I originally wrote today’s post for Wix Answers. It appeared on their site on August 3, 2021.
In March and April of 2020, when the pandemic hit hard and businesses were forced to close their doors and send employees home, the impact on contact centers was great. They were already knowledgeable at some level about remote workforces, having outsourced the work to other countries or to a distributed contact center network across the country/globe. But asking all agents to work from home and managing that type of a situation and workforce was new to the industry.
If you thought security and data privacy concerns were an issue working with dedicated sites in another country, just wait until you’ve got to address those concerns when each of those international sites moves their employees home!
Similarly, if you thought managing your contact center was a challenge before, try doing it with all of your employees dispersed and working from home rather than right in front of you. Without a doubt, almost every other profession was hit hard in one way or another by the pandemic and the move to work from home, but contact centers had some unique challenges. I can speak from experience about a call I made to my mortgage company in those early days. The agent was clearly on a speaker phone at home, ill-prepared to take my questions, and didn’t have the ability to easily escalate or put me on hold to ask a supervisor for assistance.
Ah, but those were the early days. That was so 18 months ago! It’s now July 2021. What did we learn? What are we seeing now?
Despite the fact that 13% of contact center agents were already working from home permanently (which seems to be a solid proof of concept), some of the original concerns about moving contact center employees home included:
- Data security and privacy
- Agent connectivity, i.e., internet connection and bandwidth
- Power outages with no back-up options
But now, according to Gartner, 70% of contact center agents want to continue to work from home. At the same time, 81% of contact center leaders believe that as much as 80% of their employees will primarily be working from home in two years. The benefits of working from home are huge, for both employees and for the business.
For the employee:
- Flexibility in schedules
- Work/life balance
- No commute
- Increased productivity
For the business:
- “Sick time” is reduced because of schedule flexibility
- Employee health and safety concerns are addressed
- Reduction in expenses, e.g., real estate
- Improved/increased talent pool (not just within an X mile radius of a physical location)
- Increased productivity
These are just some of the benefits for both. I know that there may be some challenges, as well, so those need to be addressed in order to scale a WFH arrangement for your contact center employees.
A lot of lessons have been learned along the way when it comes to successfully managing a hybrid or remote contact center workforce. Here are some things you can do to ensure that this approach is – and continues to be – a success for your business.
In a previous post about the importance of collaboration to a great customer experience, I mentioned that you get the culture that you design and/or allow. This is important in so many ways, and especially when you’re managing a remote workforce. The corporate culture, which is the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs of your employees – or more specifically, how we do things around here – is the foundation of the business. It is rooted in your mission, vision, and values, and it’s what holds the organization together. To continue doing business successfully with a remote workforce, you must continue to operate with your core values in mind. You’ve got to make sure that decisions, processes, policies, actions, and behaviors are made and continue to be aligned with the core values.
2. Employee Experience
A large part of the employee experience is ensuring your people have the right tools, resources, policies, and processes in place to do their jobs well. You’ve got to make sure employees have what they need to do their jobs from home – or from anywhere. Get feedback from them regularly about the experience and what else they need – whether it be tools or anything else. As a matter of fact, build in regular intervals to (a) gather feedback about such things but also to (2) just have a conversation about how they’re doing. That’s a good segue into the next suggestion.
3. Communications and Collaboration
Communication and collaboration are important parts of the employee experience, as well, but I wanted to call them out separately as they are especially critical for dispersed contact center employees. Make sure you communicate in a manner that is proactive, open, transparent, authentic, and timely. Be sure to express gratitude and appreciation – and recognize those who continue to embody the corporate culture, even when they’re working from home.
Collaboration doesn’t just always happen naturally on its own. Sometimes you have to create the scenarios to make that happen. While the primary focus is always on tools to help agents collaborate, make time for dedicated collaboration sessions, even if you have to just put a standing meeting on everyone’s calendars for it to happen. Encourage employees to work together to solve problems and to answer questions – on phone calls or Zoom calls, not just via Slack or some other collaboration tool.
5. Automation and AI
This one might seem like an odd suggestion, but bear with me. Automating some of the processes that your agents have means taking the menial, mundane, and repetitive tasks and procedures off their plates so that they can focus on doing more mission critical and value-add tasks, like building customer relationships, innovating and creating for the customer’s benefit, and handling more-difficult projects that require human thought and decision making. Think about the productivity levels of your agents and the impact that will have on the employee experience – and on the business. Happy agents equals happy customers.
Ultimately, successfully executing your remote workforce strategy includes making sure the culture is defined and lived and ensuring that employees have a great experience and have what they need to do their jobs well. If any of that is missing, the strategy needs to be revisited – or it will fail.
Love this quote, which sums up nicely what a remote/hybrid strategy should look like.
To start building your remote culture, establish and share some basic rules. The first and most important rule is mutual trust between the company and its workers. The rules after that? As few as possible. ~ Larry English, author of Office Optional
Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is now available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your CX game.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.