especially through the pandemic where call volumes are at historic records. 

Cloud contact centers that bring the table stakes, ACD/IVR and combine them with digital channels and intuitive WFO/WFM functions for supervisors deliver what public sector contact center agencies need right now. Contact tracing is our strongest line of defense against the continued spread of COVID-19.  And while states are doing their best to open cautiously and responsibly, we are already seeing the early signs that wave 1 of the virus is not past us yet. 

As you are evaluating potential solutions to drive your contact tracing efforts, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that NICE inContact has been recognized by industry analysts as contact center software platform of choice for public sector agencies that are managing critical cases and workloads.  CXone, our cloud contact center solution includes features that help drive speed and efficiency within agencies that are looking for ways to improve call center metrics.

CXone is the industry’s only FedRAMP certified call center software.  It allows agencies to quickly scale their contact center and add efficiencies that they have remained elusive on legacy contact center infrastructure solutions.  If your agency is looking for real experience-based expertise, reach out to us to learn more.