• May 13, 2020
  • By Scott Budding, workforce and process optimization manager, Business Systems

3 Challenges Contact Centers Face With Remote Work—and How To Overcome Them

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COVID-19 has brought to the spotlight a new world of remote working. For some organizations, remote work had already been on the horizon—according to research from the Office of National Statistics, published prior to the pandemic, 50 percent of U.K. employees were set to work remotely in 2020. For others, though, this means journeying into the unknown.

A work-from-home policy can be easily implemented by organizations across many industries; all workers need is a laptop and a good WiFi connection. But for contact centers, the notion of remote working brings with it its own set of unique challenges.

Remote working is throwing important yet challenging questions at this industry, such as these: Will remote working be better or worse for agent productivity and morale? Will it increase customer satisfaction? Will it isolate agents who have to deal with challenging customers? Will it drive revenue, or will it mean a depleted workforce?

Here we outline some of the most pressing obstacles contact centers will be facing right now, and how you can surmount them.

1. Providing the right support for customers (and agents alike).

As customers we expect to contact organizations on the digital channels we use, such as web chat, email, SMS, and many more. We also expect to reach the right person to help us with our query on the first contact. And the COVID-19 pandemic does not mean our expectations have lessened. If anything, it has made us more demanding.

In order to provide the right support for customers, it’s important for contact centers to consider Cloud technology. Cloud technology is the most natural and convenient way to support a remote workforce, particularly at a time where contact volumes have shot up for many contact centers over the past few weeks.

The introduction of a fully integrated cloud-based contact center solution means agents are available to help customers wherever they are. It means your entire team will receive access to the same tools and experiences, regardless of where they are located. Functions like intelligent call routing and ensuring multichannel contact is still being monitored will help customers feel heard and encourage first-point resolution, improving the customer experience as well as the agents.

As well as supporting the customer, cloud-based contact center technology also supports the agent and can integrates with popular CRM tools allowing the agent immediate access to customer records regardless of where they are working from. This provides employees with the opportunity to boost performance while increasing morale in the contact center workforce.  

2. Adapting to changing workforce availability.

One of the most immediate challenges with remote working for contact centers is ensuring agents with the right skill sets are available at the right time. Without an efficient forecasting and scheduling model, adapting to changing workforce availability during this time can be trying.

To address this, many workforce management solutions can be a beacon of light for contact centers during these times. A good workforce management system will allow you to ensure you have the right resource working the shifts you need to match fluctuating customer demand as well as handling agent sickness during the next few weeks.

Tip: On a separate note, in order to keep agents motivated, contact centers also need to consider using workforce management systems to help their agents keep to their schedules. Many workforce management systems can be configured so that agents automatically receive pop-ups on their desktop to remind them to go to lunch or when they are due to switch activities. With agents having to work from home, and keeping resource allocation in mind, it’s equally important to consider your agents and make sure they are encouraged to keep taking breaks at the right time. This will help prevent mental health issues a few weeks down the line.

Forecasting features can help you create scenarios to plan for the future so you can see the impact of COVID-19 on your contact volumes, helping you schedule the right number of agents needed at the right time. Scenario planning can also help you reconsider your operating model. For example, you may want to re-evaluate the channels you are using during this time. Are all of them benefiting your contact center, or do you now need to take drastic measures and prioritize one over another? If so, what would happen if you closed off that channel? Would the remaining channels cope with the influx of demand as a result?

The COVID-19 pandemic is unpredictable, so here are three top strategic techniques to bear in mind when adapting to changing workforce availability:

  • Emergency scripts: Consider putting together multiple emergency scripts for different scenarios to make sure the issue is communicated by all workers in a consistent manner. It will also keep your talk time constant.
  • Know your boundaries: Agree on a service level alert threshold, which when breached will require urgent step-by-step actions (prepared beforehand).
  • Step back and evaluate: We understand that during this time, firefighting is happening. But if you have time, step back from the situation and measure the impact. Keep track of what worked and what hasn’t worked. Keep revising your remote working plan until you reach a consensus everyone is happy with—customers and agents alike.

3. Keeping your remote agents motivated.

Working from home may appeal to your agents for the first few weeks. But keeping the momentum going is where contact center managers and employees may struggle. Working in a contact center can be a demanding and sometimes demoralizing job, particularly if the agent has interacted with a customer who has had a bad experience.

To tackle lack of agent motivation, contact centers should be considering gamification. Gamification is a module within workforce management systems. It is not a new concept, and many organizations, including Amazon, have incorporated it as part of their business strategy.

Gamification positions contact center agents as players in a game, and the system on which the game is based can reward performance (by awarding gold, silver, and bronze medals) based on pre-determined parameters and metrics. These medals can then be traded in for prizes in order to incentivize the agent. Prizes can range from winning a tablet to being the first in line for their next shift bid.

Some of the most common contact center challenges that benefit from gamification include these:

  • Boosting morale for disengaged agents due to the repetitive nature of their job
  • Elevating performance by measuring metrics such as average handling times and first call resolution
  • Creating healthy competition, as agents follow gamification leaderboards

A Whole New World?

The effects of COVID-19 on businesses and society is expected to change working practices. It’s important to note that working from home has great benefits as well as drawbacks. Flexibility and agility for employees means  remote working can provide them with the right balance and improve employee morale. But ensuring that you have a clear strategy behind remote working for the organization is key. If implemented at the right time and with the right technology, remote working can bring many benefits for contact centers, even if COVID-19 was the driving force behind them.

Scott Budding is the workforce and process optimization manager at Business Systems and has more than 17 years of experience in the contact center industry.  Budding and his team of consultants are responsible for implementing workforce optimization solutions to our customers, helping them to transform their businesses by delivering exceptional business results. He is passionate about his work and works closely with customers to deliver technology ranging from workforce management , analytics, quality management, and RPA right through to back office optimization, ensuring they get the maximum ROI out of their investments. 

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