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The Rise of the Barefoot Agent
- Technology: This involves both the phone system, applications (apps), and databases that agents utilize to perform their job. For most of the contact center history, both of these had distance limitations. Remote agents have been technically possible for some time, but it usually comes with many special considerations. Setting up an at-office contact center is well understood.
- Supervision: The word says it all. ‘Super’ means very good or excellent, and vision means the faculty or state of being able to see. Like many other job roles, supervision has been performed by visually surveying employees. Additionally, contact center staff often rely on lights or scoreboards that display performance and metric information. Call center headsets frequently are designed with extra ports so that a supervisor can physically plug into a conversation.
- Assistance: The need for this is so common that we often describe agents or call flows in terms of tiers. The first tier handles the most common or routine inquiries, and agents either seek assistance or transfer the more complex inquiries to more specialized staff. Agents require various specialists, often co-located nearby.
For safety and legal reasons related to COVID-19, many of these contact center locations have closed. It’s a global pandemic, so sending calls to other call centers or providers hasn’t been a reliable option either. Instead, many organizations have suddenly implemented agent-at-home technologies and policies. It’s worked well - presumably better than expected. In 2020, at-home agent technology is ready.
- Technology: this now enables distributed agents, which includes basic VoIP technologies as well as access to applications and databases either through VDI or a browser. Additionally, the required devices are less complex and have dropped in price. Instead of a separate workstation and phone, both can be combined into a single Chromebook, tablet, or basic laptop. USB headsets are also universal and less expensive than traditional analog models.
- Supervision: The practice of contact center management by walking around has been disappearing for years. Supervisors can learn more from watching real-time dashboards. Contact center agents are among the most analyzed and measured workers in the modern enterprise. We can see how many calls are processed as well as their outcomes — in real-time. AI-powered technologies can assess, in real-time, valuable stats such as sentiment and customer satisfaction. Speech analytics can detect if the caller or agent is speaking too quickly or too loudly — they can even detect inappropriate sounds such as a dog barking.
- Assistance: The need for support remains, but has little to do with the location of the agent or the experts. Messaging apps, such as Webex Teams, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, are working their way into contact centers to find experts that can assist agents via phone or voice — across cities, states, and countries. We are also seeing powerful agent assistance tools such as Google CCAI. Here, machine algorithms that monitor the conversation (voice or text) and suggest information to assist the agent.
- The office is a terrible place to work: It’s filled with germs and distractions. If you want to get anything done, stay home.
- The gig economy: Traditional work-schedules makes no sense. Eight-hour shifts are too long, and if everyone has the same off-hours and weekends, it’s really hard to get things done outside of work. There’s always a need for full-time workers, but contact centers, in particular, can benefit from the gig economy. Uber showed us the power of a non-traditional workforce. Full-time students and stay-at-home moms that have a few hours a day or week to be productive are examples of the gig economy. Gig workers want shorter hours, and without the overhead of commuting and other going-to-the-office tasks can do so efficiently.
- Customers are remote: Regardless of intent, we can only work where the work is. For example, an assembly line worker can’t work from home. Firstline workers need to work where the product or service is delivered. Contact center agents have been coming to work to help customers that aren’t at the office.