R50 million paid to Fedgroup beneficiaries during first months of lockdown
Leading independent financial services group Fedgroup paid out more than R50 million to financial beneficiaries during the first two months of South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown, from the comfort of their employees’ homes. April and May 2020 saw at-home employees handle a combined 100 calls per day, effect almost 30,000 payments, and retain their 9-second call wait time at Fedgroup’s virtual Beneficiary Care call centre, despite the call centre never having been operated from home before.
This is according to Muhammad Jogee, Fedgroup Beneficiary Care Operations Manager for Group Products, who was faced with the task of setting up and running an off-site, virtual call centre for one of South Africa’s largest beneficiary funds in less than a month.
“Having watched the way in which COVID-19 was affecting other countries, we started testing alternatives to our traditional call centre a full two weeks before President Ramaphosa announced South Africa would go into lockdown. There were a few teething problems initials, including connectivity and data issues, but our in-house team was able to equip everyone very quickly, and find ways around these challenges,” said Jogee.
Call centre operators were moved off-site to work remotely in stages, so that the system could be stress-tested from home and still function as normal at work. During this phase, Fedgroup looked at call answer times, call quality etc. to ensure remote working wouldn’t affect service delivery, and ultimately the virtual call centre was fully operational remotely two days before lockdown. “We use a variety of dashboards and management tools based on Fedgroup’s fin-tech experience to keep an overview on entire operations, and pick up any issues in real-time,” he explained.
Fedgroup’s first virtual call centre has worked seamlessly, surprising even those who set it up but remained anxious about the potential for drops in customer service levels.
“In previous months when the call centre was operating from our offices, we had a drop call rate of 1%. This is low by industry standards which are usually between 5 and 8%, but our goal is always to have zero dropped calls. This was one of the things that worried us a little heading into the work-from-home lockdown period, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised to realise that actually we achieved our desired zero dropped calls during our first month of virtual operations,” said Jogee.
Fedgroup also did not have to implement its ‘back-up plan’, which was ready in the wings should the call centre staff need more assistance than their usual numbers. Via a company-wide programme of cross-skilling implemented months before the country had any notion it would head into a pandemic-led lockdown, Fedgroup had staff from several other divisions on standby at home, ready to assist the call centre where needed.
“Fedgroup began a concerted effort to cross-skill our administrators across departments and product lines a few months ago. This early decision has really made our staff and business more agile and able to quickly adapt to the new way of working lockdown has required,” said Fedgroup CEO Grant Field.
“We did this for two reasons: first, upskilling and developing our staff is central to Fedgroup’s business philosophy of putting people first, and we believe that growing our people will grow our business. Second, we wanted to encourage a more flexible way of working, where we could move resources around within the business when there was a sudden spike of demand in one area, and possibly a slowdown in another,” said Field.
Fedgroup’s Beneficiary Care division has recently benefitted from this resource re-allocation, citing the festive season as an example of a time when resource shifts are needed. The Beneficiary Care division is at its busiest during the festive season, while the company’s Group Benefits division is a little quieter, as most of their brokers close during this period. Upskilling employees to work in multiple divisions means that Fedgroup is able to supplement Beneficiary Care’s resources with staff from its Group Benefits and Investments divisions temporarily, ensuring that there is no drop in service levels, despite the festive season being four times busier than other months.
“Should we have seen a spike in the lockdown, we had the luxury of bringing in staff from other areas of the business, who are trained and can be plugged into the call centre almost instantly. As you can see in our stats, we didn’t need to go this route as our usual Beneficiary Care administrators have coped extremely well with the volume,” said Jogee.