The Impact of Remote Work on Contact Centers

Viewpoint of Industry Leaders

Different ways to adapt to the transition

Pooja Meswani, CX director of Deloitte India, explains the challenges Indian contact centers have to deal with when switching all their activities to a work-from-home format. India is known for having some of the world’s largest contact centers, and nearly all of them were operating from physical offices before the Covid-19 outbreak. Companies had to literally take desktops from the office and bring them to the agents’ homes. They had to install the needed preventive measures to protect the network infrastructure and ensure customers’ data security. Companies had to invest in better infrastructure and hardware such as noise-canceling headphones to overcome challenges like the size of the agents’ houses and the lack of privacy as background noise has an impact on the calls’ quality.

At Continuum Global Solutions, agents already had the means to work remotely. This proved advantageous when the pandemic forced contact centers to make a complete switch to a home-based contact center, says Peter Brouwer, EMEA Sales Director of Continuum Global Solutions. Even though Continuum Global Solutions is experienced with the work from-home-concept, making this transition at a large scale also caused challenges.

Given the magnitude of people who needed to be deployed from home, they cooperated with one of their biggest clients, who provided them with desktop solutions for all of their agents.

Capita, the largest outsourcer in the UK, successfully moved 25.000 agents into working-from-home format across Europe, the UK, South Africa, and India. Alan Linter, Innovation director for Capita, explains that the challenge for the company was rather the acceleration in digital transformation that needed to be completed, something which had a considerable impact on all their contact channels and customer interactions.

Data Consultant Andy Moorhouse, CEO and Founder of Alytical, talked to us about the repercussion this way of working had on outbound sales teams. The performance dropped due to the lack of camaraderie and cooperation that very much characterizes these types of teams. The nature of remote working makes motivational morning sessions, team spirit and collective celebrations difficult to maintain.

Keeping your agents close

These are emotionally and mentally difficult times, homeworking represents a massive change for both supervisors and agents, which has both positive and negative sides. On the one hand, working from home has many benefits. Traveling time and costs are entirely cut. It is easier to allow agents to have a flexible schedule with split-shifts, balancing their work and personal lives. On the other hand, all face-to-face contact disappears, no more coffee breaks, no more chit-chat with colleagues, and less support from supervisors when facing troublesome calls. It gets more difficult for quality managers to monitor agent performance and quality of service.

During these times, people’s heightened emotional state makes agent-customer interactions more stressful and emotive; thus it is key to provide agents the proper support in the remote environment if we want to ensure their well-being.

An excellent way to do so is through Xdroid’s real-time Voice Analytics technology, which monitors and analyses calls real-time to give agents immediate feedback, identifying the best solution to an incoming query. This technology provides direct in-call support to them and allows their supervisors to follow calls live and guide them via chat. Furthermore, the system can identify very problematic calls and automatically notify the supervisors to intervene if necessary. These technologies help contact centers to protect and support their agents while providing excellent customer service.

When talking about agent motivation and maintaining the feeling of connection with the company, some contact centers have established short virtual get-togethers, where the staff shares a coffee and a chat. This helps to keeps some of the office camaraderie alive, and it’s an alternative way to incorporate these little but special office moments agents might miss.

Without a doubt, homeworking has been an obstacle for contact center quality managers. The geographical dispersion of agents makes it even harder for quality managers to know what is happening during every customer conversation, as well as to monitor agent performance.  Some contact centers have tackled this challenge by sending supervisors to their agents’ homes to have face-to-face interactions where supervisors can clear agent questions and talk about their KPI performance. Some other contact centers have opted for a more efficient alternative, which uses Voice Analytics technology for remote and automated quality assurance. This technology works as a parallel communication mechanism between supervisors, department heads, and frontline agents.

Voice Analytics solutions were already being used by some office-based contact centers for quality management, as it is capable of analyzing 100% of all calls and showing quality managers only those calls, which need attention. Through this, the managers valuable time gets freed to focus on more important issues rather than manually listening to random calls.

Andy Moorhouse talks about the importance of integrating Csat scores with speech analytics measures. If performance is being measured based on hitting specific metrics, knowing what top performers do to drive Csat scores will allow coaches to share best practices and reinforce that specific behavior in their coaching.

The Future: Contact CenterDigital Transformation

Countless changes that this pandemic has brought are here to stay. Pooja Meswani from Deloitte says that “many companies want to make work from home agents a permanent reality.” Whereas Peter Brouwer from Continuum Global Solutions thinks it will instead become a hybrid model of homeworking and office working agents. This way, the benefits of homeworking are preserved without losing the fundamental face-to-face interactions. No matter how the future develops, one thing is certain, digital transformation will continue to be essential for contact center operations.

Companies have taken a considerable leap in terms of digital transformation during this past year; innovation at a pace that would have taken years in a normal situation is now done overnight. As Alan Linter from Capita reports, the future challenge will be to keep the innovation culture; the speed and growth of transformation resulted from the pressure and challenges companies had to overcome in such a short period. It will be a challenge to make this a sustainable way of working without losing the innovative mindset.

Intelligent  automation of processes is another important topic contact centers should look for in the future. Intelligent automation consists of identifying the right reasons for automation and carefully selecting how much to automate, always giving customers the time to learn what has been changed to avoid negative impact on their customer journey or experience.  And last but not least, artificial intelligence. The positive impact artificial intelligence can have on contact centers is enormous; merging ‘the best of’ from humans and AI  can deliver the best outcome for every conversation. Alan Linter called it “the AI and human hybrid”, to boost contact center performance and service levels.  Whatever its shape, whether it is AI in the form of voice analytics, chatbots for digital channels or automated call routing, this technology is here to stay.

We found three key ingredients when diving into contact center digital transformation: data, automation and artificial intelligence. We live in an era of data, and contact centers need to be dynamic to be successful. Significant steps were made, and companies have started unlocking the value of data, but there is still a long way ahead to capture its full potential.

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