The evolution of cloud-based communication and collaboration technologies has had a profound effect on contact centers, enabling organizations to reduce the cost and complexity involved with running on-premises operations. According to research from IDG, more than 60 percent of global enterprises now operate cloud-based virtual contact centers.
Virtual contact centers have also altered staffing models, allowing work-from-home agents to operate remotely from multiple physical locations. This decentralized approach makes it easier to support international “follow the sun” operations that require 24×7 staffing. Because proximity to the office is a non-factor, organizations have access to a broader talent pool.
Although working from home sounds like a dream job to a lot of folks, it can present some unique challenges for contact center agents. Because the work can be tedious and repetitive, morale and motivation can become issues. The absence of coworker camaraderie can also leave home-based agents feeling isolated and abandoned.
Keeping remote agents happy, motivated and productive requires a new management style. In the traditional on-premises contact center with hundreds of agents operating from the same facility, it is much easier for a manager to actively coach, encourage and motivate individuals. While managers obviously can’t visit remote agents in their homes, they still must make regular communication a top priority.
Keeping in Touch
Fortunately, the very communication technologies that enable a remote workforce make it possible to engage remote employees using multiple channels. Frequent phone calls, emails and text messages help keep remote agents in the loop. Managers can also use video conferencing for face-to-face communication.
Impromptu conversations with coworkers are also important for creating a team atmosphere. Collaboration tools such as Skype and WebEx are extremely helpful for conducting team meetings and encouraging teamwork. These tools are also essential for conducting ongoing training exercises and encouraging team feedback.
Ongoing training has always been critical for agent development, but that no longer requires in-person classes. Cloud-based contact center platforms typically feature live monitoring and call recording modules that enable consistent evaluation and real-time training. 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.
Building a Team
Gamification is another great technique for team-building and motivating agents. Games and contests 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.
The most important thing a manager can do to ensure effective remote operations is to provide agents with the tools and support they need to do their jobs. In addition to a PC or laptop and a reliable Internet connection, remote workers need strong collaboration tools, trusted access to applications and data, and solid help desk support.
Although remote agents are physically separated from the company, effective communication and collaboration can create a team culture that makes them feel more connected to the business and their work. Managers who focus on these elements can help their agents feel valued and respected, which will translate to a greater sense of loyalty to the company.