contact center agent remains productive while working from home

By the Numbers, Keys to Restoring Team Productivity

Last week, I noticed headlines announcing yet another business that’s decided it “won’t reopen half its offices after pandemic, amid restructuring and work-from-home success”.  Maybe that’s not so shocking, though, considering that work-from-home contact center agents have an 80% better retention rate than those working out of a physical call center (according to a recent ICMI benchmark study on agent experience).

In part 3 of our continuing blog series, we’re  looking at workforce management in the ‘work from home’ call center.  ICYMI, part 1 has you covered with 3 essentials for making the work from home call center work for you.  In part 2, Bill Yackey talks all about foundational readiness and business continuity.

We’ve found that about half of contact centers have now transitioned to WFH and 30% of organizations now have at least some of their agents working remotely.  That’s pretty amazing, considering only 10% of contact centers had well defined WFH processes and significant numbers of remote agents, while 50% had no experience at all with managing a work-from-home workforce. 

There are many reasons for companies to transition to a work-from-home model – ranging from response to a health crisis or natural disaster, to adapting their business model amid market disruption.  During a pandemic response, the ability to react quickly to keep agents safe, and customers satisfied, is even more critical.  (This WFH Agent white paper discusses benefits and options for adopting a home-based agent model.)

Many factors contribute to the desire for businesses to invest in a work-at-home program including higher agent productivity, reduced attrition, broader talent pool, lower operational costs, and response preparedness.  Regardless of the reason for the shift, there are challenges and benefits that can be realized with a work-from-home model.

From the comfort of their own homes, agents can experience reduced stress and increased flexibility, and find relief and security from long commutes or disruptions to local infrastructure caused by a crisis or natural disaster. Meanwhile, employers can reap the benefits of lower overhead costs while reaching a larger pool of qualified job applicants and creating an attractive work-life balance for employees.

While making the move to work-from-home can reap many benefits for employees and organizations alike, it does come with its challenges. Read on for specific tips and best practices for workforce management in a remote contact center.

By the numbers: Workforce management for remote contact centers

1. Be consistent

The more things change, the more they (should) stay the same. Setting up the contact center for work-from-home success follows a simple premise: All things should operate as if employees were working in a brick-and-mortar contact center. That means as much as possible, agents should leverage the same technology, follow the same processes, and deliver the same level of customer support.

To enable business as usual, employees need to be able to use critical business technology. This includes the ability to not only access the contact center software used for routing and handling customer interactions—both voice and digital—but also the ability to access all workforce management (WFM) capabilities as well.

For agents this means the ability to see their schedules, bid for shifts and request time off virtually from any location. For supervisors and workforce managers, this also means the ability to generate forecasts, manage schedules and intraday activities, and run relevant WFM reports from home. If your contact center still uses any manual or paper processes—for example, printing copies of schedules or submitting agent time-off via request slips—you’ll want to define electronic processes before making the transition.

Hear Ryan Olson of Trupanion share how their organization moved nearly 900 employees home in less than 72 hours, all while ensuring that their member experience remained a priority.

 

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

2. You need to forecast early – and often!

In times of crisis or during periods of extreme flux, call patterns may be changing by the day, or even the hour. Reforecast often to ensure that your forecasts are aligned with your actual staffing needs. Be sure you are aware of any potential changes in contact volume or channel strategy that can have an impact on staffing needs. For example, to help mitigate potential increased strain on agents, your organization may more proactively promote self-service options to customers during these times. Your workforce management software needs to be able to learn from any new customer demand profile and factoring in the latest strategy will improve future forecast periods.

As contact centers deploy remote workers, they often focus first on catering to their immediate demand channels, such as voice or chat. However, don’t overlook the importance of also managing deferred demand, such as email, social media, or even fax or back-office requests, as ineffective support on these channels can drive increased call volume into the contact center.

3. Do what you can to be more flexible with schedules.

Working from home should increase the contact center’s ability to make more extreme changes to schedules, should the need arise. Being at home—aka their workplace —can give agents more flexibility to respond to schedule changes or capitalize on opportunities to take on more hours.

Increasing your ability to respond to extreme changes in scheduling needs will require you to adopt a mindset of flexibility—and the tools and policies to support that mindset. If you don’t already have schedule change policies enabled, do so, and ensure that your workforce management software offers rules that help you manage this process so you can allow changes in real time from managers and/or agents. “What If” analyses on schedules and customer demand enable senior stakeholders to model the impact on the business for the foreseeable period and take appropriate actions to mitigate the risk.

Tactics you need to consider for increasing schedule flexibility

  • Block and split-shift scheduling: These scheduling techniques enable your agents to work the same number of hours, but with longer (unpaid) breaks throughout the day, all within coverage and SLA goals performed by schedule simulations. (For example, a traditional 8-hour shift can be broken up into two four-hour blocks or splits with a one- or two-hour break between them.) Many agents are open to this approach given that they don’t have to drive to and from the contact center, and it frees up time during the day to take care of personal and family priorities. This scheduling technique can also enable contact centers to better meet the needs at higher peak times than traditional shift scheduling approaches.
  • Availability points: Capturing all your agents’ most current availability points will help ensure coverage of all business needs. You might be surprised by the time slots people are willing to work. Set up business rules to make sure you get the coverage you need while allowing agents to enter windows of time that they are—and are not—available to work. Availability points can be particularly helpful for organizations in emergency or public health sectors that want to identify people who are willing to volunteer to take extra shifts during times of crisis.
  • Shorter shifts: You can use a bidding system to support shorter shifts at home. You can also use shorter shifts to eliminate breaks and lunches and ensure coverage.
  • Adds, moves and changes: Validate the process used for adds, moves and changes—virtually, compared to work at home.
  • A phased approach: Flexible schedules don’t have to be an all-or-nothing initiative. Under most circumstances, contact enters can start small, offering flexibility to top performers or smaller groups of volunteers initially. This allows them to ease into a flexible model to ensure schedule integrity.

4. Be ready to turn on a dime: Use intraday tools to respond to changing conditions in real time.

The ability to use intraday reports and optimize resources throughout the day will be vital, as customer demand may differ during this period. Intuitive intraday change management tools enable supervisors to monitor and proactively respond to changing conditions in real time. They allow the contact center to reevaluate needs based on the current day’s volume, average handle time and service levels, not on a forecast that was created days, weeks or months ago when the business needs and customer demand looked markedly different. In doing so, these tools eliminate the intraday stress of ensuring that agent resources are optimally aligned with customer demand by identifying solutions to address staffing gaps and enabling managers to proactively adjust agent schedules and manage communication.

While real-time adherence is important in a physical contact center, the ability to monitor real-time adherence is arguably even more important in a work-from-home model. No longer can workforce managers and supervisors rely on a glance around the contact center floor to ensure agents are where they are supposed to be, when they are supposed to be there. Monitoring adherence in real time provides visibility into whether an agent is stuck on a call when they should be at lunch, for example, or if an agent is late to return from break.

Transitioning to a remote workforce? 4 considerations for your KPIs

  • Current Service Level Agreements (SLA), Average Handle Time (AHT), hold time and other KPIs may need to be revised and agreed to. You’ll see some initial volatility with these metrics; this should flatten after an adjustment period.
  • Measure schedule adherence more closely to ensure that there’s not a drop-off due to distractions not normally present in an office environment, such as children who are at home.
  • Monitor attrition and shrinkage closely
    • Attrition: It’s likely that many of the agents you just sent home came to work for your company because of the office environment. In the long term, this may not be a viable solution for everyone. Get ahead of this and look for ways to capitalize on new hire training and recruiting.
    • Shrinkage: In times of increased uncertainty or after a change in work model, it’s not uncommon to see 30 to 40% increases in staff shrinkage. But the increased agent flexibility with a remote model may help mitigate callouts as well. So, be sure to monitor and adjust your staffing parameters to factor in potential changes in shrinkage.
  • Capacity planning - Before a shift to remote work, you might have been planning for seat capacity, while now you may be helping IT track load-balancing and VPN licensing.

A work-from-home program, done right, offers a multitude of benefits to both employers and employees. As agents move to a work-from-home model, it is important to replicate and restore team engagement and morale and ensure accurate forecasting and scheduling to maintain SLAs and deliver exceptional customer experiences. Organizations can help keep their agents safe and give them an unsurpassed level of flexibility—no commute required—while contact centers reap rewards that can include reduced real estate costs, lower labor expenses, greater employee retention or simply compliance with local or national mandates.

Going Mobile: Building a Remote Contact Center Workforce

As you move to a remote workforce, I invite you to learn some new tips, tools and methodologies for running a world class contact center with a remote workforce. In this webinar, Jill Blankenship, CEO of Frontline Call Center addresses how her organization leverages technology to capture data, measure and improve KPIs and create comradery amongst agents while they work at home. In this webinar, Jill shares proven hiring, productivity and training/coaching processes for maximizing remote agent and employee success.

Watch now: Click here to watch the webinar on-demand

 

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