How hybrid contact centres are driving agents to success

You can’t help but feel a little sorry for contact centre managers who love to micro-manage. One minute they had all their agents in the office, each of them within physical reach and toiling away under their watchful eyes. Then, faster than you could say ‘global pandemic’, those same workers were out of sight as organisations were forced to adapt to a world where remote work was now a necessity and the acronym WFH (work from home) was added to the business lexicon.
How hybrid contact centres are driving agents to success | Probe CX

And while micro-managers no doubt dream of a day when normal transmission will resume and everyone will return to the office, realists know that isn’t going to happen. The remote-work genie is out of the bottle, as evidenced by various studies that show how wholeheartedly the concept has been embraced by employees.

While the vast majority of companies have reopened their offices, 68% of employees say they want a hybrid environment1 that mixes remote work and the office. The rush to hybrid workplaces was reinforced by a survey2 of 400 US and UK contact centre and customer experience leaders that showed 69% of agents worked in a physical office in 2020. Only a year later and the trend had flipped, with 64% of agents working remotely.

While COVID was the reason for the initial revolution, the long-term implications are evident as the same study revealed contact centre leaders anticipate a future environment where 53% of their agents will head to the office and 47% will work remotely. Contact centres that are yet to embrace hybrid options for their agents are not only already behind the eight-ball and risk being stranded there as competitors fine-tune their models.

With that in mind, this article will shine a light on the hybrid concept, explore the benefits for both agents and managers, and highlight the key steps needed to ensure long-term success.

What is a hybrid contact centre?

A hybrid workplace model combines remote and on-site workers, with some or all employees having the flexibility to choose where they work. While contact centres traditionally had an exclusive in-office approach, technologies such as the cloud have allowed businesses to rethink how often they expect agents to physically attend a communal site. Such in-office time may be allocated by days or teams or even on an as-needed basis, with global consulting firm Gartner3 saying: “Where and when work gets done will be determined by what makes the most sense to drive the highest levels of productivity and engagement.”

What are the benefits of a hybrid contact centre?

While some micro-managers may suggest workers only want hybrid environments to be out of sight and hopefully out of mind, the reality is the workplace model offers a range of benefits for contact centre agents, their employers and the customers they ultimately serve.

  • Increased productivity: having the choice of working from home or the office allows agents to reduce interruptions and increase productivity, especially for shifts that require additional focus. A Stanford University study that focused on a Chinese company that adopted a work-from-home mentality for nine months showed a 13% increase in productivity4 by staff who were permitted to work remotely.

  • Greater autonomy: putting trust in agents to do their jobs without managers constantly looking over their shoulders has been proven to be a winner for morale. Giving employees a greater sense of autonomy helps improve job satisfaction, which can have benefits both now (productivity) and into the future (staff retention).

  • Less burnout: agents who are more satisfied in their jobs are less likely to suffer burnout – and less likely to start looking for another job. With labour shortages causing increasing headaches for companies across the globe, giving employees more say in where and when they work can not only add a spring to their step but give them food for thought before logging on to a job search site.

  • Greater availability: hybrid work models not only offer flexibility to agents. Allowing staff to work across locations means managers can tap into a greater pool of agents when unexpected situations arise (eg: spikes in demand, absenteeism) and use their staff in more specialised ways. This is reinforced by a study that found 75% of people who can remotely5 say they could continue to work remotely in the event of a disaster compared to less than 30% who need to travel to an office.

  • Customer experience: hybrid contact centres help create more motivated and happier agents who are more likely to do their jobs with greater enthusiasm. This leads to a better customer experience for the consumers they are there to serve.

  • Larger talent pool: employers not limited to hiring agents in specific geographic areas can access a greater number of potential agents. Furthermore, companies that offer flexibility when it comes to remote work are more likely to attract a more diverse and better-credentialed pool of candidates than those restricted to offering strictly in-office roles.

How do you enhance a hybrid contact centre?

It takes a lot more than simply allowing agents to work from home to create a winning hybrid contact centre. From equipping staff with the tools they need to succeed to targeting the right recruits, here are eight practical tips for enhancing your offering.

  • Communicate: this is a vital element in any workplace but particularly so when employees are spread across multiple locations and often working in isolation. Sadly, it is something many managers fail to get right, with one study finding6 91% of respondents believe their bosses lack good communication skills. Counter this by communicating thoroughly and frequently. Online tools such as Skype and Microsoft Teams allow face-to-face interactions no matter the geographic distance and it is highly advisable to follow any meetings with emailed notes to ensure everyone is on the same page.

  • Provide access to knowledge: near enough is not good enough when it comes to remote or hybrid agents. As an accepted workplace model, it is essential that team members are challenged to do their best work no matter where they are located and it is only fair they have the best tools to be able to do so. This includes knowledge management software that allows them to increase efficiency and seamlessly respond to customer concerns, with key features including the ability to access an organisation’s collective data via one platform and easily update content to ensure it is correct and current.

  • Be conscious of emotions: it is far easier to spot a disengaged agent when you are in the same room as them. While remote work has many benefits, hybrid contact centre members can feel isolated or undervalued when they are physically distant from their colleagues and the real danger is their managers may not even realise it. Keep a close eye on performance indicators such as productivity and accuracy to ensure little concerns do not become big problems and do not hesitate to invite staff to speak openly about their situation. Agents value constructive feedback, with a little bit of attention able to go a long way for remote workers.

  • Look to the cloud: while most contact centres will have already embraced the cloud, a greater commitment to the technology will significantly enhance a hybrid work environment. Cloud solutions allow contact centres to gain greater flexibility and less complexity than legacy technology and provide agents with the tools they need to excel wherever they are working. The goal of any contact centre should be to unify communication channels, increase operational efficiency and deliver a consistent, omnichannel customer experience and the cloud is making that easier to achieve than ever.

  • Keep a level playing field: workplaces can be political minefields at the best of times but there is an added risk when employees do the same job from different locations. To avoid creating an us-and-them situation between in-office and remote agents, every effort must be made to provide the same opportunities and resources regardless of where someone logs on from. The likes of promotions and training should be offered to all staff and remote workers should not be forced to visit the physical office to access basic information or materials to do their jobs. Fostering a workplace where all team members feel equally valued and appreciated will go a long way to creating a happy workplace.

  • Finetune onboarding processes: hybrid contact centres are here to stay and that means it is time to reconsider how to roll out the welcome mat for new employees. Unlike the old days, teams will no longer meet in person as often and many agents will find themselves sitting alone when tackling new tasks. To ensure they feel connected and know where to find what they need to do their jobs, consider incorporating a few of these tips into the onboarding process:

    • Provide immediate access to the central knowledge management software or file
    • Distribute onboarding materials that are in a simple step-by-step format
    • Designate specific communication channels for specific interactions
    • Assign a colleague to act as an initial guide and/or mentor.

  • Break down barriers: while distance may separate remote and in-office agents, there is no reason they should not feel part of the same team. It may take a little more creativity but managers of hybrid contact centres should focus on developing a positive culture that helps attract and retain talented people. Use online platforms to create virtual environments where team members can engage socially, be it through trivia games or friendly competitions. Likewise, look to host semi-regular events that bring colleagues together in person. There is a reason that fun workplaces so often double as productive workplaces.

  • Adopt automated technologies: repetitive and time-consuming tasks are a fact of life in almost any job but automation is making it increasingly possible to remove the burden of many simple and mundane jobs from agents’ to-do lists. The likes of virtual agents, robotic process automation and interactive voice response technology can reduce pressure on staff and allow them to invest their time in more productive and meaningful assignments. Needless to say, this will also increase their morale whether they are working from home or in the office.

Summary

As frontline employees, contact centre agents play a vital role in showcasing an organisation. They can be both the face and voice of a company and whether they are working in an office or from a remote location, it is crucial they are given every opportunity to deliver a first-class customer experience. Enhancing your hybrid cloud contact centre will go a long way to fostering more productive and motivated team members and, in turn, ensuring happier customers.

Amid constant headlines about global labour shortages, more than 80% of employers believe candidates are more demanding with salary expectations than pre-pandemic. Learn the strategies contact centres can use to attract and retain talent and how to correctly compensate them.

Reference:
1 https://www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/remote-work-statistics
2 https://www.8x8.com/blog/state-of-the-contact-center-report
3 https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/hybrid-workforce-models-speed-digital-transformation
4 https://hbr.org/2015/01/a-working-from-home-experiment-shows-high-performers-like-it-better
5 https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/resources/costs-benefits
6 https://www.inc.com/marcel-schwantes/survey-91-percent-of-1000-employees-say-their-boss.html

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