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Customer Demand Isn’t Declining: Here’s How to Keep Up


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It’s been a year since we sent almost all contact center customer service representatives (CSRs) to work from home (WFH). Yet, it’s estimated that only 52% of the CSRs today are—which is still a surprisingly low amount considering that most of the “white collar” workforce (sales, marketing, finance, IT, and human resources (HR) employees in most organizations in North America are remote.
Minnesota workers who can WFH are being told to stay put through what’s called the “Peacetime Emergency” – a term I learned from my close friend and vice president of a retail contact center headquarters in Minneapolis. However, with the critical need to keep up with customer queries and demands, many CSRs prefer the office for various reasons. Customer demand hasn't slowed in many of the organizations I work with (insurance, travel, retail, IT, fast food, delivery services, government departments); rather, it has remained constant or, in many cases, has exploded across all channels.
Many CSRs would like the option to WFH, but circumstances beyond their control frequently prevent them from doing so, such as:
  • No direct connection to Internet; Wi-Fi isn’t stable and robust enough for “always-on, always up” requirements
  • Poor bandwidth and stable Internet connectivity, in general, is awkward, yet even more so as a customer is interacting with a CSR and the choppy bandwidth, inability to do X (fill in the blank) because the workflow or procedures weren’t adapted for the post-COVID-19 world. Meanwhile, the CSR takes all the heat for poor execution.

After 14 months customers no longer accept excuses. Most organizations should have had their remote strategy and infrastructure worked out by August 2020. It was surprising how unstructured CSRs were after six months of WFH (and still are) today.

  • Lack of IT support for remote workers. Most CSRs aren’t router savvy, familiar with security, or even IP knowledgeable.
  • Poor or inconsistent power due to weather issues that have afflicted much of the southern U.S. (for months now), is occurring more often; CSR homes aren’t usually equipped with a generator as our office locations were.
  • Lack of a proper workspace, keyboards, screens, lighting, and noise-canceling headsets all contribute to CSR frustrations.

I have always been an advocate for organizations that allow CSRs to WFH for the following reasons:

  • CSRs are usually the lowest-paid workers in most organizations; the ability to work remotely can help them save on things like commuting, time and travel costs, meals, clothing, daycare, etc., all add up to potential savings for our low-wage earning CSRs. For example, in Toronto, the GO Train from the suburb of Pickering to downtown is C$8.00 each way or $16.00 round trip times five days in a month which equals C$80 week. Multiply that by 49 weeks and you’re spending $3,920 of after-tax dollars annually just to ride the train. If a person drives to the station, further costs are added. The ability to WFH, even part-time, allows a CSR to reap financial rewards.
  • CSRs for the most part are constantly connected with customers through voice, email, and other modes of communication. The ability to get up and stretch during breaks or lunches, go for a walk in the neighbourhood, put in some laundry or sit outside with a coffee on their deck or balcony, are little comforts that aren’t usually available in the office setting to the same extent. Also, eating at home is often more reasonable (and cheaper) than dining at the office.
  • CSRs are measured and held accountable for their “productivity” than most other employees. For over 40 years, we've had an endless list of metrics with contact center technologies, and the list keeps growing:
AHT (average handle time per contact type)
ACW (average after contact work)
Available percentage
Adherence to schedule
Quality Scores on every contact is now possible in addition to Sentiment analysis– not just for the caller sentiment but also the CSR response
Customer satisfaction scores related to the agent
Productivity Metrics: sales quotas, tickets closed, conversion rate, etc.
We have always measured a CSR’s productivity and quality of work. However, that data is now more readily available in real-time and in any shape or form that we require. As I always say when I am working with CSRs, “You have nothing to fear when working in a contact center, the data shows the value you add to the organization and how hard you’re working.” I also always say, “CSRs are our most expensive resource and the most valuable—we must use their skills wisely and efficiently."
It’s interesting to me that many non-contact center employees are getting their feathers ruffled when UCaaS applications, such as Microsoft Teams Productivity Score, for example, are being used to measure and analyze employee engagement, causing many concerns to be raised with HR. Again, in a contact center, this is old news – as mentioned above – we measure everything, so this idea is only now spreading to other employee roles; when one is doing their work and contributing, the metrics will reveal that.
In this Venture Beat article about remote work, I read a comment that made me chuckle, “democratization of remote work will trigger a massive shift in talent acquisition and recruiting, which newly remote organizations must master.” That may be true when it comes to attracting top sales, marketing, or IT talent—yet the CSR position in most organizations is still viewed as the foot in the door, not the pinnacle to reach. If more CSRs had the option to work from home, either part-time, full-time, or in a hybrid model, and were provided the same tools that they have in the office, then maybe I would agree with that statement.
In my experience, many companies have paid lip service to provide their CSRs with a better WFH environment, but many have fallen short in quite a few areas. I’m still hopeful that organizations that invested in a great in-office work environment and at home will speak out for our huge CSR labor force and begin to discuss the benefits they reap when truly creating a great environment for our CSRs to succeed in. That will also bring about positive customer service experiences that enable businesses to prosper. As noted in a webinar with Call Miner and Nice inContact CX titled Megatrends for 2021, “80% of consumers said they will stay loyal to the brands that provided good customer experience during the pandemic.” There's a link between engaged, happy CSRs and the service they provide, making the return on investment clear.

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"SCTC Perspective" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC), an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.