Working from home has been gaining momentum across all industries in recent years. The movement started with developing technologies for high ranking employees to work remotely. High ranking employees like directors or senior executives often have to travel as part of their job but it’s still vital that they can contribute to the workforce while they are away. This challenge led to home working solutions being created. Soon after it became clear that the whole business could benefit from home working! Why restrict such a powerful technology to just a few individuals when it could benefit everyone? When more of the workforce work from home you can save considerable costs on office space and supplies. You eliminate office-based distractions from the workday. You can also cultivate a happier and more productive workforce.
These factors drove the shift towards home working for contact centers. When agents are supported by the right technology they can thrive in any environment, whether that’s in an office, or at home. Although this shift was already happening, one global event has expedited the need to work from home – The coronavirus known as Covid-19. Coronavirus has spread rapidly throughout the world and caused colossal disruption to every element of our daily lives.
The most serious consequence of the virus has of course been the loss of life or extreme suffering of the individuals most severely hit. However, the virus has also impacted the way we work. Governments, health experts, and businesses have encouraged social distancing as a means of stemming the spread of the virus. Social distancing requires people to maintain physical distance between each other (usually 1 to 2 meters/3-6ft). How do you enact social distancing in an office environment? Well, it’s extremely difficult if not impossible. Desks are often packed tightly together, staff have to cross each other in corridors, and everyone has to touch doors and handles.
These concerns have led to previously office-based contact centers making the shift to working remotely. In today’s article, we’re going to talk about virtual cloud-based contact centers and give you some tips on shifting to home working!
What Is a Cloud Contact Center?
Contact centers have evolved as our technology and our ability to scale this technology has advanced. It’s only fairly recently that contact centers have come into existence. In the past, companies would just have a call center. The purpose of a call center was to handle customer support and sales calls from a dedicated location. Call centers provided an important function to businesses, but they were limited in what they offered. Enter the contact center. While a call center can only handle calls, contact centers handle a variety of communication channels.
Here are some features of a traditional (on-premise) contact center:
- Hardware and vendor limited – Hardware needs to be upgraded periodically and this can become costly. You may be locked into contracts with certain vendors or hardware.
- Control and responsibility – You maintain control of your hardware. This can be beneficial since you’re not relying on an external company to provide a safe and secure service. However, it also means you take on more responsibility. You have to ensure that your IT team is experienced and vigilant when it comes to installing, maintaining, patching, and supporting your infrastructure. There are potentially grave consequences for making errors.
- Time-consuming set-up – Setting up an on-premise contact center is very time-intensive. You need to order in hardware and set it up. You need to find appropriate compatible software. And you need to acquire hardware and software licenses.
Here are some features of a cloud-based contact center:
- Integrated communication channels – All communication channels are integrated into a single solution so that agents only have to use one application for phone calls, Live Chat, email, and so on.
- Advanced call-routing – Customers or clients are routed to the most appropriate agent. In this context appropriate can mean the agent’s experience level, their experience with a particular issue, their problem-solving skills, or their soft skills.
- Automation – Automation is present throughout the solution. This can on-hold music, automatic receipt/recap emails, chatbots, routing, automatic ticket closures, and so on.
- Advanced scheduling – Advanced use of workforce management tools to schedule calls and agent time. This increases the overall efficiency of the contact center.
- Dashboard, data, analytics, and visualizations – All data is collected in crunched in one place so that nothing is lost. This data can be transformed into impactful dashboards to support the workforce.
- Hosted in the cloud – No need to install or maintain your own hardware other than workforce computers and devices (headsets).
Virtual Contact Centers and Their Benefits
Virtual contact centers are cloud-based contact centers but without the need for a physical office space. With a pure cloud-based contact center, software and hardware are managed in the cloud, but agents still report to the same office building every day, much like they would with a traditional contact center. With a virtual contact center, there’s no need for agents to report to an office building every day. A virtual contact center solution supports agents spread across different geographical locations.
Here are the benefits of virtual contact centers:
- Improved agent productivity – Office environments often have high levels of noise pollution and other distractions. At home, these factors are eliminated.
- Better customer service – Fewer distractions means more focused employees. Agents can focus solely on helping the customer.
- Bigger talent pool – When you operate a contact center from a physical location, you are limited to only hiring local employees. With a virtual contact center, you can hire the best talent from around the country or even the world.
- Work/life balance – Agents no longer have to spend time commuting to work and therefore have more free time to explore their passions and hobbies. This has a considerable effect on employee happiness and satisfaction.
- Reduced costs – Office space can be expensive! You can make huge cost savings by having home workers. It’s not just the cost of owning or renting a building. You also have to factor in the cost of electricity, cleaners, building maintenance, canteens, etc.
- Flexibility – Schedule or hire staff when they’re needed. With a virtual contact center, you’re better equipped to support peak times or seasonal peaks.
- Reduced agent turnover – Agents are supported by advanced technology and have a better working environment. This leads to less staff churn.
7 Tips for Shifting to Home Working
1. Make Analytics Tools Widely Available
When agents are working from home, they won’t have a manager looming over their shoulders to manage their performance. This is a good thing! Micromanaging has the effect of making employees feel untrusted or incompetent. You hired your agents so you already know they are fit for the job – let them put their skills to work.
However, just because they don’t have a manager available to check their every move, doesn’t mean they won’t need some extra help. The best way to ensure agents are working efficiently and productively is to use analytics tools, dashboards, and visualizations to track and display their performance. Agents can see how they are performing and adapt how they work to meet performance expectations. On the business side, you can also keep track of their performance and prioritize helping agents who need more support.
2. Use Video Conferencing
Team meetings are an integral part of contact centers. Agents and managers need to be able to communicate about developments or evolving expectations. Not only is this essential for agents to do their role, but it also has a huge effect on morale. Even when they are working from home, agents must feel that they are part of a team and that they are valued members of your workforce. They shouldn’t feel disconnected from the business.
A robust video conferencing system is a must! Agents should be able to join in team meetings or talk to their managers over a video link. Face to face contact is vital for team cohesion.
3. Device Management
Limit network access to just approved IP addresses. This ensures that agents are using approved devices for their work and that these devices are secure. There are increased cybersecurity risks with remote working. You have less control over your devices when they are out in the world. You are also sharing sensitive data over networks and this can make you vulnerable to a cyber-attack. It’s absolutely essential that you take considerable cybersecurity precautions to protect your data, your employees, and your customers.
4. Restrict Permissions and Content Access
The main complaint about working from home, both from agents and employers, is that it’s easy to get distracted when you manage your own work. Even hard-working employees become distracted when our brain begins to wander and there’s no one there to bring our attention back. To curb distractions, limit what your employees have access to. You can lock down certain websites like social media sites or other leisure websites. Without the ability to use their devices to access other activities, agents can focus on the task at hand.
5. Intelligent Ticket Assignment
Without the ability to locally manage who is working on what case, it’s crucial to have an intelligent ticket assignment system. This ensures that each agent is solely responsible for a particular case. You can also set it up so that the customer will always speak to the same agent, providing that the agent is currently working.
6. Intelligent Routing
In a remote working environment, it’s extra important that intelligent routing is utilized. This is better for both customers and agents. Customers always receive the best care and agents can play to their strengths, resulting in quicker resolution times and higher job satisfaction. The reason intelligent routing is so important for remote working is that the agent can’t simply put the customer on hold and talk to another employee. If an agent is less experienced in one area but has to deal with a complex problem in this area, they can hit a roadblock.
7. Go Cloud-Based
It’s simply not possible to have a full-scale and efficient working from home operation with a traditional contact center. An Omnichannel platform and reliable infrastructure is a must! Homeworking needs to be robust and streamlined to support agents in doing their job. If agents have to rely on using multiple siloed systems all supported separately, they will inevitably run into issues.
Setting up a cloud-based contact center is very quick and easy in 2020. It’s simply a matter of choosing what you want and hitting go.