Call center agent with cancer is glad she can work from home during COVID-19, while she is immuno-compromised.

How, when and if your call center agents should return to the office

After a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment, a NICE employee’s daughter knew she needed to work from home especially during COVID-19. She felt fortunate to have found employment with a call center after undergoing multiple rounds of treatment that resulted in a period of unemployment.  Now she was worried about calling in sick or facing the alternative of going to work immuno-compromised.

Fortunately, her employer presented a better option. The company, a NICE CXone customer, purchased 1,000 Chrome Books and sent employees home. Within 48 hours, she was logged in from home in front of her MAX agent receiving call center calls from her cell phone. Call center agents fearing for their safety and financial security isn’t a new story; fortunately, happy endings like this one are.

Businesses are successfully maintaining continuity, customer satisfaction and agent security – even in the face of this unexpected ongoing pandemic. We’ve compiled key pieces of advice and tips to help you plan from what they’ve found successful and what’s next for them. You’ll see a consistent theme: the companies who’ve most successfully transitioned are those that prioritize people, both agents and customers.   

“Communicate even more than you think you need to.”

211 LA County teamed up with Expivia, a US based outsourcer, on hiring, training, and deploying supplemental staff to handle skyrocketing call volumes in less than a week. So, what was the key to the ongoing success of this operation?  Ensuring teamwork and communications across business and, most importantly, with their employees – who are suddenly experiencing heightened stress and lack of engagement with their peers. 

Hear from Amy Latzer, COO of 211-LA County and Tom Laird, CEO of Expivia, on how they leveraged their existing technology and put a plan in place. In this 4-minute video, Amy and Tom share how they ensured that agents were engaged, and supervisors had the right guidance to be successful.

Focus on customer excellence and employee experience

For the first time in quite a while, many businesses have found themselves more focused on boosting their agent experience than their customer experience.  As a global outsourcer, Alphanumeric had to move 75% of their staff home (25% were already there) and did it in 1 day!  Being the business of supporting other businesses didn’t leave much wiggle room, but also meant that they had to keep in mind what they thrive on – delivering an excellent customer experience.  Hear from Jay Baucom, Senior VP of Global Operations and CIO of Alphanumeric as he shares their story and some insights on digital transformation. 

People first!  Recognize new needs and preferences

Employees need to feel supported, and customers need to feel connected.  That’s a tough balance to strike in the last few months. But not for Coast Capital Savings out of Canada who went from physical branches and a brick and mortar contact center to work from home in the blink of an eye … with a push for digital as face-to-face banking went by the wayside.   All the while though, their first focus was on their people. Protecting them and their well-being.  Hear from Chad Vestergaard, VP of the Advice Center, and Jorge Suarez, Sr. Solutions Architect about meeting the new challenges of a distributed workforce, their plans moving forward, and how they were able to prioritize their people and members during their pandemic response. 

Plan, and practice execution of your plan to ensure all the pieces are in place

United Way of Connecticut had a plan in place for their 211 practices, but to for their other departments, while the need for a plan was recognized, a day or two disaster wasn’t as impactful.  COVID-19 changed things.  United Way set up and trained agents across  three call centers  in a matter of days, transitioning from premises based legacy solutions to the cloud and work from home.   Hear best practice tips from United Way of Connecticut’s Leo Pellerin, Chief Information Officer and Jesse Blakeslee, IT Director  as they relate to their story of business continuity planning.

Ensure technology “just works” for all scenarios

Among the many customers I’ve spoken with recently, there’s one thing they seem to agree on: No one wants to worry about their technology when they need to worry about their business! 

ECSI, a student loan servicer and credit card payment processor, was hit twice as hard.  Not only did their agents need to get home in a matter of hours (which they did) they had to think about back office processes.  Technology is more than the phone – with federal government and billing, this was a business still running on paper.  Due to clientele, there has been a recent push for new ways to communicate (ie chat vs call) and it was time to have an option besides mailing or faxing documents.  Customers needed to do these things online from their homes.  Hear from Mike Bowman, Director of Service Operations, at ECSI about the importance of dependable technology.  

Is the ‘new normal’ just temporary?  

So, when is the time right to return to the office?  Or should we? I took the opportunity while speaking to an agent the other day to ask about their situation.  They expressed concern about going back to the office.  Would it be required?  When?  What will be the criteria?  Would they be safe?  Unfortunately, this agent was not well informed of her company’s plan, if one existed.  Uncertainty is real at every level; it has just shifted now to considerations for if (or when) agents should (or will) be required to return to an office setting.

With many companies reporting employees who were impacted or vulnerable, we can never be too careful.  Every company is going to have their own plan and definition of a new normal.  One theme that seems to run through it all is that there is no benefit that outweighs the cost of not protecting your people.   Do yourself a favor, connect with your peers to come up with alternatives, and inform your staff … To quote Tom Laird, “communicate more than you think you need to!”

Still not sure what to expect post-pandemic? Register for our upcoming webinar, From Contact Tracing to Remote Agents: A Post Pandemic Guide.