Agent engagement and retention is a top challenge for nearly every customer service leader. The average contact center experiences 30 to 45 percent turnover per year, according to the Quality Assurance & Training Connection. That makes it difficult to deliver outstanding customer experiences and meet aggressive performance targets.
Remote, or work-at-home, agents have been shown in numerous case studies to have 30 percent lower turnover than those in traditional office work environments. For contact centers, having a dispersed workforce also can help reduce overhead costs, decrease risk of shutdowns due to natural disasters, and afford flexibility with scheduling – in addition to providing better job satisfaction and lower employee turnover.
While there are several advantages to having remote agents as part of your contact center workforce, there are also some significant challenges for both the agents and their managers. Not only do remote agents need to feel like they are truly part of the organization, but managers also need a solid approach to setting clear performance goals and measuring day-to-day activities from a distance to ensure their agents are providing a consistent customer experience regardless of physical location. Below are five tips for how your organization can overcome these challenges and reap the benefits of a distributed team.
1. Tailor Onboarding Programs
In-house contact center agent training is not always an option when you’re managing a remote team. Recruiting, onboarding and ongoing training of customer service representatives should be tailored to fit the separate needs of remote and in-office agents. Remote agents’ contact center work experience will be entirely different from that of your in-house agents’ experience, so their training should be adjusted accordingly. Further, it’s important for agents always to have someone available to answer questions; so a supervisor with the tools and training to coach remotely is imperative to success.
2. Automate Workforce Optimization
One of the largest challenges of managing remote agents is the ability to accurately track their performance. Managers can leverage technology to monitor call quality, record calls, manage performance, and coach agents. This allows managers to support the growth of their team. And it makes them feel more involved in the performance of the contact center as a whole.
Managers can use gamification or leaderboards within the virtual contact center to create a sense of camaraderie and connectedness to the overall mission.
Further, flexible shift scheduling is a huge perk for agents. But it needs to be accompanied by the right forecasting tools to ensure appropriate service coverage. Having a remote teams available to surge for shorter shifts during busier periods can provide a big boost to customer service quality and productivity.
3. Check In Regularly
It’s easy for remote agents to feel as though they’re isolated, or disconnected from the organization. So managers need to work even harder to ensure they’re kept in the loop with various company communications.
Having remote agents dial-in (or better yet videoconference) to company meetings will ensure they’re aligned with the overall goals of the company and responsible, in part, for helping the business succeed. Managers also should set up time to check in with agents weekly. That time can be used to discuss performance goals and any challenges they’re facing.
Finally, getting agents set up with a chat tool for quick questions will help alleviate day-to-day frustrations and foster a collaborative environment.
4. Use the Cloud
Leveraging cloud contact center infrastructure will ensure contact center agents are working off the same systems regardless of physical location.
This will provide a consistent experience and eliminate technical issues that arise when agents are using different systems. Agents also need uniform quality of telephony and data. Make sure that your remote agents are using an approved, reliable telecom/ISP with sufficient bandwidth and quality of service commitments. Inconsistent voice quality or network availability at either the agent’s home network or the cloud contact center provider can be a real deal-breaker, so choose carefully.
Further, with no hardware or software necessary, using a cloud contact center for your distributed team can result in significant cost savings on IT resources. A purpose-built cloud suite can help you achieve your business goals with greater ease and flexibility, while ensuring you can scale for future growth.
5. Pay Attention to Analytics
Regardless of the software your contact center is using, you’ll want to pay close attention to analytics. Without the ability to physically manage remote agents under the same roof, the use of analytics to understand the conversations, sentiment, and customer experience at scale can help contact center managers be confident the customer experience they’re delivering is on target. It also provides them with the ability to tailor feedback where it’s needed most.
As a manager, tracking call volume, efficiency, call length and quality scores will help you evaluate the overall performance of the contact center and accurately gauge daily workload. Easy access to team, individual, and industry benchmark comparisons will provide transparency for performance reviews and coaching sessions.
Finally, have a deliberate workforce strategy. It’s important to be clear about how remote policies fit into your organization’s overall workforce strategy. Having a remote team can provide significant support for a standard physical location during seasonal peaks or make part-time work a viable option. It also can be positioned as a reward for tenured employees or people who take less desirable shifts.
Increasingly, organizations are choosing to have a 100 percent remote team. There is no one right option, but be deliberate in selecting and implementing the strategy that’s best for you.
With the right strategy, tools, and leadership, a remote contact center team can help you deliver great customer service, lower operating costs, and keep your best agents.
Edited by Alicia Young