Best Practices for Remote Contact Center
Interesting fact #1: People born blind have heightened sense of hearing, touch, and smell. This happens because their brains are able to rewire connections and enhance other senses in the absence of visual information. (Science Daily).
Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Interesting fact #2: The brains of people not born blind can also do that.
It’s true. Lawrence Rosenblum, a psychology profession at the University of California has studied the phenomena. He can attest to the fact that when humans are blindfolded their other senses become more acute. The longer we stay in that condition, the more adjusted our brains become. That is why people who lose their sight can eventually function, guided strictly by their other senses. (ABC News)
What does it have to do with best practices for remote contact centers?
Well, a lot, actually. Mostly because in the year 2020 things changed so rapidly, many businesses found themselves blindsided (almost like blindfolded.) Global Covid-19 pandemic forced offices to send employees home and keep them there to ensure safety. Working from home, a slowly moving trend before the pandemic, became the norm.
In 2018, 56% of companies worldwide allowed their employees to work remotely at least some of the time. (OwlLabs) During the 2020 pandemic 88% of companies worldwide encouraged or made mandatory for their employees to work from home. (Review42).
As the world continues to deal with the pandemic, adjustments, not unlike those of a brain of a suddenly blind person, must take place. Unable to physically be with their teams, managers must develop new skills to support, motivate, and engage their employees. Highlighting their senses of creativity, remote monitoring, and distance management is a work in progress.
For contact center managers leading their newly remote teams presents a special set of challenges. They now have to manage large teams, whose members are working from various locations. Additionally, a contact center agent job is a stressful one and requires a lot of support, which managers now have to offer remotely. Changes in the infrastructure might require additional hands on board. So now employers also must hire, onboard, train, and maintain new employees. Employers in 2020 face these challenges, in addition to having to maintain excellent customer service amidst all the changes.
It’s not easy. But with the right tactics and tools, it’s possible.
We gathered advice from top contact center experts to help discover best practices for remote contact centers in the uncharted territory that is the year 2020.
1. Be a Human: Ditch the script.
When customers reach out to contact center agents they want one thing – their issues resolved. Statistics show that “45% of consumers don’t care if they interact with a live agent or a chatbot, as long as the service is effective, accurate and fast.” (Business Insider)
However, if a customer reaches a live agent, he or she expects a live, human conversation, not a robotic scripted interaction. Customers crave personalization.
Mark Hayes, of Kintell, believes that ditching the script and forgoing the formalities creates a more compassionate, human atmosphere. Training agents in the remote contact centers to communicate without a script can lead to some great customer experience results.
“Call center managers should remind their agents to treat their customers with compassion. Now that we’re completely remote, that authentic touch has never been more important. Humans want to talk to humans, it’s that simple.” (Mark Hayes)
Ty Stewart, CEO & President of Simple Life Insure recommends setting the following guidelines to ensure natural flow of customer interactions:
- Ensure agents feel at liberty to use their natural voice and cadence.
- Encourage agents to allow the customer to guide the conversation and make small talk. Folks can tell when they’re being rushed.
- Be polite, but not overly stiff or formal. Wit and jokes are okay, so long as the situation is appropriate for them.
- Ensure agents have access to all the account information and troubleshooting resources they need in order to remain calm and confident across the call.
There are ways to make live conversations more personalized – from first greetings to treating customers in accordance to the 10 Golden Rules. Agents in remote contact centers should learn the ins and outs of effective human communications that do not follow a script.
2. It’s All Fun and Games: Implement Gamification
Remote contact centers can become a bit dull. After all, agents do not get to interact with coworkers if they are working remotely. A bit of fun and games can come to the rescue.
Gamification is a great tool that can help engage and motivate agents working in remote contact centers.
LiveHelpNow’s Challenge game competition is an example of an efficient gamification strategy. A simple addition to the contact center management software, the challenge lets agents track and compare their individual performance scores with other agents and teams. It turns work into a rewarding competition.
Another example is Live Chat Challenge, which is an online “triathlon” that tests spelling, grammar, and typing skills. Comparing scores with past players and challenging friends can sharpen contact center agents’ skills while engaging and motivating them during the work day.
3. Keep Raising the Bar: Provide Opportunity for Professional Development, Training, and Growth.
Growth is very important for employees in any industry. In remote contact centers agents might, at times, feel removed and locked into a monotonic work setting. According to one report 76% of employees are looking for career growth opportunities. Additionally, 24% higher profit margins can be the result of companies who invest in training. And 40% of employees with poor training will leave the company within the first year. (HE Exchange)
Providing professional development can serve as a much needed great break in a contact center agent’s daily routine. Managers should dedicate a few hours of an agent’s work day to reading and learning new skills, taking classes, and getting to explore new technologies and tools. This will result in better skilled workers, reduced burnout, and happier employees. (Michael Kansky, HelpSquad)
4. Find the Right People: Hire Wisely
Newly restructured remote contact centers might need some additional employees. Hiring remotely could be a skill managers will need to acquire. On the other hand, because the work can now be done remotely, employers can benefit from the ability to hire not based on a candidate’s physical location.
“Hire the best agents irrespective of location. Remote operations give contact centers the flexibility to hire from disparate locations. Concentrate on finding good agents who can provide maximum help to the customer with minimal supervision.” (Reuben Yonatan, Founder and CEO of GetVoIP)
When hiring remotely managers must apply some critical thinking skills and creativity, especially if previous hires have been done in person.
Nancy Friedman, Founder of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training recommends testing the prospective candidates with an unexpected practice interaction during the interview. This can help determine how well a prospective agent will fit into the operation of a remote contact center.
Do the voice check before you hire. You will avoid a lot of frustration.
A few things to check for:
- Tone of voice
- Speed – Can they/do they match the speed of the caller
- And, of course, did you “hear” the smile?
A 5 to 10 minute casual conversation will save you time, money and get you a better employee. And happier customers. (Nancy Friedman)
5. Get the Right Tools: Implement Supportive Technology
It goes without saying that remote contact centers need the right technology to support their operations.
— Bizapalooza (@Bizapalooza) June 1, 2020
It’s essential to have the right tools to not only support the actual operations of the contact center, but also to communicate and support agents.
“Call centers operating on the cloud should continue to use the right communication tools. While managers need to interpret analytics, call agents also need to communicate with each other. There should be communication infrastructure such as messaging apps to ensure questions can be asked and answered.” (Grant Aldrich, Founder and CEO of OnlineDegree.com)
One of the most effective tools for a contact enter is a great ticket management system and a Customer Data Platform. They provide an all-inclusive picture of the customers, their interactions with the company, and a complete communication history, empowering customer service employees. Sharing all of the information relevant to each account ensures efficient and effective interaction between agents and the customers.
Another effective tool for remote contact centers is whisper technology that enables agents to coach each other. When one agent ‘whispers’ into another agent’s chat session the customer can’t see the message but the other agent can.
Whispering effectively cuts down agent-to-agent chat transfers, allowing the same agent to help the customer from start to finish. In the event that a chat transfer is necessary, all transfer notes will now be sent as a whisper message to the next agent. Added to that, remote teams can benefit from using board rooms that simplify collaboration both for employees and for managers. Depending on the software, you can leverage a range of functionalities, such as document and meeting management, as well as secure file storage and live chat options. Such tools help teams stay connected, productive, and accountable.”
6. Communicate Trust, Provide Autonomy, But Do Not Abandon.
Research shows that employees with higher levels of autonomy in their work reported positive effects on their overall well-being and higher levels of job satisfaction. (Science Daily)
Establishing trust is crucial to effective remote contact centers’ operations. When managers can trust their employees everyone, including customers, benefits greatly.
Chris Robinson, Director of Awaken Intelligence offers the following tips for establishing trusting relationships in the workplace.
- Speak to your team every day, either as a group or individually. Make the
conversations informal and not all work, work, work
- Be available – there’s a fine balance to being available and always being ‘on’. Given
the current climate manage your time and let people know when’s a good time to
catch up if they need to talk, whether that’s about personal or work related
challenges. Encourage them to do the same with their colleagues
- Empower to harness trust – don’t micromanage your team. Outline responsibilities
and make sure the entire team is aware of who is supposed to do what. Set realistic deadlines. Then trust people to get on with the task in hand and don’t chase them ahead of the deadline.
7. Measure for Success: Monitor KPIs.
One cannot know where he is going without knowing where he’s been, an old proverb says.
Remote contact centers’ managers must know how well (or poorly) the organization is performing in order to ensure efficient operations.
Knowing which key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure is critical. When measured and analyzed KPIs, can help businesses determine the quality of their customer service.
“Use AI-driven quality assurance tools to track agent activity, goals and metrics. Our tools work across digital and voice channels to give us a comprehensive overview of each agent. This insight allows us to ensure our agents are efficient and empathetic in dealing with customers.” (Gilad Rom, Founder of Huan)
8. Motivate, Motivate, Motivate
In 2020 we’re all living in unprecedented times. Running of the remote contact centers could be a new endeavor for managers who used to run physical work places at one single location. Unfortunately, or, perhaps, fortunately, depending on the eventual outcome, remote contact centers are here to stay.
Managers must embrace the change and do their best to adjust. From providing mental health support to building strong teams, they have some challenges ahead.