By Donna Fluss
While many contact centers, particularly large ones, had disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity (BC) plans in place before the pandemic hit, even if they were rarely tested and updated, surprisingly few included the option of having employees work from home for an extended period of time. And even BC plans that had work-at-home (WAH) guidelines for agents were unlikely to have documented best practices for supervisors or managers who unexpectedly needed to work remotely too.
A good DR/BC plan should address everything that a contact center worker needs to do as part of their job (whether they are in a different office or their home), the systems to support these activities, and the security requirements to protect customers, employees, and the company.
However, the first step in the process is to enable contact center workers to work from their homes. For this reason, all contact centers, even those with just a few employees, need an effective WAH program supported by the necessary technology and solutions. Below is a high-level list companies should take into consideration when building or enhancing their contact center WAH initiative. Most of these apply to all contact centers, but some, like the use of voice biometrics, may not be cost-effective for smaller environments.
Work-at-Home Considerations for Contact Centers
Legal: Have a WAH employee contract that lays out all requirements. It should include job responsibilities, working hours, system requirements (such as who buys and pays for personal computers, headsets, and internet access and bandwidth), working space, security, and so forth.
Interaction: Set up a daily communication session between supervisors and each at-home agent. Part of each supervisor’s job should be to keep at-home agents informed of all work-related meetings and to make sure their agents are well. Use internal chat for most agent inquiries.
Real-time messaging and broadcasting capabilities are also essential for communicating issues that require immediate attention.
Agent Management: Train supervisors and managers to oversee a virtual workforce. Out of sight cannot mean out of mind. Ensure that supervisors and managers are comfortable using the necessary technologies when agents are remote.
Cloud-Based Technology: Acquire and utilize cloud-based contact center systems and applications that enable companies to easily route customer interactions to agents and provide insight into their performance, whether they are on-site or off-site, including:
- Omni-channel call center as a service (CCaaS) solution
- One hundred percent real-time and historical recording of calls and screens
- Desktop analytics to monitor application usage
- Real-time speech analytics to trigger supervisor alerts when emotionally charged verbal interactions are in progress
- Historical speech analytics to identify performance trends and business opportunities
- Text analytics to generate notifications when negative sentiment is expressed in text-based channels
- Workforce management (WFM) with mobility to allow agents to schedule their work hours and vacations, make swaps, and participate in overtime and voluntary time-off opportunities
- Voice biometrics for employee identification and verification and to ensure that each agent is performing his or her job
- Video technology to enable employees to interact with one another and to monitor agents
Security: Update and enhance the security requirements for WAH employees. Keep in mind that WAH employees need access to their mobile phones to participate in WFM-related activities.
Online Training: Create online training programs for both premise-based and remote agents. Use virtual and e-learning management software to facilitate the training process.
Quality Management: Train all agents to participate in the department’s quality management (QM) program. This should be a standard training module.
Agent Motivation: Design rewards, incentives, and team-building activities to accommodate both in-house and remote staff.
Knowledge Management System: Use a cloud-based KM solution to collect and curate the product, process, procedural, and system knowledge required by all agents.
WAH programs should address the needs of agents, supervisors, and managers. All contact centers should encourage a certain percentage of their employees to work from home on a regular basis. This will help them be successful when it becomes necessary in a business continuity situation. And given the changes in the business world due to the pandemic, allowing employees to work from home, if desired, is going to be an expectation of employers, including contact centers.
Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades, she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the services industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.