Spotlight on the supervisor

Collaboration
and (over) communication at your remote call center

03

Imagine a contact center agent for a large telecom company. Let’s call him James. On his first call one morning, James speaks to a customer who had just received an unexpectedly high bill and wants James to explain each charge. He pulls up her account records and discovers a bunch of excess data fees. It turns out she went over her data allowance, and James asks which apps she frequently uses — even when she’s not connected to WiFi. After a few minutes, he identifies data-hungry apps like YouTube and TikTok as likely culprits.

Next, he takes a call from an irate customer who ordered a new phone two weeks earlier. It should have arrived already, but tracking shows that delivery is still pending. James puts the customer on hold and reaches out to the company’s fulfillment center. The manager explains the pandemic caused delays with their shipping schedule, but the late package is due to go out today. James switches back and updates his customer. 

After that, another call pops up on James’ screen. It’s from a young tech-savvy consumer who’s having connectivity issues. The caller uses a third-party headset James doesn’t recognize. He reaches out to colleagues in his company’s product department for help. Someone gets back to him and explains that some third-party cases block the antenna. Remove the case, and the connectivity woes will disappear. James jumps back to his customer call and shares the solution.

Calls like these are increasingly commonplace in contact centers. They’re no longer the simple customer service desks we’ve grown accustomed to over the years like password resets and easy transactions. Instead, agents are fielding complex questions, requests, and problems and are expected to solve them as fast as possible—in real-time—by serving as the conduit between the customer and experts from other departments.

Faced with such a rapidly changing role, agents rely on collaboration and communication to succeed. As Steve Jobs once said: “Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” And that’s true whether you’re designing the next iPhone or finding the nearest mechanic who can fix an issue with your customer’s car.

Building an environment in which contact center agents can effectively collaborate and communicate is not always easy—especially when a global pandemic forces you into remote working. But with the right technology and some tweaks to your operations, you can create a collaborative contact center that empowers agents to do their jobs effectively. Happy, engaged, and productive employees inevitably improve customer experience. In fact, organizations that have embraced the collaborative contact center model aren’t just meeting their pre-pandemic performance; they’re beating it.

The toll of poor collaboration

Many organizations choose not to invest in collaboration tech for their agent teams. Instead, they leave them without cross-functional support, forcing them to battle through problems on their own. This is sometimes because of how they think about contact centers. 

In the late-1990s and early-2000s, organizations began to offshore their contact centers to reduce operational costs. They treated contact centers as a necessary evil, rather than a business asset. Other times, organizations are unwilling to invest in the next generation of technology that makes customer support a strategic arm of the business, believing the investment a poor one. Either way, the consequences are the same.

With dated contact center technology, your agents feel frustrated. They’re siloed, isolated, and cut off from the rest of your organization. If they can’t personally solve a problem or get support from someone else, that’s a dead end. All they can do is apologize to the customer and offer to redirect their call or arrange a callback, which is disappointing for the customer and demoralizing for the agent. When agents feel powerless, their stress skyrockets, and productivity plummets.

But it’s not only your agents who suffer. Faced with an unsatisfactory experience, those disappointed, disgruntled customers likely won’t hang around. According to research from PwC, one-third of people say they’ll walk away from a brand they love after just one bad interaction.

These two consequences — bad employee experience and poor customer experience — ladder up into serious commercial losses. In the U.S. alone, businesses are hemorrhaging $62 billion a year due to poor customer service.

These losses are entirely avoidable. The tools and technologies to power the collaborative contact center already exist. All organizations need to do is seize the opportunity.

Cultivating collaboration in your contact center

Several months into the pandemic, we know that working indoors near colleagues is a recipe for virus transmission. And when you look at the stats, call centers are the most densely packed business — ahead of general offices, supermarkets, and even restaurants.

For contact centers, working from home is likely here to stay. Before the pandemic, 59% of contact centers supported remote working. Now, that figure is up at 74%. Even when offices do open up, only a handful of people will be back at any one time to provide safe social distancing.

Faced with such a long-term change to our workplaces, we need to think about how to build collaboration and communication to support a workforce scattered between various locations. What that means is empowering agents to work on their own. It means bringing the contact center in from the cold and integrating it within your broader organization. And it means helping agents collaborate to solve complex problems.

Let’s look at how you can make that happen.

Make contact centers a core part of your company

Contact centers have a bad rap. They have a reputation as a purely functional entity, designed to solve problems as quickly as possible and keep customers away from the organization at large. For years, executives undervalued their company’s call centers and kept them siloed from other business units. That mindset might have been acceptable in the past. But now, in the era of customer experience? Not so much.

Consumer behavior has changed—and not by a little bit. With the rise of the internet and the proliferation of online information, people have access to myriad new research options. When your TV goes kaput, you check out YouTube videos for how-to fixes. When your car has a weird sound, you look up owners forums. And when your phone bill runs to a dozen pages, you log onto your online billing.

Modern customers don’t turn to contact centers to answer their initial, more straightforward questions. Only when their own research fails do they call up and ask for support. Nowadays, when a customer does reach out, you can be sure their problem is going to be complicated.

As customer queries grew more complex, agents discovered they couldn’t solve every problem on their own. Complex product queries require support from product experts; complex billing problems need help from finance, and so on. No matter how good your agents are, they aren’t an expert on everything. Increasingly, agents must collaborate with colleagues and experts outside their immediate team to solve complex issues. That requires a rethink of how your contact center integrates with your organization.

With collaborative contact centers, agents can engage in cooperative problem-solving, document sharing, and direct connections with subject matter experts. Instead of wading through tricky problems on their own, they can pull in a specialist and solve the issue together. When you integrate the contact center into your broader organization, you supercharge your agents. You equip each agent with the knowledge of an entire organization and ensure they can solve as wide an array of problems.

Give your agents access to the information they need

Although the complexity of calls has increased, contact centers still deal with many “bread and butter” calls. Simple billing queries, basic technology troubleshooting, upgrade requests, and so on. For these queries, agents can successfully resolve calls on their own — but only when you give them the right tools and information.

For example, if a customer wants help understanding their bill, your agents need access to billing information. That sounds simple, but many organizations still operate under the preconception that contact centers should be kept separate from their core business.

For your agents to do their job, they need access to critical, up-to-date information from all across your organization. That means ensuring you have open APIs to secure access to your CRM and other backend systems. Building those information pipelines means agents can reach information across the company without having to transfer the call or manually ask for help. 

When agents have the contextual information they need, they feel empowered to work independently, boosting their engagement and productivity. And if customers get to interact with a single agent—rather than getting bounced around from department to department—they’ll have a better overall experience.

Bridge the gap between remote employees

In-person communication is simple. You walk over to someone, tap them on the shoulder, and start talking. But when your team is working from home, that all changes.

Do you email your colleague? Do you WhatsApp them via your personal phone? If you need a response immediately, how do you know they’re at their desk? Is it rude to nudge a colleague if you haven’t heard back in an hour?

If you don’t put technology in place to support agent-to-agent communication, everything gets messy. And when communication requires effort, people tend to default to what’s easiest: working alone.

Rolling out a central messaging platform and codifying a set of procedures around it removes all of this angst and friction. You know when people are around because they have status markers. You know how to reach them because you’re all on the same platform.

When agents start working together, your contact center develops a positive network effect, where the sum of the team is greater than its parts. Each individual can draw on the expertise, experience, and knowledge of dozens, hundreds, or thousands of colleagues, aiding both their immediate capabilities and long-term development.

Better collaboration drives a better overall experience — for everyone

Before the pandemic, organizations often brushed off the collaborative contact center as a nice-to-have. It’d be nice if agents could talk to experts throughout the company. It’d be nice if they could directly access all the information they needed. It’d be nice if they could work together with other agents.

But things are different now. Today, teams exist across hundreds, even thousands, of miles, and communication isn’t as simple as dropping by someone’s desk. In this post-pandemic world, the collaborative contact center isn’t a “nice-to-have” anymore. It’s a necessity.

When you support collaboration and communication throughout your contact center, you don’t just get back to the service level you were at before Covid-19. Instead, you supercharge your agents and take your employee and customer experience to the next level.
You boost agent productivity by putting the information they need at their fingertips and opening communication channels with the experts they need to talk to. You improve first-contact resolution by drawing on the combined knowledge and expertise of your entire organization. You accelerate complex problem-solving by helping people work together. And you deepen and strengthen relationships with your customers by helping solve their trickiest challenges.

RingCentral understands the value of cross-team collaboration and we are committed to building customer engagement platforms that make it easier to manage distributed contact center teams scattered throughout the country or around the world. With RingCentral, you have a platform that allows your managers and supervisors to build a strong remote contact center that gives customers an experience that keeps them coming back.

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