Before the pandemic, most agents had their own routine. By day, they would work in a brick-and-mortar contact center and align their job schedule with other non-work activities. Then the pandemic happened, turning everything upside down. Many businesses turned to remote work, with schools and other organizations following suit.
Agents were now serving customers from their homes using cloud platforms. And while these tools were user-friendly, getting extra help when needed from team members proved to be a challenge. Also, agents had to solve new and ever more complex customer inquiries. And while remote work offered some benefits, reps felt isolated from their friends and colleagues.
Managers have to rise up to the challenge
The COVID-19-induced transition to remote work was challenging. Companies that already had a distributed workforce could make a faster transition, but most businesses were caught unprepared. Moving forward required investing in cloud-based communication technologies.
But cutting-edge tools alone aren’t enough. Supervisors have to adapt to the new reality and come up with new management practices. For instance, they might be unable to do face-to-face stand-ups but video meetings are a viable alternative. Team members can start the workday by video chatting and discussing what lies ahead. Supervisors can also use cloud platforms to celebrate successes, run one-on-one meetings, and reach an entire team through mass messaging.
Some companies thrived while others suffered
Companies with a remote working culture and high-quality technologies have easily overcome problems posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. Take, for example, the credit card company Discover. Almost a quarter of its contact center agents were already working remotely when the pandemic began. As other companies struggled to adjust, Discover reported an average response time of 74 seconds in the first half of 2020.
Others were not so lucky. Banks, for example, were unprepared to handle a 36.2% increase in call volume between January and March. Average customer wait time rose to 90 minutes, forcing banks and other companies to embrace cloud platforms and remote work. Fortunately, the customer wait time decreased as a result of these measures.
Staying adaptable is the key to success
Thriving in this new work environment requires agents and supervisors to be highly adaptable. Video and messaging tools can be used to keep teams in sync and transmit company culture to agents off-site. At the same time, cloud-based platforms empower agents to be effective problem-solvers. Instead of passing inquiries up the chain of command, employees can collect necessary information and provide solutions.
Talking to team members is easier as well. Cloud platforms not only foster team spirit but also enable employees to learn from each other. Agents that solved a particularly challenging problem can share their solution on the message board, helping others to work faster.
Remote work makes agents happier and productive
Whether from their home or some other location, remote agents get to choose where they work from. They skip commute and feel happier because of the increased flexibility. A Stanford University study found that contact center workers are 13% more productive when working from home. They also take fewer days off than their colleagues in the central office and meet deadlines consistently. And remote agents have reported that their levels of satisfaction, ability to focus, and sleep quality improve as well.
Skilled supervisors use a cloud-based platform to help agents realize these benefits. And happier agents lead to happier customers who might be unaware that they speak with an agent working from home. But they are certainly aware of the high quality of service they receive.
Adjusting to the new normal
The COVID-19 has further pushed commerce and customer engagement to the digital space. The change that might have taken years to materialize happened in a few months. And now is the time to adjust to the so-called new normal.
Whether companies already made the digital leap or play catch-up, serving customers of the future requires adaptable supervisors. They have to leverage new tools and skills to manage remote agents.
RingCentral can make this job easier. Our customer engagement platform helps agents and supervisors to work and collaborate from anywhere. Whether they’re scattered across the country or the world, employees have a tool that keeps them all roving in the same direction.
Originally published Dec 01, 2020, updated Jan 20, 2021