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Wells Fargo Demands Contact Center Employees Work On-Site

Matt Wujciak


Editor’s Note: The following article is a CCW Digital analysis highlighting insights from Vice.

The problem at hand

As the continued spread of the novel coronavirus disrupts workflow management and demands miraculous operational shifts from industries around the globe, the customer service department is no exception. 

Approximately 90 percent of global organizations currently use an on-premises solution for their contact centers (as a primary means of consumer engagement), leaving them ill-equipped to manage the robust scaling of digitization and remote work that has now been behooved by the apocalyptic COVID-19 virus.

As brands scramble to adjust to unfortunate economic circumstances, remote work, and digital transformation, they’re desperately attempting to provide customers with services throughout the pandemic. 

And there’s two ways they can go about it.

Read More: Increasing ROI with Omnichannel Chatbots (Sponsored by Salesforce)

While remote work and virtual solutions have skyrocketed in the past month and solely on-premises contact centers are threatened with extinction, some organizations are refusing to adapt, taking the latter approach.

“My manager laughed when I asked if we would be sent home with/without pay or if there was a work from home option.”

Wells Fargo has labeled its workers at “call” centers (not the modern “contact” center), complaint departments, and retail banks as “essential.” 

(Call centers are traditionally solely on-site and require less means of customer-employee communication methods, often lacking modern infrastructures such as cloud solutions, omnichannel SMS, chat and more). 

Wells Fargo is demanding that front-line agents and employees in the call center continue to come to work during the continuously spreading pandemic.

VP Checklist: Considerations for a Remote Contact Center

Last Tuesday multiple California counties issued “shelter-in-place” orders. That same day, Wells Fargo San Francisco bank’s head of consumer lending, Mary Mack, told employees in her division, in an email obtained by VICE, that the “branch, contact center, and operations center employees are considered ‘essential’ and exempt from the counties’ orders.”

VICE spoke with 11 current or recently departed Wells Fargo employees in six different states about the mandate. While banks have qualified under California and other states’ definition of “essential services,” Wells Fargo employees who work at the traditionally mundane, and now deemed incompatible, on-premises call centers, have questioned whether that should include their jobs.

Another employee who works with approximately 200 people in Phoenix, Arizona, said her manager mocked her concerns.

“My manager laughed when I asked if we would be sent home with/without pay or if there was a work from home option,” she said.

Utter chaos

The situation has created an increasingly tense environment across many Wells Fargo offices. The employee in the West Des Moines complaint department said employees were worried about their own health, and managers had insinuated that concerns related to the pandemic were overblown. The employee said he witnessed instances of employees stealing wipes that others had brought from home.

“My concern is getting sick, or being sick and spreading it to everyone. We have old people and compromised people in a lot of places,” he added.

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Some states, like New York, have argued that testing should only be for those with severe symptoms, which could create a more complicated situation for Wells Fargo employees who suspect the possibility of having COVID-19 but aren’t displaying symptoms, or haven’t verifiably come into contact with the coronavirus. 

If they want to stay home, they must use paid time off to avoid going into work, and only a positive test will earn it back, according to the company’s policy, as laid out to VICE. For most, this solution is not possible.

Wells Fargo’s retail bank employees received some relief last week after the bank decided to close most of its bank lobbies and switch to drive-thru service only, closing some branches entirely and reassigning some of its employees to other branches (a small step in the right direction). 

Before then, retail bank employees said they feared unnecessary contact with customers who carried the virus. 

One employee at a bank in Tennessee claimed that he and his co-workers were so anxious before the opening of their bank last Thursday that they gathered for prayer.

On Monday, after VICE reached out to Wells Fargo about employee concerns, the company announced internally that it had decided to hand out one-time cash payments to employees making less than $100,000. “This award recognizes how hard employees are working on our journey to transform Wells Fargo and reflects our commitment to take care of those that need our help the most,” the company said. The company will give eligible full-time employees $600 before taxes. Part-time employees get $300.

What it should like

Minor one-time compensations do not serve customer service agents justice for putting their health at risk. While many brands are investing millions in their employees during the pandemic, offering new work-at-home (WAH) and PTO policies (such as Walmart, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Kroger, and many more), Wells Fargo is refusing to invest in the remote era of digital working. 

Thousands of contact centers have adapted from on-site working to remote working.  Many of CCW Digital’s clients and contact center solution providers are even offering their services free of charge (i.e. 8x8Appian CorporationNICE inContactRing Central, and Salesforce to name a few).

As on-premises contact centers are simply not a viable option for many, the vast majority of customer and employee-centric contact centers and solution providers are adapting to digital transformation initiatives. 

Manager Checklist: Considerations for a Remote Contact Center

Avaya, for example, deployed their software to support over 5 million contact center agents, moving rapidly to enable more than 150,000 remote agents as customers address the challenges presented by COVID-19, Avaya CEO Jim Chirico recently mentioned. 

As shelter-in-place and WAH practices continue to be the norm, Sharpen Technologies, another “agent-first” omnichannel cloud contact center platform, recently announced the launch of the Sharpen Quick Start program to enable operations of businesses and nonprofits. 

"Sharpen has been supporting WAH agents... It’s what we’re built for," said CEO Bill Gildea. "Sharpen Quick Start keeps agents healthy and employed and businesses running at a time when the success of a contact center has never been more linked with a company’s continuing operations and bottom line," including remote work. 

Read More: Contact Center Security and Fraud Prevention

The pre-packaged implementation of Sharpen Quick Smart can be up and running within 48 hours since work-from-home agents need only a high-speed internet connection and computer to do their job. They’ve even taken it a step further, requiring no initial contracts from clients, with the first 60 days of the platform’s deployment free of charge, joining the party.

Serenova, a leading contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS) and workforce optimization (WFO) company, announced CxEngage Rapid Response, a program to help large organizations immediately scale their contact centers into the cloud within 48 hours, as well. 

Moving forward

As CCW Digital Principal Analyst, Brian Cantor, recently stated regarding contingency plans (such as implementation of AI-driven infrastructures and remote capabilities), “The pandemic is reminding the industry that it is actually a need-to-have.”

In other words, if you’re a contact center or customer service department that doesn’t have AI-driven infrastructures, remote capabilities, effective digital channels, and cloud-based communication, COVID-19 is your wake-up call. 

It’s the industry divergence in customer service that will force many to adapt, while competitors watch their ROI (or in Wells Fargo’s case, PR) plummet.