Empowered and engaged work-at-home agents drive effective virtual contact center operations.

Contact center operations are increasingly virtualized, with a solid majority of global businesses shifting from on-premises operations to cloud-based platforms staffed by work-from-home agents. According to research from IDG, 62.4 percent of global enterprises now use virtual contact centers.

The transition from traditional onsite contact centers delivers proven cost and operational benefits. Shifting infrastructure to the cloud eliminates the need for purchasing, maintaining and upgrading hardware. From a staffing standpoint, the decentralized approach gives organizations access to a broader talent pool and makes it easier to support international “follow the sun” operations that require 24×7 staffing.

The virtual contact center is not without difficulties, however. Supervising a large staff of remote workers can be particularly challenging. Because the job can be isolating, tedious and repetitive, morale and motivation can be issues for contact center agents. The average turnover rate for contact center agents in the U.S. is more than double the overall rate for all occupations, according to research from The Quality Assurance & Training Connection.

Fortunately, there are a number of steps organizations can take to ensure that at-home agents don’t feel isolated by the lack of physical proximity to headquarters and managers. Here are some strategies to help keep agents happy, motivated and productive.

Foster communication. Frequent phone calls, emails and text messages are essential for keeping remote agents in the loop. Impromptu conversations with coworkers are also important for creating a team atmosphere. Collaboration tools are extremely helpful for conducting team meetings and encouraging teamwork. These tools are also essential for conducting ongoing training exercises and encouraging team feedback.

Conduct continuous training. Cloud-based contact center platforms typically feature live monitoring and call recording modules that enable consistent evaluation and real-time training. For example, integrated desktop sharing software and instant messaging apps allow agents to collaborate on calls or seek guidance from a supervisor if necessary. Supervisors can silently monitor calls and prompt the agent to deliver appropriate responses.  

Optimize staffing and scheduling. Workforce Optimization (WFO) software is a portfolio of tightly integrated solutions designed to improve efficiency and productivity. WFO tools can analyze agent and call data to give managers a better picture of call volume forecasts so they can schedule agents accordingly. Quality management and performance management modules within WFO software help supervisors evaluate agent performance and understand where additional training would be useful.

Provide tools and support. Network and computer issues can leave remote workers dead in the water. Organizations must ensure they have both the technology tools they need and proper support from the IT team. In addition to a PC or laptop and a reliable Internet connection, remote workers need strong collaboration tools and trusted access to applications and data. In addition, the organization needs to ensure that it has enough bandwidth to support remote users with strong security and solid help desk support.

Up your game. Agent satisfaction has a direct impact on operations — when agents aren’t happy, turnover and absenteeism become problems. Gamification is a great way to keep agents engaged and motivated. Gamification solutions can help promote a fun, competitive atmosphere in which agents are encouraged to compete for prizes and rewards by meeting or surpassing key metrics. Microsoft reports that its contact center productivity increased by 10 percent and absenteeism dropped by 12 percent almost immediately after implementing a gamification program.  Additionally, the company experienced slight increases in customer satisfaction scores and average order value.

A virtual contact center with remote agents can produce fantastic benefits if properly managed.  According to a McKinsey study, agents who say they are engaged and satisfied with their work are four times more like to stay at the company, 16 times more like to refer friends to the company and 3.3 times more likely to feel empowered to resolve customer issues. Realizing those benefits requires a hands-on management approach designed to keep agents motivated, engaged and happy.