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Overcoming Remote Contact Center Agent Challenges

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Contact center agent working from home
Image: fizkes - stock.adobe.com
Much of the overall success of contact centers’ shift to work-at-home (WFH) agents has been attributed to improvements in contact center-as-a-service (CCaaS) features and better agent desktop software and CRM integrations. The biggest challenge, for many contact centers, has been in the physical relocation itself, and the impact this shift has had on agents and managers.
 
That was the message from Chris Bauserman, VP product and segment marketing at NICE inContact, in a webinar that took place last week as part of Enterprise Connect’s Virtual Bootcamp, an online program featuring two weeks of webinars and additional content, all focused on enterprises’ pandemic response.
 
In general, the news on agents and supervisors was mixed — workers liked the shift, while managers had concerns. Among companies that didn’t have agents working from home before, a NICE inContact survey found that 57% of at-home agents would endorse their enterprise as an employer based on how they handled the transition, Bauserman said. However, the situation seems to have been more challenging for managers. That same NICE inContact survey found 71% of managers believed the rush to home-based agents had a significant impact on customer experience.
 
Drilling down, the challenge stemmed from contact center agents not being properly equipped at home, according to Bauserman. The NICE inContact survey found 60% of contact centers have “major barriers to full and productive work-from-home.” These fell into three main areas:
  • Infrastructure doesn’t support [call quality]
  • Agent devices/config are costly, error-prone, and a help desk burden
  • Incomplete tools and processes
Most contact centers did have contingency plans for agents to work from home, but most of those “were built for a snow day,” rather than a long-term relocation, Bauserman noted. Contact centers that didn’t already have a significant WFH agent population tended to rely on the physical attributes of the agent facility. “All those beautiful wall boards you may have, LED screens in the contact center, aren’t working for you” once agents move remote. Then there’s the ability for more immediate, “over-the-shoulder” supervising. “A lot of those gaps, just in terms of tools and processes, exist throughout many contact centers,” Bauserman said.
 
NICE inContact’s recommendations for overcoming these obstacles break down into the following steps:
  • Establish the Foundation — This involves assessing network capacity and understanding gaps, to overcome the infrastructure obstacles. It also includes reviewing devices agents need to work from home, and ensuring flexibility for revising hours of operation and IVR scripts
  • Adapt Your Scheduling — NICE inContact research found that 92% of contact centers have seen increased interaction volume, which means managers must adapt agent scheduling to accommodate the load. One recommendation was to use shorter shifts rather than full-day blocks, since agents don’t have to commute. This lets the contact center optimize agent scheduling without unduly burdening the employee, who is at home the whole time anyway, and might actually benefit from split shifts if they have other responsibilities to attend to.
  • Manage Agent Performance — Among other recommendations, Bauserman suggested supervisors consider doubling the amount of coaching time with agents. This is critical to helping them succeed in “the job they have today, not the job they had two months ago.”
  • Overcommunicate… and Rethink All the Little Things — These are the types of challenges that managers throughout any enterprise have had to emphasize in the new remote-work environment: “Finding ways online to collaborate one-on-one, with teams, across your supervisors, and then to really be clear with expectations for productivity,” Bauserman said.
 
You can go here to listen to a replay of the entire webinar, which also featured Art Schoeller, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. And see this week’s bootcamp lineup here.

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