I was in the video conferencing industry way back; I know that organisations dabbled in remote and flexible working for many years without any particular urgency. In the wake of COVID-19, things turned upside down. Organisations suddenly had to accelerate their remote work plans and get employees completely equipped to work from home. According to Gartner, only 12% of businesses felt completely prepared at the time. Over the past few months, working from home has become the rule rather than the exception. What we found as an organisation, and what we heard from our customers, was that on the whole people are more productive when working from home.
The unfamiliar situations brought about by the pandemic are forcing us all to adapt. In-person face-to-face interaction, for example, dropped significantly. With a large number of businesses looking to shift to permanent remote work or look for a hybrid model, that’s a longer-term issue we’re not used to addressing.
For many businesses, it’s harder to retain and hire talents if you don’t offer work from home options. Google announced in July that its roughly 200,000 employees will continue to work from home until at least next summer. Mark Zuckerberg has said he expects half of Facebook’s workforce to be remote within the decade. Twitter has told staff they can stay home permanently.
The challenges of managing remote teams
Among our customer base are many amazing businesses, all with their own unique challenges, doing all they can to help customers. From healthcare practitioners to schools to PPE providers, we’ve seen a variety of companies rise to the challenge of physical distancing and minimising exposure.
One of the common concerns businesses have when moving to a remote operation is how they can maintain effective customer service agent management when their customer service team is spread across multiple locations. Scheduling can be complex, some businesses operate different systems, in silos – but on top of that, supervisors must orchestrate the team to ensure they deliver a consistent customer experience.
The new way of work means the role of the supervisor is shifting as well.
In the contact centre, supervisors need to change their approach to management if only to keep up! You can’t walk the floor physically interact with your remote contact centre team, but you are still responsible to keep them engaged and productive – perhaps even more so when your team is remote.
Moving from on-premises supervisor to managing a remote team means embracing new roles and new metrics of success. Your agent will need you more than ever. Customers are more demanding and emotions are still high. You are now a motivator, a coach, an enforcer, and a supporter. Figuring out how to keep your agents on the same page and stay motivated while supervisors remain in control of what is happening is a lot to handle.
Effective ways to manage remote contact centre teams
Optimise agents’ scheduling
When working remote, agent scheduling requires a lot of coordination. You need to have the tools to change schedules at short notice as well as forecast and provision peak call times, factor breaks and plan for the unexpected. Workforce Optimisation and Workforce Management tools allow you to forecast, schedule, monitor and report on your contact centre activities. The tools put supervisors and management in hand to coach, assist and monitor live. Features such as managing timelines and empowering agents with the ability to trade shifts among themselves lighten the administrative burden and complexity of scheduling, and prepare contact centres to address the daily fluctuations of customer demand.
These are essential to contact centre supervisors, and must be accessible from anywhere without causing any alteration to ordinary day-to-day office operations. The value of real-time monitoring is being able to see everybody’s state of action: whether your agents are on calls, available, just off a call, unavailable, whatever.
In terms of delivering a fully responsive customer service operation, it’s invaluable to see real-time queues, operate skill changes on the fly, adjust the priority assigned to each agent. As a supervisor, modern contact centre technology allows you to monitor agents in real time, listening in and coaching agents in real time; modern software allows supervisors to ‘whisper’ to agents on calls and, if needed, barge-in on the conversation to rectify potentially problematic conversations before irreparable damage is done. Of course, if necessary, supervisors can take over the call to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.
Another great tool to have is a widget-based supervisor dashboard so you can customise it according to your needs. This gives you the power to gain a holistic view of the customer experience through analysis and evaluation across all interaction channels and agent availability on an individual, skill, team or campaign basis.
To ensure optimal customer satisfaction, organisations must start to make sure their contact centre agents are able to work as efficiently as possible. A well-designed quality management solution can improve the performance of your agents by not only pinpointing weaknesses but also by helping them improve through self-assessment processes and individual coaching. At a minimum, quality management software should be able to review, evaluate and potentially score interactions taking place between the agents and customers, and understand how they are working. The power is in the hands of supervisors to set keywords, sharpen focus of interaction analysis and look for key phrases, using speech analytics to confirm whether any conversation meets an essential level of sentiment.
With greater pressure on contact centres to offer remote working in order to attract and retain the best agents, it’s crucial to access the right tools to manage a disparate workforce.
Above all, successful managers put time and effort into creating a positive company culture for their agents. We find our customers collaborate much more with their remote contact centre teams because of the support they need. In too many companies today, agents are separated from the rest of the organisation; even more so when they are working alone in their silo, unable to get assistance on difficult customer questions or other issues that arise.
This type of disconnection creates a number of problems such as lower than desired first contact resolution, when the agent needs time off the phone to do research or chase down people to answer difficult questions.
These are some useful tools and tips, but successfully managing a remote contact centre workforce requires a dedicated cultural shift. Hopefully your organise has started that by now. For more support with improving your customer service delivery, have a look at these resources below:
Keep your agents motivated, help them feel supported, and check out how to improve your customer experience by putting your employees first.
Originally published Aug 12, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023