Leading through the COVID crisis; a year on – Simon Cleaver, CloudCall

Leading through the COVID crisis; a year on – Simon Cleaver, CEO, CloudCall

We recently passed the first anniversary of when the world changed, and it’s made me reflect on what we as a business, and many other businesses have had to do, to stay alive, and thrive, through the pandemic. Even the most resilient and successful business owners have had to pivot somewhat to survive.

In March 2020, like all businesses, we transitioned our employees to work from home. This was a huge shift for our teams to execute and I was impressed at how quickly they adapted, and proud of the way they handled the personal and business challenges that this presented. There was a considerable ‘we’re in this together’ feeling amongst our team, and between us, our partners, and our customers, who also endured this transition. We have truly been, and continue to be, in this together.

As CEO, when COVID struck my focus was ensuring we could survive the storm and I concentrated on revenue and job protection. I was particularly worried about the pandemic’s effect on our customers, many of whom are in the staffing and recruitment sectors. I was focusing on the macro picture, but I failed to consider things from every angle and think through what would happen at a departmental level.

As a cloud-based communication company that logs all communications in CRMs’, CloudCall’s sublimely suited to home working. We’re a vital cog in understanding what people are up to when working in distributed environments. So, after the initial shock wave, we started to see an increasing number of new customers asking for our services, and the business returned to growth – in comparison to so many businesses we’ve been incredibly fortunate.

However, in hindsight, I should have paid more attention to what it would mean for our customer services when all our customers started to work from home. This is where the pandemic storm came ashore at CloudCall – and boy, it was a near perfect storm.

I’ve always been very proud, and possibly a little smug about the way we look after our customers.  We’ve got great teams that genuinely and deeply care about the service we provide. I love reading the glowing comments from our customer services surveys and seeing who has won the ‘CS agent of the month’ award. Whenever I meet customers, I always and very confidently ask “How are our team looking after you?”, basking in the warm glow that every CEO gets when they hear good things about the company they run.

When our customers moved from office working to home working, our support teams went from dealing with customers and network issues in 3,000 offices, to over 50,000 home offices, quite literally overnight. Each of CloudCall’s user’s bedrooms, kitchens and dining rooms became an office.  Few had networks designed for high quality VoIP traffic, and even fewer of them had a handy IT manager down the corridor. We suddenly became the defacto IT department for thousands of these home offices.

One of our core values is “We love our customers” and as usual our valiant team tried to fix every problem for every user, wherever they were working from, but the sheer volume of issues involved in setting up 50,000 ‘new’ offices swamped them. For the first time ever, backlogs grew, and we found ourselves not responding quickly to customers.

I no longer enjoyed reading the customer service surveys.

We didn’t stand idly by. Account managers and onboarding staff readily leant their shoulders to the wheel manning the phones. Teams worked over weekends to drive down the backlog and we adapted our processes and wrote self-help guides for the most common home working issues. We took on temps and frantically began hiring and training additional staff. However, as hard as our teams worked, we struggled to get back to customers as quickly as we wanted, and with remote working it took longer than usual for the additional resources to be trained up.

The measures we put in place slowly began to work, and I’m pleased to say that the storm has now passed. I’m still closely watching the call queues and response times, but they no longer make my heart palpitate – life is generally calmer. We’re still effectively servicing over 50,000 home offices and I believe changes to working practice means we always will, but our team have configured many of these networks to handle home working and we’ve scaled our support to cope with this new world.

And yes, I’m starting to enjoy reading our customer service reviews again!

So, what have I learnt from this?

  • How vitally important it is to proactively consider issues from a department perspective as well as globally.

I now mentally run through a check list of departments and try to consider everything from their perspective, regularly asking the departmental head for their feedback.

  • That having pride in your work is hyper important.

When our customers services teams became swamped through no fault of their making, their morale dropped noticeably.

I’ve always known that our staff really cared about our customers and took great pride in delivering this exceptional care. Working hard to solve a customers’ problem and making them happy is satisfying and rewarding for a good job done. However, if you’re drowning under a firehose of issues, you’re simply firefighting and cannot deliver that excellent service. Satisfaction and the all-important pride evaporates, so work becomes a grind.

  • That some departments are more suited to working from home than others.

Whilst some areas of the business have thrived working from home, others have struggled.

Customer service and technical support, for example, work much better together as a team. Tricky issues can be handled faster when you can quickly consult a more experienced colleague – this is particularly important with newer staff members and when scaling a team. Home working slowed resolution times further exacerbating our ‘perfect storm’.

  • ‘Sharing’ with colleagues reduces stress and mental fatigue.

Like departments, some employees are also more suited to working from home than others. Being isolated can damage the feeling of inclusion and small work issues often become disproportionately important or frustrating. Laughing and arguing with colleagues can act as a pressure release valve, and that’s vital for mental wellbeing. With remote working you must proactively go above and beyond to ensure nobody’s feeling pressured or left out.

This pandemic has been a huge and steep learning curve for us all, and I’m super proud of the way our staff have been dealing with it.

Our HR department has done an amazing job of keeping our culture alive and looking after our remote teams and have been extremely cognisant of the risks of home working. They have undoubtedly placed the mental and physical health of our employees above all else with their CloudCall Wellness initiatives to ensure we all feel connected, as well as offering support and help where necessary.

Before the COVID pandemic transformed office life, our employees were in the office five days a week, however, looking forward we will be adopting a hybrid working approach. I truly believe a mix of home and office working is the future with the blend varying depending upon departmental requirements. The office will still be important, but as a hub, the glue to keep people connected, having fun and collaborating together.

Business owners have had to pivot their strategies, marketing plans, and in some cases, their core products and services, to match this new way of working. They’ve also had to accelerate their adoption of technology. Having tools, like CloudCall, that support remote working will become increasingly vital in ensuring teams remain productive and safe while working remotely.

But for me there’s one overarching lesson to be learned. We must consider things from every angle, and really care for each other and our environment to have pride in ourselves and what we do.

After all, we’re all in this together.

Ben Blance

About Ben Blance