Work from home programs are no longer a reward system

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Over the past few months Aspect customers have been reaching out to discuss their plans to implement a work from home strategy for their engagement centers (contact centers), and it has inspired me to share more globally what we have seen in the industry, and what’s driving this interest.

So, what is driving the desire to offer more work from home opportunities for customer service agents? 

Increased cost of space. Growth can drive the need for additional agents, and with that the need for expanded footprints. Organizations are being forced to find more space or alternative solutions.

Agent preferences. 88% of agents want a flexible work schedule that they can determine. Agents are looking for employers who can offer increased schedule flexibility, and the ability to work from home. Research shows that providing schedule flexibility reduces call outs, increases productivity, and reduces attrition.

Gig economy. The ability to leverage a temporary remote workforce as needed. The Gig economy is a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. This economy allows organizations increased ability to flex up and down as needed decreasing overall costs, and opens up new talent pools. 50% of millennial agents said they would be interested in an on-demand job.

Here are some best practices to consider as you define or enhance your work from home program, specifically for your customer engagement center.

  1. Define the Agent Profile

Not everyone makes the perfect work at home agent. Some people lack focus, and need the structure that the office provides. Review your hiring profiles to ensure skills and characteristics align to your program.

  1. Define the Home Office

Your agent’s ability to work from home will define the success of your program, and will have a direct impact on the customer experience delivered.

  • Ensure there is a dedicated space. You may even want to have your agent sign a waiver indicating that they have such a space away from distractions. Nothing is worse than to be on a call and hearing the TV or dogs barking in the background.
  • Ensure the location is secure. A locking cabinet or a room that locks is required to secure company documentation.
  • Issue a company computer to manage security and software compliance.
  • Issue noise cancelling headsets
  • Define video specifications, and setup as needed. For example, a company screen with a logo to eliminate family photos.
  • Define minimal VPN requirements for bandwidth, and a stable internet service provider (ISP). Define a business process that mandates a ticket be logged in your system if an issue persists over a specified period of time, and notification to the workforce management team to enable adjustments as appropriate.  Constant issues may result in a loss of work from home privileges and a return to the office, if your geographical boundaries support.
  • Mandate workplace safety. If the office is in the basement, most codes require that there needs to be railing on the stairs.
  • Obtain consent for onsite inspections as needed.
  1. Define geographical boundaries

It’s important to define your geographical boundaries and define strategies accordingly. Having no boundaries widens the pool of resources, but may not be supported by your business continuity plan. If the agent is never required to come onsite, or cannot due to being too far away from the contact center location, infrastructure and quality management must be adequately addressed. Popup offices may be an option for ISP issues, or sudden power loss.

  1. Implement effective online training

There are three categories of training to consider: onboarding, ongoing training, and coaching. The right collaboration tools are a must.

Onboarding may require a new strategy if your agents cannot come into the office. Some organizations have already implemented remote onboarding. Remote onboarding requires a rigorous process to determine the hiring profile, and an ability to achieve a high level of competency, as the new hire journey minimizes (or eliminates) the shadow role.

Ongoing Training if conducted remotely must be robust, interactive, include face-to-face video, and include a robust FAQ. If your geographical boundaries allow, agents can come into the center for training.

Coaching requires interactive tools and discipline. Collaborative tools such as Chat and IM are needed to interact with peers and reach a supervisor. Live connections such as Skype will be more effective than just the phone. Coaching sessions should be mandatory and based on a predefined number over the course of a month. Supervisors need to make a concerted effort to reach out a number of times over the course of a month – Don’t think Bob the good performer doesn’t need coaching or the connection.

  1. Define Call Monitoring and Speech Analytics metrics

Call monitoring and speech analytics becomes a standard and integral practice to monitor the quality of the connection, and that the environment is free from distractions and background noises.

  1. Integrate into the Business Continuity Plan

As with any strategy ensure your work at home program is fully integrated into your business continuity plan

  1. Pilot your most Proficient Agents

If you’re just starting out it may be best to start with your most proficient agents. These agents should be able to manage any adjustments required in the program.

  1. Measure and Monitor

Metrics don’t change, rewards might. You should manage to the same metrics that you manage to today, including measuring the agents experience and effectiveness of the processes. Define strategies to support the launch or new work at home agents. For example, dedicated supervisor to watch metrics and be available for calls. Define gamification and rewards to be inclusive; gift certificates over pizza lunches.

Work from home programs are becoming a standard, and an expectation from employees.  Many organizations have successfully launched their programs, and both the organization and the agent are realizing the benefits of increased productivity, increased agent engagement resulting in increased customer experience, and decreased costs. Organizations that do not have a program should define one, with the right balance between onsite and offsite agents that works for you.

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Lisa Gillespie

As a professional services executive in the contact center industry leading our client strategy and transformation initiatives at Aspect, I have the opportunity to work with companies looking to push the boundaries on delivering great customer experiences, increase the return on investment of their solutions (products and process), and enhance their employee experiences.

My passion is to help customers push the boundaries of what is possible to realize their vision.
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