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Support Remote Agents with Empathy and Data

woman-laptop-carpetThe last few months have been a blur to me. And it’s a pretty safe bet that you, your agents, and your customers feel the same way.

For contact centers, one of the earliest and most essential rapid-fire policy changes due to COVID-19 was transitioning entire agent staffs to work from home. While some organizations used remote agents to augment staff for scenarios like seasonality, most contact centers had no real-life experience managing virtual teams prior to the pandemic. Never had the industry experienced such a fundamental change in so short a time frame. Basic organizational processes like service hours, training and development, and other workplace norms had to be reestablished virtually, while ensuring the minimal disruption to the business.

A few months in, some teams are feeling pretty successful while others are struggling to satisfy customers and restore prior levels of agent productivity and engagement. If your contact center is still adjusting to the new normal of remote agent management and support, here are a few recommendations:

Reevaluate success metrics

Before COVID-19, the ability to empathetically connect with customers while ensuring a quick response rate was a tell-tale sign of a top tier agent. The right blend of speed and connection could go a long way in turning a customer into a loyal brand advocate. Today, however, there’s now an outsized premium on empathy over all else. Whether it be due to isolation following social distancing or general anxiety about the state of the world, people are suddenly looking for a 1-on-1 connection. In fact, recent data from major telecommunications firms have revealed a stark rise in the number of phone calls made – Verizon alone is now handling over 800 million wireless phone calls a day.

Because of these rapidly shifting expectations, contact centers need to quickly reassess core success metrics and work with agents and supervisors to adjust expectations. For example, a sudden increase in Average Handle Times (AHT) doesn’t necessarily translate to unsatisfied customers. They may appreciate the extra time spent connecting with another person and might be more likely to engage with the contact center over things they wouldn’t necessarily reach out over otherwise. Conduct an audit of core contact center metrics, and how success indicators have changed over the last few months and be ready to change quickly, working with agents to provide the appropriate training. Remote agent training on soft skills like empathy, communication, and problem solving are more important than ever.

Assess tools that enable flexibility

The transition to the cloud for your contact center IT stack already had been long underway, and the current working conditions have put new urgency around the need for the kind of speed and flexibility to handle change that cloud platforms can provide your customer service team. An early strain for many contact centers amid the crisis was ensuring that agents had access at home to their same tools, the same access and the same insight needed to deliver positive outcomes to customers. Even in the middle of a pandemic, customers still have a high standard when it comes to experience – so making the shift quickly is important.

While all those pretty wallboards collect dust, 1:1 meeting rooms sit empty, and the big breakroom for team celebrations has gone quiet; you still need to train, evaluate, coach, and motivate your teams to deliver outstanding customer experience (CX). So it is also important to have workforce engagement and optimization tools that were purpose-built for virtual teams and remote work environments. Tools like analytics-powered quality management coaching, collaborative forecasting and scheduling, and performance management and gamification will provide big engagement and productivity benefits when your agents work from home – and ultimately return to the office.

Take a close look at data

The more an agent can understand individual customers, the easier it is for them to tailor a connection accordingly. So it is more important than ever to provide your agents with context about each customer in the moment of service. If your agents needed 5 or 6 windows (if you were lucky) open on their workstation in the call center to fully service your customers, that will not work when your agents are at home, on a laptop with a single small screen, and likely have family distractions around them. Your agents need a consolidated view of each customer’s profile, history, likes and dislikes, sentiment, and next best action as they serve each customer. This helps them to be better prepared and empathetic with your customers – and is an important way to support your agents during a very challenging time.

Keeping a close pulse on agent experience, through agent eSAT or eNPS surveys, also ensures that contact centers can adapt to agent need as quickly as possible. From the technology at their fingertips to the relationships with their managers and colleagues, contact center leaders need to maintain a healthy pipeline of agent data so they can take the most informed action. Furthermore, it can help identify any gaps in support, whether that be through coaching or new integrated technologies. When there’s an open line of communication, the business can keep moving.

Flexibility is key

The last several weeks have been nothing short of a whirlwind, upending our collective sense of normalcy. Staying light on our feet and adjusting course in real-time has been an important component to not only keeping ourselves and our communities safe, but keeping the lights on as well. By being a close partner to agents and constantly exploring new opportunities to support them, it eases the ability of contact centers to face any new challenge day by day.

What tips can you add? Join the discussion @CallCenterICMI.