As contact center leaders plan for the post-pandemic recovery—both short- and long-term—where can they turn for reliable insights for informed decision-making? Contact centers that emerge from the crisis understaffed may find that their previous hiring profiles do not apply to a mostly work-from-home environment. Emotional intelligence skills are also in higher demand as callers require more empathy and human contact.
Part 1 of this series looked at data challenges caused by erratic customer behavior and changing market conditions during the pandemic.
In this second part, I turned to Scott Bakken, Founder and President of MainTrax, for his observations on agent hiring, performance and retention issues.
In the rapid shift from brick-and-mortar to remote work, many centers found themselves ill-equipped to secure their sudden work-from-home workforce. Eli Sutton, VP of Global Operations, Teramind, offers his thoughts on the data security in a WFH environment.
A Refocus on the Human Role: Hiring, Performance Management and Retention
Q. How are agent hiring profiles changing in the post-pandemic contact center environment?
SCOTT BAKKEN: There are few considerations post-pandemic that we are seeing with regularity. There is a renewed focus on engagement and understanding the commitment of the candidate. Where did the candidate’s customer experience originate? Is there an understanding of service that will provide an enhanced customer experience and will it bring some humanity to the position that now requires even greater levels of empathy and authenticity.
Interestingly, we see less emphasis on average handle time and first-call resolution numbers and more focus on Net Promoter Scores in the call centers, and the hiring process is changing to meet those more human needs. Bringing the “real person” back to the call center and into the customer conversation may be an upside to the pandemic. We’ve heard stories of agents who are taking more time with people who frankly need more human interaction and less transactional efficiency. Hiring candidates with identifiable emotional characteristics is a winner in this environment.
Q. What are some of the agent performance and retention challenges that have emerged/been identified during the transition from on-site to work-from-home?
BAKKEN: So there is a new appreciation for work-from-home (WFH) agents. We’ve all known that WFH agents are a group that takes on ownership of their responsibilities as a matter of fact. There is no one to work through their issues and no one is likely headed their way to save the day. They are more technical. They are self-starters. There are no physical or team queues that guide them through their day. Self-reliance is part of the deal when you are a WFH agent. But that’s quite a bit different for agents sent from a physical center to WFH. The transition for a new WFH agent is taking time and the data on how things are going is still new enough that I don’t believe we can describe the transition in broad terms. The level of change has been so great, it will take time to sort out exactly what is working and what isn’t working.
Anecdotally, we’ve heard about longer than normal queues that are related to a customer’s desire to speak to a human being during quarantine. A simple “how are you doing” greeting from an agent can elicit an elaborate and far-ranging response. We’ve heard agents described as “emotional-first responders” as they may be the only human contact a user may have during their day and a welcome human voice on the other end of a call.
We’ve also heard about low efficiency scores across call center metrics without the panic that may set in during normal times. Knowing that this is a crazy time means accepting that we all need time to adjust and see the realities over a period of time before reflexively reacting. There is much to learn and patience will serve us all in making the right changes at the right time with the people who prove to have the heart for this work.
Q. How can contact centers leverage predictive analytics to be more nimble and resilient in agent hiring, performance management and retention strategies for the post-pandemic environment?
BAKKEN: Predictive analytics utilizes an understanding of the attributes and skills of successful agents to determine likelihood of success. And tools exist that utilize emotion and engagement and even levels of pleasantness in their predictions such as from companies like HireIQ. Leveraging virtual interviewing to determine a candidate’s hard skills along with emotion-based predictive capability is a home run in this new world.
This technology has been a standard for WFH models for years. Now it is applicable to all call center hiring. Imagine being able to understand a candidate’s hard skills in terms of data entry, typing, language proficiency while at the same time determining their emotional engagement and energy. Predictive outcomes can be game-changers in this new world.
Keeping Data Secure During Shift to Work-from-Home
Q. How have COVID-related changes in business practices and consumer behaviors impacted the risk of data breaches?
ELI SUTTON: Cybersecurity is one of the most significant challenges for companies shifting from an on-site to a remote-work environment. Many employers have in-house controls that account for both malicious user activity and human error to prevent unwanted harm or leakage of sensitive company information.
However, bringing that security environment into employees’ homes can be challenging, especially while prioritizing employee privacy. That’s where Teramind has made a name for itself. Teramind provides a privacy-friendly approach to employee monitoring, allowing for granular control of monitoring features. For example, our users often have the agent record data when an employee violates an established policy. Otherwise, the agent won’t record any data.
Interestingly, we have found many organizations are looking at this as a long-term solution. Many companies have reported their employees are much happier and more productive when working from home, which encourages companies to develop long-term cybersecurity infrastructure that can accommodate a hybrid workforce.
Q. What are the top types of cybercrime that have surfaced during the pandemic?
SUTTON: While some threat patterns are beginning to emerge, it’s difficult to identify large-scale cybersecurity trends. Some users are mishandling information, others are looking to secure leverage by stealing company data, and still others are abusing company trust by taking a three-hour lunch break. For the most part, I am getting reports of employees being much happier and grateful to have the opportunity to work, where friends and family may be struggling through these uncertain times.
Q. How can contact centers leverage predictive analytics to shift the data security approach from reactive to proactive?
SUTTON: Contact centers should erect digital fences to prevent malicious user activity before it becomes a problem or causes damage. Many software solutions provide near-time monitoring, which can help investigate breaches after they occur. A better approach is to deploy real-time monitoring solutions that prevent risky user behavior before they cause damage.
For example, with our platform, users can map their remote-work vulnerabilities and establish custom software controls to prevent a data-loss event. The software can respond by notifying an IT admin or even locking out a user displaying gross negligence or engaging in malicious activity. By routinely reviewing these policies and updating their digital fences, contact centers can prevent a breach before it occurs.