Guest Blog by Julien Rio, Senior Director of Marketing at RingCentral
The sudden need to ‘go remote’ impacted every aspect of companies’ operations, and customer service is no different. Some companies were lucky enough to have already deployed technology that enables contact centre teams to work remotely and therefore maintain the level of support customers are used to. Others have been less fortunate, needing to close certain – sometimes all if only temporarily – customer service channels as they cannot support them properly through remote teams. We have also heard cases of companies trying to keep customer service offices open, with new safety protocols, so they can serve customers. This undoubtedly lowers productivity and may be putting teams at risk.
As countries begin to think about opening up and trying to return to ‘normal’, there is no doubt businesses will be reviewing if and how remote and flexible working remains part of contact centre operations. How can it work in the long-term? How do they make that work?
Customer service teams have worked hard to embrace new digital channels – such as messaging apps, live-chat, chatbots and social media channels – to communicate with customers. However, that same flexibility to engage, at will, over a variety of channels from any location, is not usually available in customer service teams. They often remain tied to fixed contact centre locations, using on-premises software. Events such as flooding, travel disruption and pandemic containment measures make it harder for companies with fixed operations to meet the needs of their customers and employees.
The benefits of flexible working to employees have been extolled for decades, but the operational benefits to organisations and customers could not be starker at the moment.
Customers are struggling to reach customer service agents, either because teams have been sent home, or agents cannot connect with customers remotely without access to the on-premise systems they usually rely on. Forward-thinking organisations already using cloud technology can operate their contact centres remotely, with software accessed through a browser from anywhere. To take advantage of this flexibility and better manage enquiries remotely, we have seen a number of companies moving their phone agents to digital since March 2020.
In the future, there will be a dramatic rethink in customer service in organisations, through every department, on how the cloud and remote working can help them do business better. The cloud has already revolutionised the way businesses share files, communicate within teams, manage supply chains, manage marketing, and much more. Combining it with flexible and remote working policies will make customer service departments agile enough to deal with any situation and gain many other benefits.
For customer service teams and contact centre staff, flexible working enabled through cloud technology and software-as-a-service offers a number of very real benefits for customers, businesses and employees alike:
Working from home can be necessary for customer service agents for their safety, as well as convenience. Giving your employees the ability to do this is a good way to give them additional flexibility while making sure your productivity is not impacted. Remote working is also a great way to increase staff retention, by giving employees more balance between their personal and professional life.
An organisation that has remote and flexible working ingrained in its DNA can adapt to any situation, greatly enhancing its business continuity capabilities. By its very nature, cloud technology includes levels of redundancy and security that no one company could afford to implement and maintain internally. This combination means an organisation can be in the best possible shape for unexpected rises in demand for customer service teams.
That same flexibility could apply to a product recall, a new product or service offering, or seasonal spike. In these situations, you may want to increase the number of agents available in a very short period of time. It will become more common to see a combination of in-house staff and external agents working in a hybrid business process outsourcing model. Cloud technology and software-as-a-service solutions will make it possible to rapidly scale up in these scenarios.
Whether because of a marketing push, service issue, outage or other events, customer service teams can experience a huge influx of customer queries across a wide range of channels.
Cloud-based contact centre solutions allow the unifying of disparate offices and workers onto a single system. It makes it easier to manage daily operations so you can focus on the experience you’re delivering and keep pace with the changing business landscape. And with team messaging apps, questions can be answered quickly and efficiently, enabling remote workers to be just as effective as office staff.
Whether in the office or remotely, supervising the activity is essential to remain reactive to customer enquiries. Cloud-based technology doesn’t mean losing this ability. Supervisors and management can have live dashboards to monitor individuals and teams’ productivity, allowing them to make more informed management decisions.
When hiring at-home call centre agents, your labour pool widens beyond the geographic constraints of an office, and allows you to find top talent with unique skill sets. These applicants may be better educated, more responsible, and more productive. They will also have unique cultural skills and live across the globe. This liberates the recruiting process and allows you to be more selective when hiring employees.
There are a number of ways having a remote workforce can save your company money, but one of the most impactful is the opportunity to reconsider your office space and location. With fewer people needed in the office at any one time, you should be able to consider smaller premises for your contact centre, or even move away from premium city centre space, because staff can work from anywhere.
There’s no doubt that moving to a remote contact centre workforce takes a lot of effort. It’s more than a technological challenge, it requires new policies, a new culture and workforce with the personal skill set to work outside the structure offered by office life. However, the operational, bottom-line and staff benefits in the longer-term greatly outweigh the efforts required and will prepare businesses for the future.