A contact center agent works from home during COVID-19

Contact center supervisors: Practical advice for boosting remote agent engagement

COVID-19 is challenging for everyone, and especially for organizations who play important roles in supporting their communities. While scores of businesses have been forced to close their doors during the outbreak, many thousands of workers – including contact center agents – have transitioned to ‘work from home’ to continue safely providing essential services for us all. (AND WE THANK YOU!)

When I dial 211 (US), 311 (Canada) or 112 (UK) for info about city services or call the bank these days, there’s a pretty good chance that the agents assisting me are working from an improvised “office” – and that might be their dining table, kitchen counter or maybe they secured a quiet corner of their basement. It’s going to take a while for everyone—managers, supervisors and agents alike—to settle in and adjust.

It’s nearly impossible for contact centers to deliver superior customer service if they don’t have engaged agents – but now that there’s a ‘new normal’, how do you boost engagement of your contact center agents when everyone is suddenly working from home? And, where does that leave performance management as a whole?

If your agents aren’t engaged, neither are your customers

More than ever, it’s critical to promote collaboration – and reward contact center agents who work well with team members. Why? Because those agents are the critical frontline, servicing your customers during alarming times, with the power to continually raise your level of customer experience. If your contact center agents aren’t engaged team members, your customers feel it. It might seem obvious but, for agents to be engaged, they need to be motivated, rewarded, and recognized as valuable employees and as skilled collaborators.

According to a recent Gartner Survey, 86% of customer experience executives cite Agent Experience (AX) as the single factor that has the most impact on CSAT. And that may apply now more than ever as we enter this ‘new normal’ of agents working from home. If you don’t pay attention to your agents, their engagement drops. And your customers notice, especially when <insert name of your competitor> treats them better.

Agent oriented = customer optimizedContact center supervisors Practical advice for boosting remote agent engagement

You really can’t engage agents (never mind empower them) until you unburden them. To truly achieve customer-optimized status, a contact center really needs to be agent oriented. Which is great, except…the challenge is, 75% of contact centers face major barriers to full ‘work-from-home’ and simply aren’t equipped to make the transition (e.g. Infrastructure doesn’t support, incomplete tools for customer and process needs, etc.). Meanwhile, contact center supervisors are rushing to ensure operational stability, rally their teams and keep everyone safe and calm.

Contact center best practices for ‘work from home’ supervisors

On Twitter, one contact center leader I follow recently tweeted, “It's one thing to have at-home employee best practices. It's a whole different deal when you are talking about at-home Call Center Agents…”. I couldn’t agree more! And workforce optimization including scheduling, performance, and quality become even more critical.  If you are a contact center supervisor dealing with sudden working environment changes, here are some best practices that could help:

  1. Adapt your scheduling: If you are responsible for managing workforce schedules, consider shorter shifts (Use bidding to ensure coverage; also eliminate breaks and lunches). Review the way approvals are handled and save time by setting as many ‘auto approvals’ as possible. Establish regular touch points with other supervisors and your peers. For meetings, optimize the best times for the business, based on customer demand and agent schedules.
  2. Boost engagement: Beyond business continuity and the basics of connecting everyone from home, there’s the matter of managing team performance. If you are used to dropping in to visit your agents during regular walkabouts on the contact center floor, that’s a tall order! Instead, support agents through their individual transitions with frequent communication and temporarily relaxed goals (e.g. AHT). Maintain transparency by tracking and sharing agent activity, including their goals and metrics. Be sure to keep up coaching efforts; in fact, consider doubling their coaching time as a rule of thumb (see tip #3) and applying analytics for targeted feedback. 
  3. Overcommunicate…and rethink all the little things. Perhaps it’s obvious, but worth repeating: Overcommunicate! Now is not the time to run on assumptions. Instead, set and follow-through on clear rhythms for all-hands, team, and 1:1 engagement. Drive collaboration by making it easy for feedback loops between supervisors and peers. Ensure productivity by documenting and reviewing expectations, then provide visibility of team and individual metrics.

What else? Collaboration, gamification, and reward

Whether you manage a remote team or find yourself transitioning to “work from home”, you may be interested in our upcoming live webinar called, Boosting Remote Agent Engagement: Collaboration, Gamification, and Reward on April 15. This is your opportunity to hear real-world stories and stats on employee engagement in the contact center, as well as pick up some good strategies for:

  • Keeping agents engaged and creating a healthy team environment through fair, transparent and data-driven gamification – even when they are working remotely
  • Boosting performance through team collaboration, personalized incentives and reward programs
  • Improving the experience your customers receive by delivering consistent service

Don’t miss Boosting Remote Agent Engagement: Collaboration, Gamification, and Reward on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Presented by ICMI in coordination with NICE. Register here.