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By Avesh Singh, head of TransUnion’s Global Capability Centre in South Africa

COVID-19 has shaken up the way the world works – and for some industries, there’s no going back. For the global capabilities centre (GCC) sector, the change is significant, with many GCC leaders starting to prepare for a permanent remote working model. Welcome to the rise of the virtualised GCC.

It’s a massive shift. According to Gartner, before the pandemic the majority (72%) of customer service and support functions operated almost exclusively in-office, with fewer than 10% of employees working from home. As it did with many things, the pandemic changed everything.

Now, 76% of customer service and support functions have 80% to 100% of their staff working from home. And 89% of service leaders forecast 30% to 80% of their workforce will still be working from home two years from now.

At TransUnion’s new South Africa GCC, we were 100% virtual from day one. We’re growing rapidly, and servicing clients across Africa, Canada and the United States, but we’ve never had a physical building.

There are a lot of positives to running a virtual GCC. For employees, the virtual model can mean an end to hours of commuting, which saves them both time and money. They also tend to save money on food (buying lunch every day adds up quickly!) and the often unseen costs of working in an office, like clothes and make-up.

For GCC owners, one of the biggest savings is on facilities, which are the second-highest cost of GCC work after labour. This includes electricity, tea, coffee and all the other amenities that tend to be provided in the workplace as standard. As a bonus, we’re seeing a clear increase in productivity and customer satisfaction using the virtual model.

Of course, there are challenges too. If you’re going to run a virtual GCC, you have to ensure the technology solution in the workplace—which is effectively the employee’s home—has to be robust and secure. So, where the GCC saves on real estate costs, it certainly invests a little more into technology.

This starts with connectivity. Few things are more important to the virtual GCC than a reliable internet connection. We have fibre connections installed in our associates’ homes, with mobile connectivity as a backup. If there’s no fibre network in their neighbourhood, we provide two mobile connections through different providers, with a signal booster to ensure the best possible connection.

Living in South Africa means we live with the reality of rolling blackouts, so the next piece of tech that goes into the home is a heavy-duty battery pack, which will keep our people’s laptops and WiFi running for up to six hours.

Then, behind the scenes, we run various highly sophisticated software systems that ensure data security and compliance; allow our people to have personalised interactions with their customers; and maintain a centralised view of all operations and supervise the performance of our people through a single dashboard. Critically, we even use technology to ensure ongoing human interaction in a virtual world, with regular virtual team briefings to ensure everyone stays connected and on the same page.

Ultimately, getting the technology right is a key part of building a sustainable work from home (WFH) strategy, and ensuring our people can deliver the quality of service that our global customers expect. And that’s why GCCs exist in the first place.