Contact centers continue to provide a vital service to businesses of all sizes and in all sectors, as the first point of contact for many customers and a critical cog in the marketing and outreach machine.
Contact centers are also a wide-scale operation in many cases, and the large numbers of people working out of an office have become an issue as lockdowns, and social distancing has become the norm.
Luckily, call centers are also the easiest jobs to move to a work from home (WFH) arrangement. It’s not without its challenges, but in many cases shifting to WFH has been a boon for contact centers and the people they employ.
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Driving cultural change
To understand why this shift is so significant to the sector, it’s important to first understand just how KPI-driven contact centers have been traditionally, and how granular the control over employees has been.
For years, as technology has improved to allow managers to monitor the most granular details in terms of how many calls an employee has taken, time spent on call, and the net promoter score (NPS) on each individual, the articles on the problems with micromanagement have come in thick-and-fast.
Micromanagement leads to an uncomfortable, even toxic environment and is a key reason that contact centers also experience high churn levels. With churn comes the need to onboard and train new staff, and as one report notes, “we consistently find that this is one of the highest costs that contact centers face.”
WFH and organizational change
This starts to change when the organization adopts WFH because there’s an implicit level of trust and flexibility in allowing an employee to work remotely, which has a direct correlation to morale and the desire to remain at the organization.
In one famous example run by Stanford University, a Chinese company with a contact center experienced 50 percent less churn after adopting WFH and improved productivity by 17 percent. That was before COVID-19 effectively mandated a WFH policy among organizations. Now, contact centers in the mainstream are starting to discover the benefits of trusting their employees.
This has come with some needed cultural change, however. The acknowledgment of the need for greater flexibility when working from home and a shift in KPI expectations away from metrics such as working from specific times are some examples.
Addressing the challenges
Shifting to remote work comes with a share of challenges too, largely driven by technology concerns. For WFH to deliver those productivity gains, the employees need to continue to feel engaged, part of a team, and their Internet needs to be robust and stable.
For example, Unreliable Internet costs a business, on average, $5,600 per minute of downtime. Slow Internet can affect the employee’s ability to work on the cloud in real-time. Because most modern phone systems work over VoIP, poor Internet connections can also affect the quality of any phone communication with customers, leading to a poor impression of the business.
There are a couple of things that call center jobs from home might want to consider doing for their employees as they shift to working from home:
- Provide the technology: Rather than rely on the employees using their own technology (which may not be up to the task), the organization might provide laptops, headsets, and other tools that have been vetted and prepared by the IT team for security best practices.
- Set strong policies during work hours: While you don’t want to fall into the trap of micromanaging a person’s home environment (a WFH no-no if ever there was one), setting reasonable expectations about how available the Internet connection is during work hours, so bandwidth and data aren’t being soaked up by a family member watching Netflix, is important to make sure that your employees can maximize their productivity while on the clock.
- Have team meetings: A simple group video chat each morning will help to maintain that team spirit it should be a mix of social conversations and a WIP so that the team can stay aligned to company objectives and feel like they’re working towards cohesive overall goals.
Not every contact center will allow WFH long-term – some that have allowed staff to work remotely will require that they come back to the office once social distancing is less of a concern. Those contact centers that can find a way to make WFH work, however, will find themselves in a position where the staff is happier, more productive, and more loyal to the business. For contact centers, that is almost a holy grail outcome.