Remote and hybrid contact centers could be the future of the industry

by Ryan Plank
remote call center

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of contact center employees around the world to transition to a work-from-home model, technological advancements had made remote work an increasingly viable option within the industry.

But while centers had some agents working from home, the overall percentages were quite low. For many BPOs and contact centers, the pandemic was evidence that allowing agents to work from home or in a hybrid model is not only possible, but a preferable choice going forward. 

That sentiment was echoed in a recent conversation we had with a contact center expert. Although the talk began as an examination of the most important metrics for contact centers to track, it was clear that remote and hybrid work models are bringing changes to the ways contact centers operate.

Thomas Laird, founder and CEO of the 500-seat hybrid contact center Expivia Interaction Marketing Group, told us that the pandemic has completely changed the way he views working from home in the contact center industry.

We took the opportunity to dig in and learn more about how remote and hybrid work are impacting contact centers. Here’s what we found out.

A quick transition

The global COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses around the world to transition to working from home without warning. That proved to be easier for some businesses than for others.

For Laird and Expivia, it meant quickly setting up hundreds of contact center agents to operate completely remotely from their own homes. “We did about a 72-hour shuffle, got as many people home as we possibly could. Then the next week, we got everybody home,” said Laird.

This included making sure that computers were online, high-speed internet was running, headsets were working, and agents were ready to work from their makeshift home offices.

As the world changes, so do the metrics that are most important to success in the call center. With new technologies, come new ways of measuring success.

In our Ultimate Guide to Call Center Metrics, we examine the most important call center metrics and how they apply in today’s changing landscape. Follow this link to get a free copy.

Settling into remote

The biggest challenge to switching to remote work was making sure that the processes were translated from in-office to at-home. Once everyone was set up at home, Laird was left asking himself, “So now that everybody’s home, how do we operate now?”

The solution was to find new ways of doing old things. For example, communicating directly with individual agents during the flow of the regular workday. When working from home, “No longer can I go talk to the reps or could the supervisor talk to the reps, [so] now we use Slack,” said Laird.

That’s just one of many instances where technology was implemented to execute on processes that had previously been done in person.

“Now, it’s like clockwork where at the beginning of the day, there’s a 15-minute meeting with the supervisor. Everybody has to be on video. And then the supervisor is doing at least a five to 10 minutes one-on-one video with each rep during that first hour, and they’re talking to them through the day and they’re showing stats through the day. It’s been interesting, but I think we’ve gotten good at it,” Laird explained.

A new perspective

Laird shared with us that he wasn’t always such a fan of the way remote call centers operate. “The funny thing is, I was 100% anti-work-from-home before this,” he told us. Although he was skeptical of work-from-home, he said that he was pleasantly surprised by the way his agents performed in the face of such a big change.

During the switch to remote work, “The quality aspects stayed consistent. You might hear a dog bark in the background or a car noise in the background now. These are things that you wouldn’t hear before from our center, but clients were pretty easy and they understood because everybody was at home,” he said.

He was especially complimentary of his agents, saying, “They were awesome. Our guys were awesome. I know most contact center associates, they realize how much they were helping.”

He also praised leadership by saying “Hats off to the call center supervisors and managers that figured this stuff out and engaged with their reps and had fun with the reps and made it so it wasn’t a chore. Because they were going through COVID just like we were. And they were also, in some cases, pretty close to a lot of customers that needed a lot of help.”

work from home call center

Benefits of WFH

Laird’s experience with the pandemic was not unique. Lots of contact centers were able to maintain quality customer care when working from home, and many even saw increases in productivity.

This is just one reason why the industry as a whole is becoming more open to allowing customer service agents to work from home.

While the pandemic brought many challenges, like the increased volume of inbound calls and individual concerns over the virus, there were lots of benefits of working from home.

For one, says Laird, “We’ve seen that our shrinkage is much less at home because reps [are not] calling off. They don’t have to come into the office so they’re just rolling in and starting to take calls.” Without the inconvenience of long commutes or the prospect of spending the day in the office, remote call center representatives are much less likely to call off from work. 

There have also been a number of recent reports showing the benefits of remote work. Global Workplace Analytics found that remote work saves money, reduces attrition, and improves employee satisfaction.

Going forward, remote and hybrid work options will also help to attract new talent. A survey conducted by FlexJobs showed that 96% of respondents reported wanting some form of remote work, with 65% wanting full-time remote work and 31% preferring a hybrid work model.

Positive productivity

There is also evidence to support the idea that remote employees are generally more productive when they work at home than when they’re in the office.

Whether it’s due to fewer distractions or because of a better work-life balance, research has shown increased productivity among remote workers across many industries.

For contact center leaders and workforce management teams, remote and hybrid work models also allow for increased productivity through more strategic scheduling. By using productivity data to understand when and how individual team members work best, call center managers can more easily achieve their most productive occupancy levels. 

“With a hybrid model, there could be an opportunity to identify when reps can be more productive,” explained Laird. “Perhaps it’s certain days or times or certain activities – we can identify those peak productivity or efficiency periods throughout the week, and then look at that hybrid model in light of that and say, maybe there’s an opportunity here to adjust our scheduling.” 

He went on to say that this strategy was especially valuable for weekends. “[Weekends] can be harder to staff. So, we’ll just have reps work from home on the weekends because we’ll probably do the reps better and do us better as well.”

According to him, there has been a noticeable improvement in his ability to productively staff weekends since moving to remote because the obstacle of a weekend commute to the office has been eliminated.

Changing metrics

In the contact center business, metrics are an essential part of ensuring the efficiency and quality of calls. Effectively tracking and measuring key metrics is just as crucial for virtual call centers as it is for any on-premise center.

Call center managers and their remote call center agents have to use technology to stay on top of metrics and ensure that KPIs are consistently being met.  

Technology was something that Laird credited after his remote team’s successes during the pandemic. “With the [call center software] that we have and how deep it can go, we could really understand what was happening. Now we have a whole team basically just making sure that the reps are okay and have the tools they need,” he said.

“You’re looking at your dashboard a ton more [in a remote work environment] because people are at home and you can’t go and talk to them. There’s probably more importance on the metrics and on the dashboard and really drilling down deeper into what agents are doing,” he added.

hybrid work

A hybrid future

More than anything, the remote work experiment of the pandemic opened the door to more work options for contact centers. The pandemic developed confidence in the at-home call center agent’s ability to provide high-quality customer support.

This has opened many contact center organizations to the idea of a hybrid work model going forward.

Expivia is one of those organizations that will look to create a hybrid work model. For Laird, the experience with remote call center representatives handling phone calls and digital conversations was “eye-opening.”

He and his staff “are going to be hybrid from here on out. There’s going to be certain clients that we’re going to keep home. And then certain financial services or our more secure clients, retail that were dealing with credit cards that we’re going to bring back in.”

Laird feels that hybrid work is a great way to capture some of the magic of remote work, while still enabling face-to-face interaction amongst team members.

“I’ve seen that our shrinkage is much less at home, because reps, they’re not calling off. They don’t have to come into the office. They’re just rolling in and starting to take calls. For us, it’s also important to have that rotating schedule to where they’re coming in, they’re seeing everybody again, they’re understanding their expectations.”

“For our company, all reps will be in the office a little bit,” he continued.

“That allows you to benchmark things a little bit better too, I think, when everybody has the same mix of at-home and here in the office. We’re going to be doing new hire training in the call center. We have the option to do it at home, but I want them to meet everybody and to understand who we are. Culture is such a big thing that’s a differentiator for us.” For Laird, that culture is built on in-person interaction.

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