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3 Ways to Drive Flexibility in Your Support Team

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Due to the shelter-in-place orders, I have more time for two of my hobbies: picking stocks and riding my Peloton bike. One wouldn’t think these would go together, but I enjoy watching Jim Cramer’s Mad Money while I do my at-home workout. In a recent episode, General Stanley McChrystal said something that made me stop pedaling and think about how organizations have adapted to our current global pandemic situation:

There's a temptation for us to say, ‘It's a black swan event. Nobody could have seen it coming. And therefore, we have an excuse for not being prepared or adapting well. - General Stanley McChrystal

I was immediately reminded of a company that has adapted to these changing situations better than most global companies: H-E-B, my favorite grocery store. As a resident of Texas and a loyal customer for two decades, I was excited that H-E-B got a head start running their COVID-19 recovery plan in January based on lessons learned during H1N1. In 2018, they also acquired delivery service Favor and recently, they launched the H-E-B and Favor Senior Support Program to offer a safer shopping solution for seniors across Texas. They are a master class in customer service and flexibility.

But, what does this all mean for service businesses in general?

What I’ve learned through experience as a consumer and from our customers is: flexibility is always your friend. At the onset of this crisis, the more flexible you could be with your contact center workforce and how to engage with your customers, the better off you were.

Here are three ways to focus on flexibility with your customer support:

1. Help your teams adapt to changes

No one really knows what the future holds, especially during this time. Service agents might continue to work from home, may go back to the office, or a mix in between. Help your teams be prepared no matter where they are working. When your teams work from home, their situations are uniquely different. Some may experience power outages. Others might deal with limited WiFi - all of which is out of your control.

Use laptops only

This tweet made me laugh out loud, but it highlighted this exact point — we all need the proper equipment to work from home. For years, contact centers have been filled with agents on desktops, using multiple monitors. Desktops are more affordable, have reusable peripherals, and have a longer lifespan than laptops, so many companies have stuck with them.

But what happens when we ask agents to take their desktops home? For us, we saw a risk in regions with rolling blackouts when desktops would shut down immediately. Not to mention many of our agents didn’t have the space at home to set up a dedicated workstation. Laptops, with enough memory and processing power, allow your agents the flexibility to work without worrying about power outages or the need to move their heavy desktop off the family dining table at dinner time.

Ensure fast and secure internet connections

It’s important your agents have a home internet connection. However, that’s easier said than done. There are cost considerations if your company pays for your agents’ internet. Plus, not all connections are created equally. We’ve considered wireless connections as a viable option because they are not dependent on a home network or a power source, in case rolling blackouts occur.

While a secure connection is easier in the office, there are a host of technologies from multi-factor authentication, to VPN, to VDI, available from home. The key to security is not to sacrifice performance.

2. Relieve stress with technology

During this global pandemic, stress is high for everyone — your team and your customers. Our research shows customers are looking for one-on-one time with an agent, either through email or phone call communication. Allow your agents time to serve customers by using technology to streamline communication and requests.

Put everything in the cloud

Through this crisis, non-cloud applications were the weak link that caused service disruption for many companies. Cloud-based applications give you the flexibility to deliver exceptional customer service anywhere there is an internet connection. Agents might not always have a landline at home. This is where cloud telephony comes in to help deliver a consistent experience. Cloud-based applications also help deliver the single-pane-of-glass unicorn we’ve all been chasing for decades.

Scale with self-service

With the influx of service tickets, many companies are investing in their self-service channels to help their customers quickly find the simple answers they need on their own. Self-service scales like crazy — with a few simple updates to your self-service channels, you can deflect multiple tickets to give your customer service team time to focus on the more difficult cases.

Invest in digital channels

There is no doubt voice is the hardest channel to run from home, especially with background noise, voice quality issues, and the right technology stack, which not all organizations have. Because the average customer uses 10 different channels to communicate with companies, digital service channels are key to help your customers, even while your agents are working from home.

3. Continue to plan and practice

Peacetime planning and practice prove to be more important than ever as there is no crystal ball to tell us what the future may hold. Planning used to only include tabletop exercises where we ran through scenarios on paper.

We now know these exercises aren’t enough. We have to run drills in both times of crisis and normalcy. For example, drills should be run regularly to ensure agents know what to do, have the appropriate equipment, and space to deliver seamless customer experience from anywhere.

I’ll leave you with the words that resonated with me the most from General McChrystal:

Crises will arrive. And therefore we're going to deal with the speed and complexity of the modern world by building the ability to respond to crises, not just try to avoid them.

By taking these steps, we help our service teams remain flexible to adapt as needed and deliver better service in both the good times and those of uncertainty.