For Contact Centers, Going Remote Wasn’t Easy, but Opportunities Emerged
For one thing, coaching had to happen via Zoom or another communication/collaboration platform. But perhaps more important, contact centers had to scale quality assurance more than ever before and deal with harder conversations. The Harvard Business Review studied more than 1 million customer service calls at 20 companies in various industries at the height of the pandemic, scoring conversations on a scale of easy to difficult. The HBR found that not only did companies see a record-breaking volume of calls, but the average company also saw the percentage of calls scored as "difficult" more than double, from a typical level of 10 percent to more than 20 percent.
Issues related to the pandemic—from unexpected travel cancellations to appeals for bill payment extensions and disputes over insurance coverage—dramatically increased the level of customer emotion and anxiety in service calls, making a job that is hard for reps on normal days far more challenging. One company saw financial hardship-related calls, typically among the most difficult for reps to handle, increase 2.5 times in the span of a week.
On top of the increasing level of difficulty, agents had to grapple with other communication issues, including bad connections in their homes and lack of in-person access to supervisors and colleagues capable of providing live assistance. Taken together, these factors were a nightmare from a quality assurance standpoint. When volume reaches a breaking point, manually monitoring and evaluating every call and delivering timely feedback to agents working from home can become impossible, and automation technology becomes essential.
Artificial intelligence tools such as natural language processing can help quality assurance managers analyze agents' conversations with customers at scale, catch errors quickly, and provide guidance to facilitate improvement. Support.com, for example, relies on its home-grown platform to empower agents and managers and maintain quality assurance. "Automation tools are in place to assist in QA and help improve performance," Rosenzweig says.
If remote work is here to stay and agents are expected to deal with high call volume while working from home, it'll become harder for contact centers to scale operations without such technologies. "These tools are important, and they're getting cheaper and easier to deploy. They're definitely on our radar," Neblett states.
But even with the most powerful tools in place, humans have work to do. "We're constantly keeping an eye on metrics and making sure we're meeting and exceeding customer expectations," Neblett adds.
Agent training and new agent onboarding also posed difficulties for contact centers during the pandemic, because much of this work usually occurs in person. To deliver essential coaching for new and existing employees, contact centers took to virtual communication and collaboration platforms, such as Zoom, hosting orientation meetings and other training sessions via video.
But while virtual training can provide a temporary solution, the transition to working from home illuminated the need for an entirely different approach to learning, development, and onboarding. "A lot of these processes can't just be translated to a virtual model for the long term. Areas like employee training need to be redesigned for remote work," Rosenzweig warns.
That's because employees simply work differently at home. From taking care of children to sharing workspaces with partners or spouses, there's a need for flexibility, and offering pre-recorded videos or other materials instead of live instruction can incentivize employees to engage with learning.
"Employees are pressed for time. They're juggling duties, working, and taking care of their families. Learning, which plays such a key role in agents' ability to do their jobs, keeps quality high, and keeping customers satisfied can take a backseat," Neblett says. "Increasingly, we're working to build out a library of learning resources that new and current employees can access on demand, when they need it, and have the time and focus to engage with it," he adds.