The first half of 2020 will forever be defined by the global response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Individuals, businesses and governments worked together to mitigate an unprecedented public health crisis, ensuring human health and safety amid tremendous economic uncertainty. As more businesses embraced social distancing, it led to a digital migration on a massive scale, with remote work becoming the standard until the infection “curve” could be flattened.
It gave new urgency to trends that had been developing among contact center leaders. Technology enabled the possibility of employing remote agents that could serve customers anywhere, so long as they had an internet connection, softphone, a browser and access to the same cloud software as their counterparts in the office. But from a business continuity standpoint, it’s one thing to manage a relatively small number of remote agents and another when the entirety of your agent workforce suddenly joins them all at once. It forces organizational leaders to address the real possibility that managing a primarily remote agent workforce could become semipermanent, complementary to the traditional on-site staff once the public health crisis subsides.
For contact centers rethinking their long-term remote agent strategy, the following are a few things to keep in mind.
When the majority of your agents operate out of contact center, there are a lot of elements you can account for. Operational needs like phone and internet access, technology infrastructure and personnel resources are provided so agents can do what they do best—deliver exceptional experiences to customers. But as organizations across all industries and sizes are learning, these operational challenges increase exponentially when staff are dispersed. Suddenly there isn’t a single operational baseline, as leaders cannot assume every employee has the same access to the high-speed internet available at the enterprise level.
Making a long-term remote strategy work well requires applying that same level of standardization to employees, so they can deliver consistent experiences regardless of where they’re located. In the short-term, as the number of remote agents grow, now is the best time to conduct an audit to see where there are gaps in performance metrics between remote and in-center staff. Have scores dropped or even increased? Identifying those differentials provides an important basis for maintaining an experience standard, regardless of where agents are located.
Coaching and Collaboration
There are a number of training and development resources that agents have access to while working in a contact center. For example, partnering with others to develop their customer service skills like empathy. In fact, research has shown that 33% of agents who receive additional training after they are onboarded primarily focus on critical-thinking and problem-solving skills—both vital attributes for best-in-class agents. But when agents are remote, it adds an extra barrier to effective, face-to-face training exercises with supervisors or even sharing success stories and tips with peers.
Modern cloud customer experience platforms approach coaching and collaboration from a location-agnostic perspective. In many ways, they’re designed to replicate the in-person experience as closely as possible through high-quality omnichannel functionality. That way, agents can have open, honest and productive discussions with their teams. From interaction analysis to 1:1 video, there are safeguards installed in order to ensure that agent development is a constant.
Flexibility through the Cloud
Given the dynamic environment that contact centers now find themselves in, adaptability and flexibility have never been more important. From the internal, operational shifts that need to happen to keep agents safe to the process adjustments to better support customers, speed is now the name of the game. The rapid-fire changes have put a particular strain on organizations that rely on legacy on-premise systems that are, by design, significantly more rigid.
Cloud native platforms are the cost-effective way to maximize operational flexibility. Particularly in times of crisis, where suddenly you have a large number of employees unable to access relevant information due to legacy limitations—suddenly the entire customer experience engine comes to a halt. Technology systems and organizational partners must work from the same adaptable cloud basis, so the entire agent ecosystem can react as quickly as possible.
A New Normal
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the relationships between brands and their customers, and the role of agents in bringing that relationship to life. Customers expect your business to respond quickly, whether to an extreme crisis like this or more measured changes in their preferences. COVID-19 demonstrated how providing agents with an equal amount of flexibility and support through remote work can ensure open and productive connections between you and your and customers. Getting ahead of this agent workforce trend now provides the foundation for stronger experiences for years to come.