Many articles written toward the tail end of 2019 pegged 2020 as a year of big change for the contact center industry. Predictions from a variety of industry experts included more adoption of digital interaction tools, greater automation of interaction evaluations and the growing importance of agent engagement and satisfaction.
We couldn’t possibly have known how right we would be.
Many of these predictions expanded on changes the industry had been working toward for some time. But with the pandemic, a whole new set of outside forces reiterated the importance of staying on this evolutionary path and embracing a whole host of other changes to how customer service organizations work, connect, analyze and engage.
Now that we’ve entered 2021, industry leaders feel mostly positive about the way we handled 2020’s uncertainty. And, a study Calabrio sponsored through an outside research firm shows that 73% of contact center managers expect the workplace to look very different from before the pandemic, indicating that many of the changes made are here to stay.
The Onset of the Hybrid Workplace
While some contact centers will continue to work remotely and others are searching for ways to bring agents and employees back to the office, most are embracing a new hybrid workforce model that engages the best of both remote and in-office working. This option will give employees and businesses the flexibility to choose what is best. In fact, data shows that 85% of employers plan to continue flexible hours due to greater employee satisfaction, higher productivity, service flexibility and cost savings.
Yet, as we’ve seen from the shift to remote working during the pandemic, there will be challenges that come; namely managing employee productivity, enabling team connection and collaboration and an increased challenge with managerial insights. To combat the challenges of the evolved contact center world, the industry will need to rely more on its technology than ever before. And as a result, technology must evolve hand-in-hand with the needs of the contact center.
Here are some technology essentials that contact center leaders should look to as they face the new era of a hybrid customer service workforce.
Cloud-Based Agility Is Key
One challenge of a hybrid workforce is that contact centers need to be flexible enough to conduct daily operations and combat issues that arise across channels and locations. With agents working from different locations, at disparate times and with varied workplace environments, agility will be a hallmark of successful agent management moving forward. A cloud-based contact center can facilitate the infrastructure and automation options needed to drive agile operations, ensure faster business intelligence and support omnichannel service.
As an example of the need for agility, agent scheduling should be seamless and dynamic in a hybrid contact center, which places even more requirements on software to achieve this flexibility. Using tools that automatically optimize any work rules, shift types or employee preferences offers agents the freedom they need but makes sure that there is always an agent available to engage with customers.
Once set, staff scheduling cannot be static in a hybrid workforce. Even in the office, there are a myriad of unexpected changes that occur, and agents will—and should—take appropriate breaks and lunch. With at-home agents, employee management tools must be agile enough to embrace intraday changes while still accommodating both agent breaks and customer needs, because it can be harder for co-workers and managers to see availability in a hybrid environment. Workforce engagement management (WEM) suites and workforce management (WFM) software rooted in automated flexibility can keep a contact center primed to react and mold staffing to interaction surges or changes in real time, especially if they allow agents to alter their schedules throughout the day.
The Autonomous Agent Experience
Agent self-scheduling automation is an inherently agent-centric practice, and if done right, it can be very beneficial on the operational side as well. Entrusting agents with the freedom to choose when they work best can boost employee morale, and it’s one of the main reasons that more than 70% of agents have enjoyed the shift to work-from-home environments during the pandemic.
This is indicative of another potential evolution in the contact center workforce. Research shows that one of the top skills expected of employees in the evolved contact center world is self-management. Software should enhance this—facilitating more agent autonomy with self-service for overtime, shift trade and time-off requests. This gives agents more control of their schedules while still ensuring the day-to-day fluency of contact center operations.
With more agent autonomy in operation and varied agent locations, communication becomes key as well.
Communications between agents and managers don’t always take place face-to-face, especially now. Offering channel options, such as employee-facing mobile apps, can create more fluid conversations internally and grease the wheels for conversations on performance, coaching, scheduling and beyond. Contact centers that don’t offer an agent app should make that a top priority.
When it comes to external channels, the agility of diverse communication with customers also stands true. Research shows that 70% of contact center managers are seeing customers expect a multichannel communication experience. For those that are lagging behind in omnichannel offerings, the time is now to play catch up. Whether adding chat, social or other channels to the mix, customers want more choice in how they engage with support teams. Make sure that all software in your contact center environment is optimized to a wider digital offering, for instance, so that you can staff correctly for each channel, analyze and glean the right insights from digital interactions, and evaluate coaching opportunities across all mediums. Don’t let rigid software hold your innovation back.
Personalizing Your Employee Engagement
The big secret to customer experience excellence is that it comes from employee-centricity. However, with customer demands growing, and without agents in a central location, building a culture of employee-centricity requires more work. For contact center managers looking to improve the hybrid agent experience, the first steps to take are to focus on employee engagement and coaching.
While agent autonomy is a top new skill expected in the new world, it’s also important to look at ways to support agents more than ever. Despite all the benefits of a hybrid workforce, one drawback is the risk of less employee engagement. Each agent has unique needs, and while some agents will thrive in a work-from-home role, others may feel lonely and isolated. With in-office agents, consistent check-ins from managers and colleague conversations are natural occurrences. With agents off-site, this connection can fall away and make the agent feel invisible.
After all, employee engagement is not only pivotal to consistently great customer service but also to business growth. Studies have shown that even a 5% increase in employee engagement in the contact center can drive a 3% incremental gain in revenue.
A key strategy is to allow agents to personalize their experience. Deploy software that enables you to really see and treat an agent like an individual, from building extensive agent profiles that drive the right workload, to customizable performance dashboards that agents can see themselves, and on to control over their working time. Software should make you more human-centric, not less.
According to a Calabrio study, contact center mangers reported that the most effective strategy for keeping employees engaged is providing them with the right tools and technology. The right WEM can lend a hand in this employee connection, helping managers to easily schedule time to talk with agents or provide real-time guidance when needed.
Fueling Agent Development from Afar
A hybrid workforce certainly has its benefits, but it also means that contact center managers must be more intentional about building a culture that benefits agents and, in turn, customers.
Another way managers can engage employees is through coaching. Agent training is always important, but again, without agents consistently on-site, traditional methods can easily fall by the wayside. For example, one effective means of agent training is simple osmosis—agents hear how other agents handle a customer interaction, and then try it out themselves. That’s limited in our new world of remote work. Contact centers need to shift to virtual methods that rely on technology to recreate this type of learning.
Quality management (QM) software with call recording allows managers to review all aspects of a customer interaction and provide tips to improve future interactions. Emboldening that with voice-of-the-employee and voice-of-the-customer analytics can also show managers potential knowledge gaps, allowing them to schedule coaching sessions as needed. When it comes to the new era, it’s about connecting the dots via automation. Next-generation technology should turn interaction evaluations into actioned development, with certain QM scores triggering automated scheduling of coaching time for agents. This catalyzation of coaching is both beneficial for the contact center and targeted to the individual. And it isn’t reliant on being on-site.
In terms of off-site osmosis, giving agents more access to interaction insights and theirs and their team’s general performance via customizable dashboards and gamification tools allows them to start learning about what goes into good service performance and connecting their work to results.
Take Ownership of the New Contact Center
While the rise of a hybrid workforce ushered in many benefits, it also triggered challenges. Contact center managers and agents need to take more ownership of the contact center and prepare by using the next-generation technology they need to operate efficiently, empower all agents and respond to customer needs. Evolved contact center challenges require evolved solutions to thrive in the new era of customer service.