The new flexibility call centre agents need for a semi-remote workplace.

Posted by Johnny Kromer on 28 Aug 2020 3:30:00 PM

Call centers are changing dramatically and many existing trends – moving to the cloud and enabling a remote workforce – are being amplified by the current work situation. Are your agents able to handle the new norm

There is a global shift towards remote working environments; that shift has undeniably been fast-tracked by the Covid-19 global pandemic. Health guidelines and regulations have made physical workplaces uneconomic. So just about every type of business is looking at ways to have some of its staff work remotely.

Contact centres are no different and have to adapt to the new normal. Although established management theory espoused the mantra that cramming as many agents into a contact centre was smart, new management practices have come up with more creative methods.

Even before the pandemic forced contact centres to move their operations to a semi-remote environment, it was evident that remote contact centres had:

  1. lower operating costs
  2. higher job satisfaction among agents, which led to better customer service
  3. lower agent turnover
  4. increased productivity and staff hours worked.

A study by Stanford Graduate School of Business of a Chinese travel agency whose call centre employees switched to work from home; experienced a 13% performance increase, of which about 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment).

The New Challenges of Managing Remote Agents

Even though there are considerable advantages to having a remote workforce, organisations still face challenges, mainly: 

  • Providing safe working environments for both remote and in-office agents. The enforcement of health regulations and guidelines such as physical distancing require new workplace designs, which are both necessary and expensive.
  • While agents are still trying to get their bearings with new work environments and technology, the number of inbound calls has increased. The health, insurance and government social departments are a few examples of contact centres that have seen increased demand.
  • Exposure of agents to distractions and obligations at home can adversely affect their productivity from helping children with e-learning, taking care of sick relatives and exposure to new background noises.
  • Providing new management metrics, analytics and skills to help supervise a remote workforce. 
  • The loss of a supportive team environment in a physical workplace. A remote workforce needs a new culture to foster teamwork and support.

It Starts with Cloud

At the core of any remote contact centre operation is the cloud. Remote agents will need access to the company's resources from home. These resources include stored data, processing power and analytics. A cloud-based contact centre solution or contact centre as a service (CCaaS), allows agents to have the same access and resources from any location as if they were right in the office.

The ideal CCaaS will be able to plug into legacy systems without the need to overhaul the entire system. Additionally, it should provide a seamless experience no matter how the customer reaches the contact centre. Although the organisation would have made a significant transformation by shifting to remote agents, the customer should not feel the change.

A CCaaS like Contact Centre 4 All (CC4ALL) can provide remote agents with the tools, analytics and access to resources in the same way as they would in a physical workplace. It provides an omnichannel experience, so customers can reach the organisation through any medium (such as phone, WhatsApp, email and social media) while agents work through a single dashboard. CC4ALL can work as an on-premise, cloud or mixed solution. The platform also empowers managers with a supervisorial overview and access to agent performance.

As workloads are shifting to remote environments, a natural concern arises about security and compliance. How safe is data, how secure are the channels, can these multiple endpoints become entry points for malware? Cloud is a simple solution for all of these concerns. It encrypts data and uses AI to recognise or predict threats. By nature, everything that happens on the cloud is logged; this makes compliance an effortless exercise. 


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A Focus on Customer Service

The strength of any organisation's commitment to customer service is at stake when things go wrong. The global pandemic is one such event; it threw everything into disarray from production to service availability. While the pandemic's effects on business operations are recognised, it can't be used as an excuse for not being able to pick up the phone immediately.

Offices have shut down, agents cannot move freely, there may not even be a product to sell, but customers still expect to hear from the organisation. Keeping a line of communication open is what will keep the relationship with the customer intact. Silence is not an option. Instead:

  • Keep customers informed on expected operation timelines.
  • Prepare customers for future operational or protocol changes.
  • Provide service for past sales. 
  • Most importantly, be present. In a world of uncertainty and upheavals, be a constant. 

Customers are not only anxious about service, but they also have more time on their hands. So they are contacting organisations more often for service, sales or queries. To handle the massive influx of inbound calls, an organisation can enhance self-service by:

  • automating common inquiries with menu options and prompting 
  • providing customers with a feedback option, such as a callback service, so they don't have to wait on hold
  • using integrated voice response (IVR) along with chatbots to collect standard information and register queries

Adopt Collaboration Tools to Connect Staff

Agents will need to talk to one another, their supervisors, and other employees in the organisation. So remote and in-office teams need a collaboration platform for internal communications. Collaborations tools like Microsoft Teams and Atos Unify's Circuit provide a single platform from which all employees can communicate and work.

Both Teams and Atos Unify's Circuit have third-party app integration functionality. That way, the CCaaS such as ContactCenter4ALL and other department applications (e.g. accounting and logistics) can work within the platforms. There won't be a need for agents or staff to switch between screens continuously; it's all there in one dashboard. Collaboration tools can also be accessed by any device with an internet connection so that remote staff can become mobile.

Enhanced Staff Management, Training and User Adoption

A remote contact centre needs agents who can work independently, learn quickly and adapt. Usually, organisations have months or years to shift to remote work environments, but now they have to do it in days, if not weeks. Considering that working from home is a new experience for many agents, there will not be much time to adjust. So staff management will need to be revisited, for the new remote workplace. 

For example, work shifts and scheduling is likely to be disrupted when agents become remote, but this can also bring flexibility to working hours and strategic overtime. Using a Workforce Management solution or scheduling software, an organisation can achieve more efficiency to produce a consistent customer experience. These tools can be leveraged to provide an on-demand scheduling approach, so the organisation can have agents in a more diverse range of time slots and potentially achieve 24/7 uptime.

There also needs to be a shift in management and oversight methodology. New metrics will need to be explored or old ones enhanced to monitor agents' stats. It is vital to evaluate agent metrics expectations against pre-pandemic states to identify technology gaps, struggling areas, and any other areas that may need attention. To do this effectively, supervisors need the tools to monitor, intervene and assist all remote employees.

Additionally, responsibilities should match the agent's environment, that is if an agent has access to better or less technology, then responsibilities must be modified to meet their state. IT support must be available to all employees, and this includes providing:

  • employees with the hardware and software they need 
  • high-quality internet connectivity 
  • support for troubleshooting, training or queries

The shift towards remote agents can seem like a precarious leap, but it can be managed to produce even better results than an in-office workforce. Organisations need to adopt best practices to make it work. To summarise, a semi-remote contact centre strategy should: 

  • Leverage the organisation's current capabilities to minimise disruption to agent workflow.
  • Use self-service tactics and proactive feedback to manage peak demand.
  • Use performance metrics to maintain consistent operational productivity.
  • Train agents, support staff and management through all the changes.

So are you ready to give your call center operators and teams the tools that they need to be truly flexible in this ever changing business landscape? Click on the link below and we'll help you get started.

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