The impact of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) instantly brought to light the value of remote call center agents for business continuity and risk mitigation. Communities around the world are shutting down nonessential businesses and sending workers home to shelter in place.
Meanwhile, contact centers are struggling to stay on top of the surges in call volume by deflecting callers to self-service channels. Or quite simply, not answering calls, chats, emails and other contacts in a speedy and proficient manner — not an ideal solution for anxious customers, callers and patients seeking the reassurance of a human voice.
The unprecedented events we face today have caused upheaval in the call center industry by forcing vendors to quickly react to seismic shifts in staffing needs. The new normal, especially for Tier 1 / leading call center firms, is their ability to rapidly introduce work-at-home or expand existing work-at-home services.
But even before COVID-19 swept through the U.S., and the world, work-at-home call center staffing has been steadily rising. Forward-thinking brick-and-mortar call center outsourcing vendors already provide a work-at-home option to their clients as a way to expand capacity without incurring the capital expense of building additional call center sites.
Expanding work-at-home opportunities in contact centers have been mainly driven by employee demand for flexible schedules and better work-life balance. Research by Gallup found flexibility to be one of the highest-ranked employee benefits named by millennial's — and in fact, many said they would change jobs for the opportunity to work remotely either full-time (47%) or part-time (50%).
Companies that have embraced work-at-home agent programs in their contact center operation report widespread benefits, including:
Recent advancements in cloud-based call center platforms have all but eliminated concerns around PCI, connectivity, security, quality, training or line-of-sight management issues. And sophisticated training processes help to ensure that even complex customer contacts can be successfully handled with remote agents.
Still, successful contact center work-at-home staffing models require careful planning and experienced managers to ensure that the appropriate processes and protocols are in place, and that remote staff are engaged, productive and able to deliver high-quality customer service.
The following are some of the challenges and concerns that leaders often identify as their main concerns with using work-at-home call center agents:
In the current (and future post-pandemic) business environment, work-at-home capability has quickly emerged as a must-have resource to ensure customer service continuity. However, given the complexity of today’s customer care initiatives, simply sending service staff home with laptops and headsets is not a viable option. An effective work-at-home program requires a management team with expertise in all facets of call center remote work — people, processes and technology.