“Now that we’re working from home, no one else (in the company) knows who we are,” said a veteran contact center agent during one of my sales training classes.
His frustration was echoed by other people in the class. They felt isolated and neglected by their company, even though they were veteran employees. Sitting alone in their living rooms, they felt disconnected from the company and each other.
Think about it this way: When contact centers sent their agents home in March 2020, technology was the immediate concern. Could IT departments provide enough laptops, headsets and VPN (Virtual Private Network) logins for agents? Were cloud contact center platforms robust enough to support everyone working from home at once? Was home internet fast enough for remote agents?
Along with these technical challenges came process changes. New-hire training became virtual. Team meetings moved to Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meets. “People issues,” such as employee engagement, took a back seat at first. After all, having the entire contact center working from home was supposed to be a temporary situation. But as work-from-home or hybrid work becomes permanent for many contact centers, employee engagement and retention are key concerns.
Think of how easily WFH agents can change jobs. In the past, you had to go to a new employer’s office building for job interviews, training and work. That meant finding a new bus route or parking. It could mean waking up earlier for a longer commute. Now, it just means changing the logins on your living room laptop. That lower barrier to changing companies increases the risk of disengaged employees going elsewhere. So, employee engagement and retention are even more important.
Here are 7 ideas to build engagement with your work-from-home agents:
1. Provide more frequent communication
Do not wait for agents to ask about what is happening at the head office. Proactively tell them. Leverage all of your internal communication channels to keep WFH agents informed about the company, its contact center and customers. That includes virtual town halls, team meetings, huddles, knowledge base updates, and your team Slack or Teams channel.
Podcasts are another innovative method to share information. To help build team spirit, you can create an internal contact center newsletter. Be sure to balance company information and fun, personal items such as a team member’s favorite video game or movie. If people are willing, you can also share things like their favorite vacation experience. The point is to help team members learn, connect and share a sense of team.
2. Build a “virtual support team” for WFH agents
Working from home can feel like being stranded on a desert island. So, help WFH agents build a support network. Start with their most frequent points of contact: team leaders, managers, quality assurance coaches and workforce management staff. That list should also include key contacts in other departments such as your IT help desk, human resources, training team and knowledge base coordinators.
Give WFH agents the phone numbers, email addresses and instant messaging usernames for people they need to contact for various situations. Better yet, do those introductions during new-hire training or have those key contacts speak at team huddles and meetings. The key is to build a virtual support team. To provide even more support, let agents know about any Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or wellness programs, such as virtual therapy, meditation and fitness classes. This will help WFH agents reduce stress, improve wellness and feel more supported by their organization as a great place to work.
3. Focus on behaviors, not KPIs, during coaching
Why should team leaders and quality assurance coaches NOT start coaching sessions by reviewing key performance indicators (KPIs)? Focusing on statistics, without addressing the behaviors that cause those statistics, can drive the wrong reactions. For instance, if you focus on just the average handle time (AHT) number, agents will try to rush callers off the phone to make that number lower.
It is more effective to focus coaching on the behaviors that drive those KPIs. For instance, if AHT is an issue, listen to an agent’s calls to identify behavior gaps in how they ask questions, search for answers, explain those answers to the customer and process their after-call work (ACW.)
Coaching behaviors, rather than statistics, will help agents take targeted action to improve. It will also build engagement since the agent is receiving customized advice and, hopefully, encouragement to get better. While this technique also applies to on-site coaching, this support is especially crucial in work-from-home situations, where it is easier to feel isolated from the office.
4. Train team leaders and managers to run INTERACTIVE virtual team meetings and huddles
If team huddles and meetings are strictly one-way, i.e., the manager lectures about product updates and process changes without letting anyone else talk, work-from-home morale will plummet.
Lecturing has long been a problem during face-to-face meetings. But it is more of a problem in virtual meetings since attendees can “tune out” mentally by checking email, texting each other or even watching Netflix or a YouTube video while the speaker drones continuously. To combat that, meetings and huddles should be interactive. Build time into the agenda for discussions. Leverage tools in Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meets to have verbal, chat, whiteboard or breakout room discussions. An interactive session increases engagement and knowledge retention.
One final meeting tip: Build in time for team building and engagement. Remember, agents spend most of their time talking to people OUTSIDE the company. Think of your contact center. I bet less than 15% of an agent’s time is spent talking to their fellow employees. So, when they get a chance to interact with their teammates, let them.
Team building could be as simple as having a fun icebreaker to start the meeting. Or you can ask agents to talk about the items behind them on screen (such as a painting or what is on their bookshelf), introduce a family pet or show a vacation souvenir. While that may seem unrelated to work, it is important for team building. Better yet, schedule a team-building event such as a virtual cooking class, escape room puzzle or scavenger hunt. The key is to allow teammates to engage with each other and build team morale.
5. Increase senior-level interaction with the front line
Include WFH agents in all company activities, town halls, etc. It is not enough to send a memo summarizing the town hall. Upload a recording of it to your internal knowledge base (KB) or learning management system (LMS) so WFH agents can see and hear it. You can also invite senior leaders to speak at a department meeting or team-building event. Or have them record an internal podcast or contribute a few words for a departmental newsletter. The key is to make WFH agents feel that they are noticed and appreciated.
6. Leverage AI to support WFH agents
How can artificial intelligence (AI) and automation help with WFH agent engagement and support? One example is having AI analyze the opening of a call and push the appropriate knowledge base article to the agent. This saves the agent from having to search for that information. So, they can focus fully on the customer’s conversation. Another example is analyzing a telecom customer’s account and showing the agent, via pop-up screen, the best rate plan to suggest to the customer, along with projected savings. AI process automation can be a “trusty servant” to reduce agent workloads and frustration, whether they work from home or on-site.
7. Connect meaning to a WFH agent’s work
Let’s be honest, customer service can be repetitive. It is easy to wonder if you are making a difference, especially after hearing the same customer questions and complaints day after day, week after week. Sometimes, being in customer service can feel like pushing back the tide with a broom.
To combat that feeling of disillusionment, help agents see the big picture. Show how their contribution improves customer satisfaction. Share great customer satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) ratings. Let them know that customers appreciate them by sharing any positive customer comments. Also, let them know YOU appreciate them by recognizing their contributions.
If you are moving to a permanent WFH or hybrid model, remember to focus on employee engagement. Communicate more frequently with WFH agents. Build a “virtual support team” so they have a network of internal resources. Ensure that coaches focus on behaviors, not statistics when interacting with agents. Also, train team leaders and managers to have interactive virtual meetings and huddles so WFH agents feel engaged and free to ask questions. Encourage senior leaders to communicate with WFH teams. Leverage AI to provide better tools and support to all of your agents. Finally, share CSAT and NPS scores, as well as positive customer stories, with WFH agents so they understand how they contribute to the company and feel recognized for their good work.