What the Federal Budget means for contact centres in Australia

2020 has been an annus horribilis for Australian businesses, with the COVID pandemic throwing well-laid plans into disarray all around the country. Individuals, too, have suffered enormously from the economic crisis it’s created and, nine months in, all signs suggest better times may be years away.

By October, the onus was on the federal government to hand down a big spending 2020-21 budget, to help get the economy going again by stimulating business activity and investment.

A number of companies began doing just that, after government shutdowns came into force earlier in the year, in Australia and around the world. They include the likes of telecoms giant Telstra, IT services company Datacom and big four bank Westpac, all of which announced plans to close offshore contact centres and beef up their capacity at home. The next few months will likely see more companies exploring the merits of repatriating their operations or upgrading their infrastructure, to enable agents to work remotely and handle enquiries more efficiently, via a greater range of channels.

Little wonder, given the predicament some found themselves in, in the early days of the pandemic. Critical failures at a critical time disrupted business continuity, according to Deloitte’s 2020 report, The Contact Centre of 2030 Can’t Wait It’s Now, and dinted reputations in the process.

“A technology platform that could support agents working remotely was a particular critical need. Many existing platforms couldn’t deliver this seemingly simple capability, with the issue compounded by a shortage of the laptop and VPN capacity needed to support large numbers of remote workers,” the report notes.

Meanwhile, the danger of offshoring to a single location became apparent when short notice shutdowns left many overseas contact centres completely unstaffed – and the overseas businesses relying on their services high and dry.

Here are two federal budget programs that may encourage Australian enterprises to invest in the technology and personnel they need to be able to keep on keeping on, next time disaster strikes.

Instant asset write-offs

Implementing or upgrading a contact centre solution can be an expensive but necessary step for organisations bringing their operations back onshore, or expanding their capacity to engage with customers on the telephone and digitally, via an omni-channel platform. Companies in the position to spend the funds may be further encouraged to do so by the announcement that eligible businesses (those with a turnover under $5 billion) will receive an immediate tax deduction for the full cost of new, eligible depreciable assets up to the value of $150,000, provided they’re acquired and installed before 30 June 2022.

Wage subsidies for younger workers

The high cost of labour in Australia was one of the factors that led organisations to offshore their contact centres in the 1990s and noughties. While local wage rates are unlikely to ever be on par with those in developing nations, the JobMaker Hiring Credit may make upping the Australian headcount in the contact centre a more attractive proposition. Employers who take on unemployed Australians aged 16 to 29 who’ve received a JobSeeker, Youth Allowance or Parenting Payment for the preceding three months will receive $200 a week. Meanwhile, new hires aged 30 to 35 will attract a $100 a week subsidy.

Driving business recovery and growth

While the contact centre has traditionally been viewed as a cost centre, a well-run, omnichannel operation can be an investment which drives customer engagement, sales and growth. It’s also a critical communications hub when disaster strikes, as the COVID experience has so amply demonstrated.

Against this backdrop, taking advantage of budget incentives to expand and strengthen local operations may prove a wise long-term investment.

Daniel Harding, Director of Australian Operations, MaxContact