Remote Control: Managing Work at Home Contact Center Agents

How WFM and QM combine to engage an offsite call center workforce and deliver superior CX

High-speed internet, cloud-based applications and other technologies have opened a new vista for the call center—the remote agents. Most contact centers have had to quickly transition to working from home as a direct effect of COVID-19. Contact centers will hopefully see the cost savings of shrinking their in-house call center facility. Others will find remote agents better able to meet increasing customer demand for off-hours service.

Switching to an entirely remote workforce can solve many staffing challenges. No longer is the company limited to the talent pool surrounding the contact center. And the organization may attract a different caliber of agent via flexible, commute-free work options.

Unfortunately, working from home can also have a negative impact on morale and providing an exceptional customer experience. Management and motivational techniques are also required to overcome these new challenges. So let’s get started, read on for our tips on WFM for work from home!

The Rules Still Apply

First up, set aside any notion that remotely managing call center operations is inherently different. Nope. If anything, a nationwide talent pool ups the ante on pre-employment screening, because there’s simply no excuse to settle.

Call center leaders must develop accurate hiring profiles and craft effective assessment tools. And they should take into account that remote work generally requires more independent time management skill and tech savvy than on-site employment.

Remote call center agents also require as much orientation and training as their traditional call center counterparts. Companies must adapt the usual classroom learning, role playing, skills testing and nesting period to a remote environment. It’s especially important to clarify roles and expectations, maintain a resource center for self-guided learning and share insights on working from home successfully.

Give ‘Em What They Want (Flexibility)

What appeals to a work@home/WFH agent? Flexibility and work/life balance tend to take top billing.

This makes contact center scheduling of tantamount importance, and high-performance, but easy-to-use WFM (that’s workforce management), software can help. When scheduling in spreadsheets, shifts may have to be 8 hours and schedules deemed final days in advance. But when you have workforce management software, agents could sign up for 2-hour work blocks (or whatever time frame is sufficient to find their groove) and swap shifts with a day or less of notice—and neither staffing levels or average handle times (AHT) would be affected.

What’s more, WFM software can give agents what they don’t realize they need—structure. Contact center managers can schedule breaks, monitor adherence and adjust to shifting call volumes and other factors on the fly, all the while directing agents’ attention where it’s needed and inserting adequate time to refresh.

Manage to the Metrics

Remote workforce managers don’t have the ability to “feel” when their team is firing on all cylinders, but real-time analytics and live and recorded call monitoring can more than fill the gap.

QM systems in particular empower supervisors to review all forms of customer contacts—calls, emails, texts and DMs—to steer daily performance, identify opportunities for improvement and feed a continual, personalized skills development cycle for each agent. This will usually include formal QM training sessions, upskilling coursework and micro-coaching.

Early on, however, managers should be especially sensitive to how QM and performance feedback is delivered. Trusting relationships can be difficult to foster at a distance. If an agent feels threatened or disconnected, constructive critique can come across as harsh criticism. Establishing rapport is essential, which brings us to...

Communication & Community

The real struggle in managing remote call center agents generally comes in belonging. How do you make remote team members feel like a part of the larger organization?

It takes effort to foster a sense of community with remote agents. Successful contact centers will often use techniques like:

  • Team meetings to launch the day and provide a “check in” similar to pre-shift sessions for on-site agents
  • Channel-spanning communications, from always-on chat availability to mimic “side by sides” and voice and videoconference to add a personal touch
  • Gamification to make each day a challenge, chart progress and reward superior performance, whether in bonuses or accolades
  • Feedback mechanisms to ensure communication is a two-way street
  • Fun and collaborative activities such as remote coffee klatches (or wine-driven happy hours, no judgment!), group Netflix watching sessions, wellness challenges and so on

Always consider how remote employees can participate in events or collaboration offered to on-site team members, whether that’s accepting photos for the Halloween costume contest or setting up a “buddy system” for an in-house and a remote agent to work together toward a performance goal.

These tactics can be difficult to add “after the fact” if a company lacks a mission and identifiable culture. For more information about these elements, download our whitepaper on employee engagement here.

Next Steps

Whether you have been thrust into remote workforce management because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, are looking to use remote agents to supplement on-premises capabilities for a holiday ramp-up or other purpose, or expect to transition some or all of your production environment out-of-house, we have workforce engagement systems and information to help.

You might begin with our whitepaper “The Complete Contact Center Guide to Employee Engagement for SMBs.” It provides tips on how you can best motivate, retain, and engage employees who are passionate about the customer experience (CX).

 

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