As our technology trends continue to progress, the workforce as we know it has begun to change shape. With the availability of high speed internet so widespread, and the cloud networks that power the most popular VoIP and contact center solutions, access is no longer limited to a specific office space. Thanks to cloud call center software, agents normally tied down to cubicles can just as easily connect to the same network and systems at home through their personal computers – all they need to make an answer calls would be an internet connection, and a headset.
In fact, whether you run a call center or a contact center, with the rising trend of remote workers, many argue the situation is not only more convenient, but also more productive – agents won’t have to worry about making it through the morning rush hour, and can stay comfortable at home while remaining efficient and productive.
The Benefits of Remote Agents
1. Greater Flexibility in Scheduling
Many call centers now operate on a 24/7 schedule, providing support to the busy masses whenever they need it most. Since most of us are tied down from 9am to 5pm every day, it can be impossible to make that phone call or service request during the day – and contact centers must tailor their hours to compensate. With remote agents, it’s easier than ever to establish longer calling hours, and a 24/7 schedule so customers can reach the assistance they need at any time. It would be a bit unreasonable to ask workers to make their commute at 1am for the night shift, but if your agents can remain at home in their comfortable clothes, it will be much easier to fill in the gaps and allow for a more flexible schedule, and your agents will be much happier.
2. Happy Workers Are Productive Workers
Without long, taxing commutes, dressing in uncomfortable business attire, and sitting in the same cubicle all day with a manager breathing down their neck can easily lead to a decreased morale for workers. But flip the scenario around, and remove the commute, the dress code and a lack of privacy – and your workers will be much happier. With the option to work at home in their own comfortable clothes on their own, familiar workstation, you will notice a boost in the morale and happiness of your agents, which should translate into increase productivity. Of course, we all need to check in on our agents so requiring mandatory check-ins or updates can help ease the feeling of too much freedom and help agents stay focused and on task, without the fear of a manager looming over their shoulder.
3. Hire the Best Candidates, Not Just the Local Ones
Because your agents can be located just about anywhere in the world, the pool of potential hires just skyrockets when your contact center allows for remote workers. While it may be important to look for those in a closer region if they need to be onsite for training or team meetings, your agents will not be forced to deal with a lengthy commute each day. This alone will boost morale and productivity, and with the option to select from any agent just about anywhere, the opportunity to grab the most professional and well suited agents sky rockets. Many agents that work remotely will also be familiar with the industry and general practices, and may require even less training.
4. Cut Down on Overall Operational Costs
And of course, while potentially the most obvious benefit, the money saved from utilizing remote agents is perhaps the largest benefit. With agents using their own equipment at home, the cost of hardware required drops, and of course with less members of the team located in an office, cutting real estate costs could help a business shave off a large margin of costs required to operate their contact center. Especially for centers located within cities, it makes sense for a center to leverage remote workers to avoid spending out of budget on real estate simply to accommodate the team size.
Common Concerns For Managing Remote Agents
While adding on remote agents to your team, or even converting your entire team to remote agents, has a large list benefits, there are a few concerns that should be addressed with the model. Of course, the biggest concern for any manager would be the productivity and efficiency of their agents.
With the inability to monitor and track your agents in person at a moment’s notice, many managers might feel as if their agents are more willing to take breaks or increase their downtime. Security is another important issue to consider, as agents in their own home are connecting to the services through their own network, or even a public network from coffee shops or other free Wi-Fi zones.
While not as crucial, there is a possibility that remote agents will feel disconnected from the team, and a lack a sense of community or connection to the office. Thankfully, through a number of different managerial techniques, these issues can effectively be mitigated or all out removed.
Just to recap, the three most common concerns of utilizing remote agents include:
- Ensuring the highest level of productivity
- A lack of a sense of community and connectivity
How To Manage Your Remote Agents
1. Gamification, Make Work Fun
The idea of gamification is pretty simple, applying the typical elements and rewards of playing a game to your agent’s work. Through point scoring, competitions with other agents and even rules and regulations to help shape competitions or challenges, your call center can build a reward system for the highest preforming agents. Incentivizing the most efficient and productive workers, and building a series of goals helps agents engage with the tasks at hand, and drives productivity with a goal to reach. Gamification is one of the many great helps to ensure the highest level of efficiency for your agents. Many of the most popular contact center solutions will even provide built in gamification options to integrate with the platform.
2. Mandatory Check Ins, Call Logs, and Daily Reports
While you may not be able to call agents into your office, or have them drop off a daily report before the head out for the night, managers can still put in place mandatory check ins and updates from their remote agents. Utilizing a team collaboration or Unified Communications platform, take Slack or HipChat as an example, managers can always be in contact with agents at a moment’s notice, as well as track the online presence. Requiring agents to check in when they start their shift, update their progress on a mid-day lunch break, and check in with their daily report before their shift ends will effectively replace those in person reports. Not to mention, the most popular contact center solutions even provide access to call logs and activity reports from your agents so at a glance, managers can quickly monitor their agent’s daily activity.
3. Leverage Quality Assurance Tools
With the power of cloud based contact center software comes not only the previously mentioned call logs and activity reports, but also a host of other quality assurance tools. Many solutions will allow users to rate the quality of calls based on specific predetermined metrics. If monitoring call logs, status reports, and call grades are not enough, more powerful features can come into play. No one likes to micromanage, or be micromanaged, but call recordings are a great way to train agents and ensure calls are being handled properly. For a more in the moment approach, call barging and silent listening can come into play. Through popular contact center solutions, managers can actually listen in on an agents call in real time as its happening, many times without alerting either the agent or the customer calling in. Managers can have an on hands approach and track their agents work, without ever stepping foot in the office.
4. Foster a Community and Collaboration
Agents that have face-to-face time with the rest of the team could feel a bit of a disconnect between their work, and the culture and community at the office. However, thanks to the vast number of collaboration and communication tools available, contact centers can establish social media communities and help agents stay connected through communication tools. If your contact center utilizes Slack, requiring your remote agents to sign up and join relevant Slack rooms will help keep them in the loop, and provide a method of communication to coworkers, general team chat rooms, and managers directly. If your agents are somewhat local to your office location, another option could be to hold monthly or bi-weekly in house meetings – however center them around a fun event or team building exercise, so these aren’t the most dreaded days of the month.
Equip Yourself With The Best Tools
There are a wide range of must have features included with contact center software, many of which are even specifically tailored to managing remote workers.
- Call Monitoring
Call monitoring tools make it possible for managers take stay on top of their agents, despite working in separate locations. Managers can train agents virtually, drop in on live calls, or even provide silent coaching to the agents through a chat based conversation to help ensure your agents are providing a consistent level of service.
- Comprehensive Analytics
With call logs, managers can take a peek into the wealth of data contact center solutions provide such as when, how long and how many calls agents are making. These tools also allow managers to see when agents are logged in, if they are idle and how long they have remained so, their current call status and if they flag themselves as unavailable to take another call. As mentioned before, some tools can even provide ratings or grades for calls and agents and provide graphs or outlines of activity.
- Remote Access and Screen Sharing
For even more in depth monitoring, some contact center solutions allow for remote access and screen sharing of an agent’s computer right to a manager’s desktop. What better way to see what your agents are up to, then well to actually see their screen and what they’re up to? Remote access and screen sharing acts as the virtual counter-part to taking a stroll through the office and keeping a watchful eye over agent’s activity.
- Workforce Management Tools
A complete schedule is key to keeping your agents on task during the day. Sophisticated workforce management tools make it simple to build schedules that adhere to agent availability, manage call flow and call volume based on the number of agents available, and help maintain a flexible workforce.
- Post Call Customer Surveys
Some of the monitoring and analysis of your agents will actually be done after the fact, with post call customer surveys. Made possible through contact center software, these surveys give callers a chance to rate their interaction and levels of satisfaction to help managers better understand and receive feedback on their agent’s performance.
- Real-Time Supervisor Dashboard
While many of the solutions listed like call logs and reports are seen after the fact, real-time supervisor dashboards make it easy to monitor your agent’s activity in just that – real-time. IF an agent is a call, managers can take a peek to see all of the relevant information, and from here call barging and silent coaching can be made possible.
- Quality Assurance and Compliance Features
Stay on top of your agents, enhance security in the network and comply with any regulations with the ability to record calls, encrypt your communications and adhere to any government regulations put in place, depending on the industry your contact center operates in.
- Automatic Dialers
Thanks to powerful automatic dialers – such as preview, progressive, power and predictive dialers – managers can easily cut down on remote agent down time by ensuring a steady stream of calls. With automatic dialers, especially predictive dialers, agents should have another call ready to go as soon as or shortly after ending their latest – your agents will never be this productive and efficient on their own.
Remote contact center agents are a great way to boost productivity, cut costs and maintain a fully staffed team with highly skilled employees. While there are a few concerns that arise when agents work remotely, with proper managerial techniques, and through leveraging the full power and extensive list of robust features of contact center software solutions, any of these concerns can easily be mitigated if not fully removed. Remote agents are a great addition to any contact center arsenal, and can help ensure not only a high quality of service, but help make 24/7 customer service a reality – all while keeping costs as low as possible.