Remote work is now more important than ever. As isolation, social distancing, and COVID-19 quarantines are keeping people at home, your contact center now relies on remote working to maintain operations.
If your contact center was strictly on-site before this, you may be scrambling to find the tools you need to build your virtual team. Depending on your business, you may also be considering distributed support teams as a permanent change, rather than an emergency response. You may be asking questions such as:
- How do you create a distributed team?
- How do you build a customer support team?
- How do you build a team with remote employees?
Transitioning your contact center to a remote operation is a significant adjustment, but it offers numerous benefits for your business, agents, and customer service, gains that easily outweigh any risks involved. As you consider the potential effects of developing a remote contact center, use the tips below to build a strong distributed customer service team.
How to Build a Distributed Support Team
Remote work was once an exception, but it is quickly becoming common throughout all industries and positions. A study by Global Workplace Analytics found that 5 million people worked from home in 2018, a 173% increase from 2005. In the SHRM 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, 69% of businesses reported offering remote work options to some of their employees.
This shift from a traditional workforce to remote workers is shaping the world of business, offering a glimpse at a potential future. Click To Tweet Some of the reasons businesses are building and managing distributed workforces include:
- 85% of businesses that offered greater remote work flexibility saw increased productivity
- Almost 80% of remote workers reported being “not stressed” or “moderately stressed” during the workweek, improving their mental health
- 65% of remote workers accomplish more while working from home than they do in a traditional office setting
- Companies who introduced remote working saw decreases in employee turnover
As a contact center manager, implementing remote working can improve your budget, efficiency, and customer service results. To enjoy the benefits of distributed customer support teams, however, you first have to build a sustainable, effective remote work program.
Hire Workers who can Work Remotely
Every successful team starts with the hiring process, whether your agents work on-site or from home. You want to attract top talent who are capable of providing valuable results, so there are several elements you need to include in your job description and interview process.
Use video interviews
Hiring remote means you can hire across cities, state lines, and time zones. Since you will probably not meet each potential candidate in person, use video conferencing to get a feel for each applicant. A video call will allow you to build a personal connection with the interviewees, helping you understand each person better than you could over the phone.
Measure their remote work potential
While most people can work from home temporarily, long-term remote work requires discipline, good prioritizing skills, and the confidence to work without constant supervision. In your interview questions, ask candidates about scenarios or experiences that require these abilities. It’s important to know if each applicant will be an asset or drain to your remote team before you hire them.
Look for relevant previous experience
Freelance workers and former startup employees typically have experience with working from home. They understand the expectations and challenges, preparing them for your remote work. Though it shouldn’t be a requirement, previous similar experience is definitely a plus when adding a new agent or supervisor to your remote team.
Equip distributed teams with remote tools
The tools you provide your team are critical to their potential success. Though a lack of resources hindered remote work for decades, there are numerous collaboration tools you can now use to equip your agents for excellent customer service.
When communicating with customers from home, your contact center agents will need a combination of computers, phones or smartphones, microphone-equipped headsets, and access to company data. You can provide this hardware, reimburse employees for approved purchases, or allow them to use personal items. Whatever you decide, be sure each item allows your agents to maintain your quality standards.
Contact center software
Successful remote work depends on a cloud-based contact center solution. Your agents require a platform they can easily log into and use to gain access to the resources they need. When choosing your solution, there are several questions to consider.
- Does this solution support team collaboration? Since they’re not a colocated team, your staff needs a reliable way to communicate and collaborate outside of team meetings. Look for an option with live chat, video call, project management, VoIP, conference call, mobile app, asynchronous communication, and file-sharing capabilities for simplified collaboration.
- Will we have unified communications? As an omnichannel contact center, your agents need the ability to communicate with customers through multiple channels. Choose software that brings your voice and data communication onto the same platform.
- Can I customize my contact center platform? Your agents depend on quick access to customer information, analytics, and mobile apps that support their work. Additional features, such as machine learning capabilities, can also further improve your potential results. Make sure your software allows integrations and customizations for the ability to build a long-term solution.
An office set-up
You don’t want your employees to work from their beds with sub-par internet service. Instead, set expectations for a professional attitude and workspace. Agents should have an area set aside for their work, reliable internet with high speeds, good phone service, and a set schedule. Employees might not be traveling to an office, but they should still treat their work with professionalism.
Focus on results, not time
While agents should have a set schedule, it may not look the same as a typical workday. Your engineering team may have normal office hours to work on software development in an office, for example, but distributed engineering teams may be spread across time zones and need different schedules. A freelance developer might have different hours from the rest of the web developers or data engineers entirely.
Rather than auditing time cards, track each agent’s output. Are they making connections through social media? Have they delivered excellent customer experiences? How does your employee feel about what they were able to accomplish this week? Even if your agents’ aren’t putting in as many hours, the results are what matters.
Maintain structured management for your remote team
Building and maintaining a successful remote work program depends on the structure you create for it. While you want to give your team the freedom to reach their potential, it’s also important to develop the structure they need to stay productive.
Develop clear work-from-home policies
Your agents may find the transition to remote work easy, but others may struggle with the change. To avoid any uncertainty, set clear expectations for your remote workers. Create and publish policies that tell your employees what is or isn’t allowed or expected. Develop procedures for internal communication, customer interactions, emergency situations, and at-home time tracking. Create guidelines that address every potential situation to avoid problems and offer clear directions for resolving any issues that do occur.
Offer thorough training
Once you’ve developed your guidelines, make sure your employees are aware of your expectations. Hold training sessions, either in-person or online, that cover all of your relevant policies. Create tutorials, demos, and other resources that your agents can use to successfully move to a remote-work atmosphere. Every big change has its bumps, so do what you can to prepare your team for any problems they may face. As time goes on, be sure to offer periodic training for all of your agents and supervisors. This will keep everyone up-to-date on your software and policies while also addressing any concerns you’ve seen throughout your contact center.
Equip your managers for success
When it comes to your contact center’s success, much of the pressure falls on your supervisors and managers. As you build your remote support team, empower your supervisors with the information and tools they need to lead your team. Use a contact center solution that offers management tools designed specifically for their work. Offer the ability to monitor each agent’s interactions, partnered with tools that allow them to jump onto escalating interactions.
Your software platform should also provide access to your contact center’s data and analytics. Supervisors should be able to view data about your contact center as a whole, measuring customer satisfaction, call time statistics, agent downtime, and more. They should also have access to information about individual agent performance. If an agent is struggling to keep up with your expectations or minimum thresholds, managers can use real data to support their decisions.
Data access is also a critical resource during the transition to remote work. If certain agents are struggling to keep up demands while working from home, supervisors need to know as quickly as possible. When an agent’s performance continually declines after the move, your supervisor can evaluate the situation to determine the best solution. Rather than spending additional time and money waiting to act, managers can make informed decisions that are the ideal option for everyone involved.
Don’t forget your company’s culture
Chats by water coolers and staff lunches may not be essential to your team’s culture, but you should still work to maintain healthy camaraderie between your agents. This allows you to maintain your company’s values while also prioritizing workplace satisfaction.
How to build a strong culture with a remote team
Unlike development teams or data engineers, contact center agents don’t necessarily spend a significant amount of time working together. To build a positive culture, you need to schedule and plan for team-building events. Hold celebrations for project completion or work anniversaries. If your agents live in the same location, you can even host physical events to bring people together.
You can also support a strong remote work culture by actively monitoring and managing your distributed teams. Rather than randomly pairing coworkers for projects, pair buddies who work well together and produce great results. Foster relationships and friendships between agents and supervisors to create a positive work environment. Make work enjoyable to encourage workplace satisfaction and improved results from every member of your team.
Common concerns with distributed support teams
Even if you and your company are ready to move to a remote operation, you may still have some concerns about running a distributed customer support team. We’ve discussed some of the common concerns involved with remote work below to help you feel more prepared and confident in your decision.
Will operating a remote contact center diminish customer service quality?
While your internal operations may look different, your customer support shouldn’t experience many changes. In fact, you may be able to offer better service than before. Flexjobs found that 86% of employees feel that working from home reduces stress and 77% believe working remotely improves their general health. Click To Tweet Since agents who are happier in their jobs tend to have more satisfactory customer interactions, developing a distributed team can improve your company’s customer service.
The same study also learned that 75% of remote employees prefer working from home due to diminished distractions. With happier, more focused agents, you’ll be able to increase your contact center’s ability to meet customer expectations and produce greater results.
Can I trust my agents to work honestly from home?
Moving to a remote operation eliminates physical proximity, but it doesn’t reduce visibility. Your project managers and supervisors will still be able to monitor agent performance and output, even if they aren’t physically walking the floor. Using contact center software that offers in-depth analytics gives your management full control and awareness of your operations. As long as you use these tools to confirm the work your agents record, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Can I build a strong team if they don’t physically interact?
Absolutely! Collaboration tools easily connect your team members across distance and time zones. While they might never meet in person, they can still build strong relationships through their workplace interactions. You can also encourage team-building by holding regular meetings through video conferencing or phone calls. Help your employees get to know their team members for more positive and beneficial interactions.
Are you considering a transition to a remote contact center? Our collaborative contact center solution offers the tools and capabilities you need to build a powerful distributed support team. Explore our website to learn more and connect with our sales team for a personalized demo today.
Originally published Mar 26, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022