By Scott Mainwaring
As customer service representatives (CSRs) at contact centers begin to find their stride working remotely, it’s imperative that managers spend this time evaluating the sustainability of their new system by creating an open dialog about working conditions, obstacles, and performance trends. While each call center and organization is going to be at their own unique point on the change curve, leaders should use these conversations as a means to identify gaps and define what success may look like in this new scenario.
Here are some key questions to help managers navigate conversations with remote call center agents.
Can the CSR Do Their Job from Home?
First, for some agents, working remotely might not be possible. Whether those agents voluntarily opt out because they can’t endure the solitary nature of remote work, they’re taking on increased family responsibilities that conflict with work, or they share a space that isn’t conducive to the privacy requirements of the job, managers should be prepared for attrition. For employees who began in the office environment and then shifted to work at home, managers should expect that only about 25 percent of their team will truly succeed.
As a manager, when you connect with your team members, ask probing questions to understand how each CSR is faring and the unique challenges they’re facing. This gives you the opportunity to collaborate on solutions, deepening your relationship. It will also provide you with a better sense for which team members have the capacity and interest to work remotely.
If these conversations give you the sense that you may face high attrition, assess creative staffing solutions that fit this new, ever-changing environment. This could be an opportunity to test variations on your staffing model (such as adjusting shift times, split shifts, or the makeup of the shift) or your team makeup (moving part- or full-time workers who need a change to a different employee category). The idea is to play with what you’ve got to better meet the needs of your team.
Do Agents Have the Necessary Tools to Work from Home?
When your team works from one location, they enjoy streamlined processes for communicating company news, sharing training resources, and providing access to the technology that enables them to perform their job seamlessly.
Remote work, however, requires managers to be much more deliberate on these fronts. Managers should assess whether their team has the necessary tools in place to remotely assess and guarantee that a comparable experience can exist outside the call center.
As CSRs move beyond the initial obstacles of getting set up, establish regular touch points to ensure continuity. In uncertain times, the important frontline role CSRs play becomes greater. Managers should use this time with the CSR to reinforce that importance and its impact to the company’s reputation, customer satisfaction, and customer lifetime value. You’ll notice that when CSRs feel valued, they bring more value to your customers.
Have You Set Clear Expectations?
A recent CX Insight report found that having a defined adjustment period goes a long way to ease the transition. Is there a grace period for assessing the CSR and their level of performance? If so, how long?
To execute a customer-first approach, managers must first care for their agents. Given ever-evolving conditions, managers must make a commitment to communication—and what might at times feel like overcommunication.
This includes setting clear guardrails related to the transition and overall CSR performance. As the expression goes, “Happy agents yield happy customers.” A significant part of this happiness stems from leaders who makes sure the agents understand what success looks like (often through repetition) and guides them through reaching goals. Whether expressed via email, phone, or video call, establishing mutual agreement with individual direct reports is imperative to maintaining a close leader-agent partnership.
What Do the Metrics Reveal?
Once you have expectation alignment and completed the adjustment period, it’s time to consider CSR productivity measurements. This is not about stringently holding team members to pre-work-at-home numbers. At first, watching the metrics is more about observing trends, which are hopefully trending upward.
Pay close attention to five key metrics on an agent’s scorecard:
1. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) is the metric we all pay attention to. And while there are plenty of new external factors impacting customers—personal stressors, longer wait times due to high demand—there are an equal number of opportunities for CSRs to surprise and delight customers by showing empathy and patience. Make sure to equip agents with resources to manage difficult calls.
While we typically see higher CSATs for remote agents as compared to their brick-and-mortar counterparts, managers should not use those metrics as a baseline. Instead, focus on identifying outliers. If you see steady scores across the team with one or two individuals experiencing significant drops, spend some time with those team members, investigating what may be the cause.
2. First Call Resolution could decline. Look at individual performance in context to the broader team. If there is an overall drop in average FCR across the entire team, then there are broader issues at play.
3. Quality Assurance Measures address the basics. Assess agent performance on key items such as caller verification and information accuracy. Misses on core functions may be indicative of further shortcomings or lost opportunities with customers.
4. Agent Utilization focuses on time logged-in and time on the phone with customers as key productivity indicators. Expect CSRs to be on target.
5. Average Handle Time can be tricky. Don’t consider it in isolation, because of the number of variables, but watch if it’s trending upward. AHT connects to CSAT. For high AHT, discuss tactics to bring it down.
Tracking these metrics will show how well an individual agent is thriving in a remote role. They also serve as a leading indicator of the overall remote contact center performance.
5. Are Agents Getting the Attention and Information They Require?
According to an ICMI article, overcommunicating during uncertain times is key to agent success. While one CSR might prefer weekly video meetings over daily conference calls, another could require greater one-on-one interaction and real-time responses from their manager. As a leader, how are you addressing your agents’ well-being and individual needs?
Managers will need to flex a different set of skills—like connecting with an employee over a video conference—but when you nail the people piece of the puzzle, you will increase retention and improve the bottom line.
While everyone’s situation is unique, it is a leader’s job to know what their team needs and how to help them. Whether it’s fostering a stronger social connection or taking extra time to explain recent corporate communications, make sure you are aware of individual engagement levels and needs during this volatile time.
If you are a good listener and demonstrate empathy, you should better understand the needs of your team and individual performers. Yes, the onus is on you, but it’s also an opportunity to double down as a leader. Become a better, more visible manager—one that’s more accessible and open than when you shared a roof.
From adjusting staffing models to providing individualized strategies for agents in need, taking the time to understand the variables and connect with the individual will help your team navigate the months ahead as they work from home.
Scott Mainwaring is with Spinnaker Consulting Group.