Call center agent works from home and occupies children at the same time.

3 Essentials For Making the Work From Home Call Center Work For You

After spending the last couple of crazy months executing all of our contact center business continuity plans in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, let’s pause for a moment to reflect on what’s next for the work from home call center.  Our CEO Paul Jarman has a saying that he’s used often these days and I think it applies broadly to any business or contact center leader when thinking about how to manage through this uncertainty: “we’re going to be short-term realistic and long-term optimistic.”

In the near-term this means transforming your customer service operation to a virtual contact center with 100% work-from-home (WFH) agents.

Rough estimates are that about

  • 50% of call centers are now fully work-from-home
  • 30% of organizations have at least some of their agents working remotely
  • 20% are unable to move any of their call center agents to a work-from-home model

These estimates are based on polling from our recent work from home best practices virtual eventthat had over 1,000 live attendees.  If you still have call center agents who are not able to work-from-home-yet, we can help get them safely and productively home in 48-hours with our no-charge CXone@home offer.

Now I’m going to “get real” with you about something that most of you already know: work-from-home call center practices for most organizations are being defined and re-defined on the fly.  Our polling also showed that while work-from-home was part of your business continuity planning, most contact centers had no experience with it in practice.  Only 10% of contact centers had well defined WFH processes and significant numbers of remote agents, while half had zero experience with work-from-home call center agents. 

While all those pretty wallboards collect dust, 1:1 meeting rooms sit empty, and the big breakroom for team celebrations has gone quiet; you still need to train, evaluate, coach, and motivate your teams to deliver outstanding customer experience (CX).  And we need to do all of this with personal challenges in our home offices.  My four-year-old daughter (adorably) video bombed one of my meetings just yesterday. Chris Bauserman conducts a video conference call from home and his daughter says hello in the background.

Fortunately, there are many advantages to supporting remote or virtual agents and the work-from-home contact center may live on after the COVID-19 forced lockdowns are far behind us.  That’s because when done right, virtual call centers with remote agents work well and provide significant benefits to customer experience, agent experience and retention, and overall cost of service.  Work-from-home contact center agents are 57% more likely to recommend their employer (eNPS)than those working out of a physical call center and WFH agents have an 80% better retention rate according to a recent ICMI benchmark study on agent experience.

So whether WFH is a (fingers-crossed) short term mandate or part of a longer term trend to embrace, now is the time to get serious about how to optimize your customer service operations to meet or exceed the customer experience and productivity that you recently delivered from an office setting.  This blog is the first in a NICE series on how you can deliver great CX and maintain team productivity and safety while working from home.  Future blogs will dig into more detail for each of these three essential elements to get right – so you can make the work-from-home call center work well for your agents, customers, and budget. Look out for them every week beginning now through the end of June 2020.

1. First Things First: Keep Agents Safe and Customers Satisfied

As I mentioned above, all contact centers have rushed to find ways to move agents to work-from-home.  Many have all or most of their agents now working remotely.  Some of you are still looking for answers to get your agents home.  However, even amongst the contact centers who have moved to work-from-home, much of the technology used was never designed for remote work beyond a “snow day here and there”.

Cover image of work from home checklist.Excessive IT help desk time, lots of add-on costs like VPN access, and other complexities are putting a strain on sustained operations from home.  Contact centers need to look at building a solid foundation for a work-from-home call center model that addresses technology needs, work environment specifics like security and reliability, as well as special considerations for global and multi-site operations. Cloud contact center technology is purpose built to not only route and deliver calls and digital interactions to remote agents, but it is also optimized to drive remote agent engagement, performance, and productivity. We’ve created a remote contact center agent best practices checklistthat you can use to identify considerations you might have missed.

Crucially, the same study that showed a high remote agent eNPS, found that 71% of call center managers say the shift to work-from-home had a significant impact on customers.

2. What now? Time to Restore Team Productivity and Performance

As agents move to a work-from-home model, it is important to replicate and restore team engagement and morale. Helping agents, getting them engaged, productive and delivering the stellar CSAT you had before everyone rushed home is critical. This involves new ways of engaging and boosting the morale of your agents to create employee development, camaraderie, collaboration, and performance when you can no longer rely in leaning over their shoulders or using wallboards in the office. Also, this involves lining up processes and tools for a newly remote workforce to plan, forecast, schedule, and frequently reschedule to handle a very dynamic environment. 

You’ve also likely needed to substantially re-skill your agents due to changes in inbound contact volume, customer channel preferences, and a number of new or temporary agents.  This means that you’ll need more collaborative and personalized remote training, automated quality evaluations, and targeted coaching that can help agents to better handle current customer needs.

Don’t just take it from me.  Hear best practices advice on work-from-home contact centers from a leader at Frontline.

3. Balancing the Budget: Cut Costs Quickly and Responsibly

Contact Center KPI Benchmark Tool compares contact centers to industry peers. With the sharp economic shock from COVID-19 felt around the world, there is a growing need for contact centers to quickly adapt to near-term budget cuts and efficiency goals. And, when it comes to handling this crisis, each industry has its own unique set of challenges. Healthcare and government are now looking to dramatically scale up operations in many cases, while in-person retail and hospitality are taking a clear hit. Understanding the levers to cut costs, aligned to your business situation is critical as contact center leaders plan for fast approaches to saving costs. Our contact center cost reduction toolkit and online KPI benchmark comparison assessmentcan help you identify the right places to cut – and not cut – contact center costs, depending on how the COVID-19 economic hit is affecting your industry and company.

Also, while the need to cost cuts might be immediate, it is important to have a future vision and balance short term vs long term ROI.  There has never been a better time to move your call center technology to an agile cloud platform.  Not only can this modernization save you significant money over the long-run, you can also get a payback within 3-months and pocket those savings in this year’s budget.

Moving to a cloud platform that keeps you agile is easier than you may think

To address the ongoing challenges of operating an agile and work-from-home call center, NICE has recently introduced CXone@home to enable the safe transition of contact center agents to work from home within 48 hours, for organizations of all sizes and verticals. It is powered by the market leading CXone cloud contact center platform and is offered at no charge for 60 days.  Purpose built for remote workforces, CXone@home also includes a complete suite of workforce engagement and optimization (WFO) capabilities – including quality and coaching with analytics, performance management, and workforce forecasting and scheduling – to ensure agents and managers are productive while working from home.  Even moving thousands of agents to CXone can be done in hours, as seen in this video where we’ve been able to help government agencies in their business continuity planning and emergency response.

We’ve all been working through previously unimaginable challenges over the last couple of months.   However, like our CEO Paul Jarman, let’s all stay long-term optimistic. Contact us if there is anything we can do to help your work from home call center be successful.