Call center agent answers call about pet insurance claim while working from home with his spaniel.

Foundational Readiness: Business Continuity for the Work-From-Home Contact Center

At this point in the timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly every company that operates a contact center has had to transition some, if not all, of their agents to a work from home environment. According to an informal survey on one of our recent webinars, 88 percent of our customer attendees said they had moved all their agents to a work-from-home setting.

The most successful companies are those who already had specific business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plans in place and weren’t caught scrambling mid-March to piece together technology and transition processes within a matter of days.

A solid BC/DR plan that supports a transition to a work-from-home environment seeks to achieve three goals:

  1. Keep employees safe
  2. Ensure business continuity
  3. Drive productivity across the organization

Let us look at some of the key elements of a business continuity plan and best practices for making the transition to a remote agent workforce.

The Process

Making a quick, successful transition to work from home comes down to having predetermined processes in place that can kick-in immediately in response to a pandemic, emergency or natural disaster.

No visitors sign in front of business and tips on potential financial impact during an emergency Most companies have some kind of business continuity/disaster recovery plan in place, although it may or may not have been tested or documented prior to actually needing it. Details of the plan should be well-documented and in accessible locations – such as on the company portal online, but also laminated or in a binder in designated places around the office in case of a network outage. The business continuity plan should also be an element of company onboarding and training so everyone knows where it exists and what processes are documented in it.

Depending on the type of emergency, different cities, states or regions, could all be impacted differently. The process needs to allow dynamic changes to the way calls are routed so you can provide the best response and get customers to the best agent, whether that agent is in one of your physical locations or working remotely from home. A cloud ACD enables instant changes to contact flows, so agents in affected areas can be excluded from receiving calls, chat, email, etc. Those agents that do receive interactions will handle them just as they would in the office.

There should also be predetermined IVR script changes ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice. Changing your IVR scripts during an emergency helps keep customers up to date with the latest info when they contact you. Right now, for example, many organizations have had to change their hours of operation, but their contact volume has increased. The IVR can help manage the expectations of the customer when they call in, as well as help direct them to the best agent based on need. For example, CXone offers single-click IVR override, which allows you to design these routing and IVR message changes ahead of time, and then enable them quickly – kicking in the new IVR script along with callback features, voicemail and other channels of communication with one click.

This all lends itself to providing support to customers and maintaining, if not improving, customer experience and satisfaction.

We’ve seen this play out this pandemic – supplies have become scarce, people are ordering more online, supply chains are disrupted, but customers still expect their calls, chats, and emails to receive answers right away. Companies have been tasked with elevating their levels of customer service. The ones who have succeeded in maintaining or improving customer satisfaction during the pandemic will reap the customer loyalty benefits in the future.

Agent Connectivity

In order to get up and running quickly remotely, agents need to be able to reliably connect to the contact center platform from their homes, making connectivity a critical part of the transition process. The good news is with cloud contact center software, agents need little more than a laptop and internet connection to use the full features of their ACD.

When it comes to hardware, having agents take home their in-office computer is the preferred method of provisioning. It eliminates many variables and ensures that everything is already properly configured. But this isn’t always feasible. During the COVID-19 response, we’ve had customers purchase low-cost Chromebooks and headsets on Amazon, and with just an Internet connection be able to access the CXone platform and turn up full functioning remote agents.

Internet speed does not need to be blazing fast to support the ACD, but work-from-home agents do need to be aware of what else is happening on their network as they’re trying to work. In many households, there is a battle for bandwidth between those wanting to stream Netflix, access online classes and play video games online. For this reason, agents should avoid using WiFi and use a hard Ethernet connection whenever possible.

And while many contact centers are using omnichannel interactions such as chat, email, and SMS, voice interactions remain the most critical to maintain. Contact centers have several choices when it comes to delivering voice to at-home agents. We recommend using an Integrated Softphone, which allows the user to leverage the WebRTC capability of the Chrome Browser without additional downloads or deployment costs.

If your contact center is already leveraging an installed softphone, we've found that most agents are able to continue to use this same application at home, unless your organization has dedicated SIP routing, or dependencies on your local PBX which may be challenging to enable for at-home users.

The PSTN (regular telephone service) is also a viable alternative to routing voice calls over the Internet, especially in areas where connections are poor. Be aware of any additional charges associated with routing contact center traffic over mobile devices.

Internal Communication

When transitioning to work from home, internal communication must be adjusted as well. Remote agents need to understand their part in the business continuity plan and be kept updated to changing conditions and requirements. When managing remote agents, leaders need ready access to employee information and communication tools to ensure they can communicate in a variety of mediums including email, phone, text, or social platforms. Maintain a database of viable communication methods to reach employees aside from their corporate direct inward dial (DID) numbers and have the information available in print and digital form alongside the BC/DR plan.

In the office, many contact centers supervisors hold impromptu meetings to help address emerging issues or address specific concerns regarding KPIs or performance. These same principals should continue when managing a remote team by employing daily stand-up meetings via phone or video call.

Agent Experience

remote agent checklist graphic Improving the agent experience is directly linked to a better customer experience, so business continuity plans need to ensure agents can perform at the same high level at home as they do in the physical office. Shifting to a work-from-home environment, especially during an emergency, can be stressful to your employees. So, it’s critical for them to feel both supported and engaged by their leadership.

Contact centers often use workforce optimization tools to drive agent engagement and performance, so ensure that quality management, gamification, and dashboard tools will operate in a remote setting to help employees maintain focus on key KPIs and metrics. Run tests on gamification elements - such as wallboards and dashboards - to make sure they are displaying correctly and updating in real-time when the workforce is distributed.

Enabling Tech Support

When technical issues occur within the contact center, is it common for an agent to sit at another desk for a few days until a helpdesk technician can troubleshoot and resolve issues. As you transition to work-from-home agents, technical problems have the potential to be much more impactful. Something as simple as a password reset could be the difference between having an agent online to support calls and having an agent sitting on their couch waiting for help.

Your technical support teams need to be prepared to expand their scope in order to diagnose and support new issues specific to work-from-home agents. Companies used to an in-house IT team may not have remote access software that allows IT to take control of an agent’s computer, but this type of a solution is essential when your workforce is home-based.

Consider segmenting your desktop support team and ensure your support engineers have remote assistance, knowledgebase, remote access and other tools in order to resolve work-from-home issues including desktop, telephony, internet, and router assistance. Also consider publishing common troubleshooting guides to empower remote employees to correct the most common and easily remedied issues.

Don’t be sorry, be prepared

When it comes to business continuity, preparation is key. The contact centers that have been successful in making the transition to work from home agent workforce had a plan in place prior to the pandemic and have continued to evolve that plan as each week brings about new challenges. In a recent webinar with TMC, Expivia CEO Thomas Laird discussed how his company continues to adapt the work from home agent model and how he is developing new plans for how the contact center should operate when the physical office is allowed to reopen. You can view the entire webinar recording here.