A number of forces in the contact center industry are causing dramatic, rapid changes in the way these organizations use technology and structure their operations. Two of these trends are interrelated: the adoption of cloud contact centers and the shift to hiring at-home agents. With cloud contact center software, a virtual agent needs a computer, a headset, and an Internet connection. As a result, more than half of U. S. contact centers employ athome agents, and most plan to hire more by year's end.
The easier setup enabled by cloud contact center software isn't the only reason for the shift. Most companies are finding that at-home agent programs enable them to reduce operating costs-while improving service levels. Other advantages include greater flexibility, a larger pool of qualified agents, reduced staff chum and absenteeism, enhanced agent and customer satisfaction, and greater productivity. There are also reduced expense office space, equipment, and telephony.
BETTER AGENTS-FOR LESS.
Companies can save on salary rates, benefits, and disaster recovery planning by drawing from a larger geographic hiring pool. Many companies find that they can get better-qualified people when they're not restricted to a single, relatively geographic area. And many agents like the flexibility of working at home so much that they'll accept lower compensation levels.
NEW CHALLENGES, NEW PRACTICES.
With these benefits come new management challenges and the need for specialized tools and processes. Fortunately, a number of best practices have emerged and the most successful at-home agent programs have embraced these:
1. Hire qualified, motivated agents.
Initial interviews should be remote, and should carry more weight than any subsequent, in-person sessions. During this interview, use a checklist to assess agent readiness for remote work. Because you're not limited to candidates within a reasonable commute distance, set your standards higher don't settle for anything less than the best. Build a profile of your most successful agents and hunt for others with similar backgrounds and personalities. Reference and background checks are essential.
2. Focus on certification and skills.
Make sure candidates have comprehensive product training, both from the start and on an ongoing basis. Tie incentives and promotions to certifications and skills.
3. Provide proper coaching and communication.
Supervisors should be scheduled to be available through initial calls and to assist with that first round of questions. Consider collaboration tools such as chat for agents and supervisors and use tools such as whisper coaching. Schedule regular, one-onone meetings with remote agents to discuss their needs; if you have a brick-and-mortar contact center, don't forget to include them (remotely, of course) in staff meetings.
4. Create dear expectations.
Establish clear metrics and expectations, identify performance issues early, and take action immediately. Excellent reporting and management tools are critical to being able to track your agents' performance. Monitor performance in real time and compare historical statistics whenever possible.
5. Design proper incentives.
Think about implementing a pay-forperformance system. Agents who have direct rewards to work toward tend to be more productive. Give agents tools to see at a glance how they are doing and view the progress they've made.
6. Record 100 percent of your calls.
The mere knowledge that all calls are recorded will increase agent awareness-and that will improve quality. Call recording is great for training and coaching, and can enhance both security and compliance.
7. Choose a solid technical foundation.
A strong foundation can make all the difference. Include agent chat for collaboration along with quality monitoring for supervisors. Reporting tools must be flexible and comprehensive. Look for productivity-enhancing tools such as queue callback and the ability to easily blend inbound and outbound calls. Make certain the platform can be rapidly deployed and will scale up and down easily.
Other strategies can further enhance your at-home agent program, including trial periods of several months; online training programs; easy-access product and company information for agents; agent buddy systems; and consistent outreach to include at-home agents as frill team members.
Combine these practices with the right contact center technology features and capabilities-much more likely with cloud software than with premise-based-and your at-home agent program will deliver all the enhanced performance, cost savings and customer satisfaction you want. *
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