An internet connection that suddenly fails or a TV signal that stutters. In times of lock-down, it feels like a bad dream. We are more reliant than ever on the internet, television and our smartphones to maintain contact with our families, friends and colleagues, or to satisfy our hunger for news and entertainment. The employees in the Telenet contact centres are feeling it too; they have seen a 20% increase in questions from customers now that we all have to stay at home. Older customers are also calling more than usual. “Now that the son-in-law and the helpful neighbour can’t drop by due to coronavirus, they have nobody to support them,” says Jurriaan Leijder, head of Telenet’s contact centres. “We are happy to help. Today’s phone calls are also lasting longer than normal. For many people, a conversation with customer service may be the only social contact they’ll have that day.”
Full-time home-working, children who want to watch YouTube or Netflix when they've done their online homework, the daily Skype call with grandma and the grandchildren; our lives have changed beyond recognition since mid-March. Smartphones, tablets and laptops have already taken on a significant role in our lives. Today, however, they are the only way to stay in touch with grandparents, chat to colleagues, or enjoy an ‘e-peritif’ with friends on a Friday evening.
From attic room to office with wifi
The 2,500 employees at the Telenet contact centre have been flooded with calls since the strict measures were introduced on 17 March. Many Belgians suddenly had to turn their attic rooms, without a good wifi signal, into an office and companies that had not really used home-working before the corona crisis had to find VPN solutions as quickly as they could. Customers with problems couldn't go to the Telenet and BASE stores because they had been closed.
The contact centres have received 20% more questions from customers over the phone, by mail and social media over the past four weeks. Questions via WhatsApp have doubled but the telephone is the most commonly used form of communication for customer service. Before corona, most of the calls used to come in during the afternoon and early evening but now there is an ongoing demand through the day and a peak in the morning.
“Half of the calls are about connectivity, such as how the wifi works or problems with the internet,” explains Jurriaan Leijder, head of Telenet contact centres. “But we are also receiving a great deal of questions about the entertainment range, which has been expanded during lock-down. Some customers are also suffering financial hardships in this period because they are temporarily unemployed, for example, so we have also seen an increase in requests for payment delays with regard to invoices.”
Longer and sometimes emotional conversations
To combat the virus, Telenet is prioritising resolving as many issues as possible without sending a technician to the location itself. In the first instance, everyone can look for an answer to their question on the telenet.be page. The specially adapted and very noticeable #samenerdoor pages provide customers with a great deal of extra information, relating to common problems in these corona times. If a customer can't resolve an issue, they can always ring, WhatsApp or chat with an employee. Technicians will only visit a location for problems that cannot be resolved on the phone. The contact centres are also seeing an increase in questions from older customers. “Now that the son-in-law or helpful neighbour can't drop by due to coronavirus, they are receiving less help at home,” explains Jurriaan Leijder. “We are happy to help. We have also noticed that phone conversations are lasting longer at the moment. For many people, a conversation with customer service may be the only social contact they’ll have that day. We have briefed our employees about this issue; we don’t mind if a conversation lasts an hour as long as the customer is happy.”
The corona crisis is generating a sense of solidarity which can also be felt in the contact centres “At the moment, everybody is in the same situation and understands the context. That is why we are being more understanding and empathetic towards one another. The question ‘how are you doing?’ has become part of our calls over the past few weeks. After all, the employees in the contact centres have had to adapt too. They are all working from home now. It’s good to know that customers understand that they may hear kids playing in the background during their call. Some of our employees, however, have been completely home alone for the past few weeks. As a company, we are trying to accommodate their needs as far as possible; they can take extra breaks if they need them. We all feel huge responsibility to be here for one another and also for our customers.”