How Contact Centers Are Adapting To The New Normal

April 29, 2020
Written by
Karla Nussbaumer
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own

Contact Center Changes

Twilio is offering a new program called Flex Boost to provide up to $100,000 in free Active User Hours to organizations impacted by or responding to COVID-19. 

You can find more information about Flex Boost, including links to helpful technical and operations resources, along with information on how to get started on the following page.

The COVID-19 outbreak has shown us that most organizations were not prepared to deal with a worldwide crisis of this magnitude. Fortunately, we can adapt how we operate and get work done out of an office with technology such as contact centers.  

Working from home is nothing new – the technology to do it has been available for more than 15 years. However, during this new reality, some organizations are now figuring out how to conduct business as usual during these unexpected times, discovering video conferencing, remote team collaboration, and distributed contact centers, among other tools.

What is common with all these tools is that they have been built into the cloud – and the humble brick to the cloud is the API (Application programming interface).

APIs are becoming increasingly valuable to the customer experience as the easiest and fastest way for companies to transition to remote contact centers, and to expand the existing ones with additional services.

The remote-contact-center-agents topic has been trending for the last 5 years. Analysts we spoke to speculate that before the outbreak approximately 20% of agents were working from home at least a few days per week. The existing situation is accelerating this need, and the projection is that 53% of seats would move to the cloud by 2023.

We talked to some organizations who overcame the demand to move agents to work from home. Based on their stories, we found that the three most common challenges of setting up remote contact center agents are slow deployments, operational risk and poor coverage

Speed up implementation and deployment

During COVID-19, we found that a lot of contact centers do not support remote agents. Most contact centers need extra hardware, software, or even network updates. During these trying times, it is not acceptable to wait too long to deliver a remote customer experience when some organizations can accomplish it in days or even hours.

Usually the City of Pittsburgh’s support line addresses non-emergency community services, but it recently started receiving calls related to coronavirus information and updates. In the wake of the coronavirus, it needed to quickly transition off of its legacy contact center, which did not allow their agents to work remotely. They needed a new contact center setup as quickly as possible to enable remote agents to answer 311 requests. Using a programmable contact center platform and application program interfaces (APIs), the City of Pittsburgh was able to initially deploy 15 remote agents with voice, self-service, and voicemail for after call hours, in just a few days

“We’re modernizing the operation of the city as fast as possible to make sure people can work from home and stay as safe as possible.”

Director of Innovation and Performance - City of Pittsburgh

The City of Pittsburgh isn’t alone in utilizing APIs to rapidly deploy a new contact center to respond to the changing demands brought by COVID-19. Other examples include:

In five days, a tele-shopping company in Italy deployed a remote contact center and enhanced the capabilities of its existing contact center, adding new channels such as SMS and Whatsapp that were not supported by their legacy system., a non-profit organization, installed a contact center in 5 hours. And they keep adding digital channels and other services like callback to expand their support.

Lower operational impact

Adopting new technology does not have to be hard, especially if you have a plan to reduce the operational impact. Successful user adoption requires evaluating productivity improvements, defining procedures, organizing change management, and measuring performance.

It’s common to underestimate the impact of adding new technology that is not intuitive. These assumptions are subsequently reflected in longer time-to-resolution, agents’ dissatisfaction, and negative customer satisfaction. It’s important that your contact center solution is easy for agents to use when trying to reduce the operational impact.

A university in California was looking for a straightforward solution to quickly deploy some remote agents to support academic needs. They deployed a programmable contact center which allows them to deliver a service without impacting their existing operations.

“I absolutely adore this platform and cannot begin to tell you how much easier it has made our transition. You have a convert for life.

Engineer at the university

Before the outbreak, some businesses were already operating remotely which made things smoother for them. Yet, moving all agents to work from home caused them to think about other ways to optimize their operation.

Supervisors at Shopify manage their contact center performance as if they were in the office. With COVID-19, Shopify is going one step further by tracking its agents’ connectivity at home. This ensures that their network connectivity provides enough bandwidth for good call quality at scale. When the network performance is degraded, the system alerts the agents and their IT team to troubleshoot the issue.  

We require our remote employees to have high-quality internet. We do connectivity tests to ensure they’ve got decent internet. We’ve also had to build in connectivity tracking software to alert them if their internet is slow or degraded for calls.”

Chris Wilson, Director of Support Technology - Shopify

Expand coverage

Distributed contact centers allow agents to work from anywhere with a high-speed internet connection. The remote contact center allows a company to balance traffic among its different locations, and in particular to support peak request volume when certain centers don’t have capacity.

United Way created a test case in Ohio, where there are many 211 agencies covering different counties, and 37 counties did not have 211 service at all. In three business days and over 16 working hours, the team built a system with Twilio Flex and Autopilot.

The United Way Worldwide 211 team will build on the early success of the Ohio pilot to expand the Twilio Flex and Autopilot system to other states, focusing first on those with the highest increase in call volume and also where limited 211 staff may be serving large populations.

During the current coronavirus breakout, many schools have closed and parents have to deal with homeschooling. Some parents are working remotely for the first time and also helping their children take classes while they are at home. The difficult part is that many parents had no guidance on how to accomplish good results. Some organizations are looking for alternatives to solve this by creating a new support service to assist families in need. is facilitating this process. They help with everything from creating daily schedules for children and keeping students academically on track, to providing best practices to parents. School Closure recruited volunteers to support the community as this was a service that never existed before. And in its first week alone, volunteers handled 400 calls/week and responded to 100 inbound SMS messages/week.

If you want to learn more about best practices and how to enable remote agents, check out some of the following resources:


How to get started:

Karla Nussbaumer is Head of Technical Marketing at Twilio. She is responsible for establishing Twilio Flex as the leader in the contact center market. With technical consulting, research and storytelling as her core skills, she has developed and executed programs to increase Flex growth in the industry. Before Twilio, she held product marketing and sales roles in the contact center and collaboration industry. Her experience spans across several technologies to develop GTM strategies and increase revenue.