2020 was quite a year for the contact center industry. Most contact centers have had to learn quickly how to move their agents home and manage a contact center operation remotely. If you are like many, you may be asking yourself, what now?
As an organization, you’ll be making many critical decisions in the coming months—deciding whether to remain a work-at-home operation, bring your agents back on-site, or run a hybrid center. If you are considering a long-term work-at-home model, making changes will be inevitable.
Where to Start?
Transitioning agents from on-site workers to remote workers requires an understanding of how the work-at-home model affects various workstreams. Once you understand the workstreams, it’s important to modify standard operating procedures to align with industry best practices for remote workers. Additionally, both frontline leadership and senior management need to be retrained on protocols, processes and methodologies to manage a remote workforce.
I have identified over 120 best practices for work-at-home agent programs. Covering them all in this article would not be feasible, so I will review the major workstreams affected by moving your agents home. I’ll also touch on some best practices to start with.
When transitioning to a work-from-home model, you’ll need to realign your internal resources to ensure that remote agents have the necessary support. Reorganizing or optimizing your leadership team is a great place to start. I recommend evaluating all the resources that your agents will need to be successful, and then make sure that virtual agents have access to the people they need to support your customers. Review your organizational chart and reallocate staff to support roles for monitoring performance, providing escalation support, providing technical support and providing the tools needed to perform.
When we all moved home in March, we quickly realized the gaps in our technology. Now is the time to review all technology and ensure that your agents have virtual access to everything they need to be successful. The cloud has made moving to “work from anywhere” easy to do. If you are still running on-premise systems and relying on VPNs to provide access for your agents, this might be the time to review your plans and invest in the cloud.
Recruiting, Screening, Onboarding
We still need to hire people, but having remote workers come into an office to interview or complete an application is not as convenient. Review your applicant tracking system, and implement virtual application, testing and interview protocols. Make it easy for top talent to get hired. After all, the applicant intake process is the first impression job candidates will have. It builds the base for higher employee satisfaction.
One of the first challenges I started seeing in April was that many companies that moved their agents home had no plans in place for virtual training. Set up a virtual classroom that is integrated with your learning management system (LMS) and human capital management (HCM). Be sure to follow industry standards for adult learning and follow Bob Pike’s 90/20/8 rule for virtual training—that is, no training session over 90 minutes without a break, content chunked to 20-minute sections, and interaction with the learners every eight minutes.
Communicating with agents is critical to a successful remote-worker program. Start by making sure you have technology and tools in place to communicate. Chat rooms, collaboration tools, video conferencing, e-learning, intranet, banners on agent UIs are just some of the many options.
Once you have the tools, put in place processes and expectations to require leadership to communicate daily with the agent population. Look at every touchpoint you had in your brick-and-mortar center, and replicate those touchpoints virtually. When you start thinking about all the touchpoints, you will see the gaps in your communication plans.
I believe that the expectations for remote workers should be the same as for those who work on-site in the center. Many centers see an increase in performance metrics once they move people home, as there are typically less distractions in a home office. Clearly communicate the expectations and goals and require accountability to meet the established goals.
When you’re in the center, you can see your agents and engage them when they are not focused on supporting customers. When they are remote, this can become more challenging. I recommend setting up a “monitor” whose main role is to watch the queues and interact with agents in real time when they are outside of thresholds. For example, if an agent’s handle time or ACW is over an established threshold, the monitor will engage the agent and ask if there is anything they need to help keep them within the threshold. Same goes with breaks, unavailable time or trainings.
Employee Engagement and Culture
With remote agent engagement, we need to make sure to reset our expectations. Set a new baseline by completing an employee engagement survey now and look for gaps in engagement. Then create a plan of action to bring the change needed to get employee engagement to the levels you had in the center, if not even higher.
If you have been considering gamification or making changes to your incentive program, now is the time to invest. If, like many centers, you plan to give up or reduce your previous office space, as well as the costs of desks, chairs, electricity, data, etc., take this budget and use it to support, motivate and incentivize your agent performance and engage your agent population.
Also, take a look at the employee recognition and appreciation activities you conducted on-site and replicate them at home. Did you buy pizza when goals were achieved? Set up a Grubhub or Uber Eats account and send your agents gift cards so they can still enjoy the free meals. Did you have celebrations? Find a way to host virtual celebrations. Remember, think about every touchpoint, and replicate those virtually.
Quality assurance and coaching undergo considerable change when you move to a virtual model. This is a large topic that requires a full overhaul, but for the purposes of this article, I recommend retraining your coaches on how to apply virtual coaching techniques. Make sure they have the necessary video conferencing tools. Ask your agents how they prefer to be coached and customize it to each agent. Think about utilizing speech analytics and AI/machine learning to conduct 100% automated QA score carding.
Workforce Management/Workforce Optimization
Again, another large change WFM/WFO can occur when moving remote. You can now offer more flexible scheduling, split shifts and odd schedules as your agent population is more fluid. Additionally, you can set up a text-to-work program to text agents when there is an unexpected call spike. You will find many agents are sitting at home and happy to jump on the phones for 15 minutes or an hour to help when needed.
Although I’m unable to list every best practice and change necessary to make your work-from-home program best-in-class, I hope this article provides you with a few pieces of low-hanging fruit.
Personally I have found that thinking about how I handle things in the center and how they relate to a virtual agent is a great starting point. It will help to get you thinking about new ways to engage and support your remote workers.