Work-From-Home Challenges & Opportunities Your Contact Center Can't Ignore (CXNext)

In an era of competing on the customer experience, we can never settle when it comes to the way we empower agents to engage with customers.

The 2020 CXNext virtual conference’s theme of “reimagine customer engagement from start to finish” perfectly encapsulated this reality. It spoke to a professional community that is constantly looking for new ways to add value to its customer journeys and contact center operations.

Granted, the theme took on a special meaning this year. The COVID-19 pandemic redefined our world. As a result, brands faced the added challenge of responding to sudden change while still keeping their eyes open for ways to create more customer and agent centricity moving forward.

The rise of work-from-home perfectly underscores this duality. As they navigate the challenges of an unfamiliar workforce model, customer-centric companies are thinking of ways to elevate their experience. They are also planning for a long-term future in which remote work plays a bigger role. Even as traditional contact centers reopen, many expect a greater percentage of agents to spend a greater percentage of time working from home.

Remote work accordingly took center stage during the aforementioned CXNext event, which aired live on Tuesday, May 12 (and is available on-demand for free). It came into particular focus during the panel “Is Remote Work the New Normal? Supporting and Engaging Employees When They Work from Anywhere,” which featured Brad Shafton from Hologic and Chris Savio, Susan Treadway and Adam McDonald from LogMeIn.

Key Challenges

1) IT Independence

Virtually every technology platform - from a company’s internal contact center tools to global remote engagement solutions - has endured some challenges and growing pains in the wake of our unprecedented switch to remote work. These challenges, naturally, created stress and frustration for employees who were already dealing with ample uncertainty.

Making matters worse, employees are largely navigating these challenges independently. They surely have access to an IT team, but they may not have face-to-face support. They surely do not have an IT employee who can walk over to their desk and fix the problem. IT’s ability to help, moreover, is limited due to the fact that employees may not be using familiar, corporate-owned devices.

The panel also shed light on another issue: the lines between work and personal communication have never been more blurred. Since people have been co-opting corporate collaboration tools for social gatherings, they are building familiarity and loyalty to certain tools. Companies, therefore, have to take these preferences and habits into account when building their corporate communication plans.

2) Equipment

CCW Digital research confirms “connectivity issues” as the #1 inhibitor to a successful work-from-home program. Quality and reliability are meanwhile gaining renewed importance as contact center metrics.

Indeed, questions about equipment moving into the limelight. After establishing an approach to equipment - what are the necessary systems, which do we provide for our employees - companies have to consider the logistics. How do we order and ship these to our employees? How do we install them? How do we secure them? What happens if we part ways with the employee?

Companies took these issues for granted in the days of the traditional contact center. In the era of work-from-home, they represent big strategic focal points.

3) Employees Require Support

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

In a traditional office setting, it is not uncommon for employees to complain about an excess of communication. Does my manager really need to keep looking over my shoulder? Do we really need all these meetings?

Now that they’re isolated from their peers, especially during a period of such uncertainty and concern, they recognize the importance of communication. They have questions. They have doubts. They have an unwavering need for support from their peers and leaders. Whether it is advice on dealing with unexpected support issues, help navigating a challenging system or just updates on whether their job is secure, employees have never been more hungry for communication.

Key Recommendations

1) Empathy Through Communication

It goes without saying that communication is important when agents work-from-home. Managers need a window into what their agents are doing, and agents need a mechanism for receiving necessary support and guidance.

Do not, however, reduce communication to a business transaction. Embrace it as an opportunity to learn about agents. As they understand the challenges employees are facing - whether personal or professional - they can demonstrate the requisite empathy. They can also leverage this “voice of the agent” feedback to improve systems and processes moving forward.

2) Dedicated Social Time

Many employees are working in isolation right now. At best, they are sharing a workspace with pets, roommates, close friends and family members. Ultimately, they are short on social contact.

This social contact is essential for mental well-being, which is essential for strong agent performance. Agent-centric companies, therefore, assume responsibility for creating social interaction.

Recommendations include arranging team lunches (with the company, ideally, coordinating local deliveries), scheduling weekly happy hours or engaging in creative activities like trivia and karaoke nights.

3) Accept Permanence - and Build a Roadmap

It may be many months - if not years - before companies can wholly return to their physical offices. And even when that green light arrives, it may not be the best option. Citing a global survey of her organization’s employees, Treadway said that only 17% want to return to the office full-time.

The prudent move, therefore, is to assume work-from-home will be a permanent part of your business.

With that, it is imperative to answer some of the lingering technology and management questions. This includes redesigning all training curricula for the remote world and establishing standards and guidelines for systems and equipment. It includes selecting the tools and platforms all agents will use to complete their daily tasks.

And to the extent that many companies will embrace a hybrid model in which part of the workforce stays home and part returns to the office, a savvy leader is addressing the mechanics of that situation.

4) Seize the Opportunities of Remote

Work-from-home introduced numerous challenges, but it also uncovered valuable opportunities. Beyond logistics advantages - eliminating commute times, potentially saving on real estate - it also fosters a new kind of collaboration. With training, management, quality monitoring and general communication being driven by technology rather than physical proximity, companies can embrace the global workforce. They can leverage top talent from different countries - not just one city - to provide a great support experience in multiple languages at all hours of the day.

An organization can also use its collaboration tools and methods to better engage with outsourcing partners, ensuring that they better meet company standards for performance and culture.

Though valuable, the panel was hardly the only session on remote work. And remote work was hardly the only valuable topic at CXNext. Register for free on-demand access here.