As with business-to-consumer (B2C) contact centers, business-to-business (B2B) contact centers also had to suddenly have their agents work-from-home (WFH) when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Businesses selling to other businesses have long had a culture of remote work...
Like their consumer-facing counterparts, not a few business centers had trialed WFH before the pandemic, which gave those that had done so a modicum of familiarity with the practice.
Businesses selling to other businesses have long had a culture of remote work, notably of field sales reps engaging with customers in-person, but increasingly while mobile, enabled by CRM applications accessed through sophisticated wireless devices on growing, powerful networks.
Now that there are at last signs that the pandemic may be ebbing away, and that we are entering a new normal, we reached out to our B2B round table participants that we had conversed with for the April issue and asked them about WFH.
“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and moving to the new normal are B2B contact centers moving to a WFH or WFH-hybrid model, why, and are there any unique attributes or benefits of WFH for them? And can you compare and contrast B2B versus B2C contact centers on WFH and hybrid models?”
Here are their answers:
VP, Customer Experience Strategy
Companies will find it impossible to have all employees return full-time to the office. WFH full and part-time will become the hybrid model for most contact center agents in B2B: similar to B2C.
Historically there has been less acceptance of WFH in the B2B space. And there are major challenges with security and privacy, which has often relied on antiquated policies and procedures in managing a workforce.
B2B centers also often face larger technical hurdles in the technology stack, as more of the technology is on-premises, and has fewer cloud applications. These antiquated agent-facing systems include telephony and an inefficient scalability of multichannel strategies.
Director of Product Marketing
Contact centers in both B2B and B2C were impacted heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic as customer service agents and tech support engineers were confined to home during lockdown.
Rising queues and longer call handle times compounded the well-known issue of multiple people working on resolving the same issues, in parallel and in isolation of each other.
But without being in the office, they couldn’t turn to the persons next to them if they needed help, so businesses were forced to quickly ramp up their digital workplaces and enable quick access to relevant knowledge across the enterprise.
Those businesses that were able to do this successfully were able to reap the benefits of a WFH or hybrid model, which many are continuing in the new normal.
With a new WFH/hybrid model, companies are able to recruit the best employees regardless of where they live, and the flexibility allows for increased productivity and less turnover.
Organizations are more adaptable to the work-life balance of employees and focus on improving the employee experience so they can retain top talent.
Both B2B and B2C companies should be focused on improving the digital workplace as the hybrid contact center continues in the new normal.
Director of Product Management
A large number of contact centers in North America - both B2B and B2C - have needed to move to a WFH model out of necessity based on government mandates, health concerns, and now, employee demands.
Currently, contact centers are in a state of flux, attempting to bring workers back into the office where it is safe to do so, WFH where required, and boomeranging back and forth based on changes to the evolving COVID pandemic and related workforce sentiment.
Regardless, while B2B and B2C companies alike continue to navigate the new normal, they will need to address the fact that some workers will want to continue to WFH permanently versus returning to the office - whether that be by way of a hybrid model or another approach.
The majority of B2B contact centers have had a WFH model in place well before the pandemic. By comparison, B2C contact centers, however, have had to move to WFH in response to COVID.
Due to the general nature of a B2B agent’s role - in building long-term relationships with B2B customers - versus a B2C agent who often engages with customers on a one-off basis, these contact centers are focused on ensuring their B2B agents are as productive and happy as possible. Happy agents mean happy customers; therefore, for many B2B agents, WFH is here to stay.
On the other hand, traditional B2C contact centers could see a higher degree of turnover and productivity challenges, resulting in a closer focus on agent quality and monitoring of agent activity - something that is easier to do in an in-office setting versus virtually.
VP, Product Strategy
As organizations continue to support the distributed workforce, they have been able to leverage their cloud contact center technology to “plug” personnel into the customer service realm - for example, banks have used their branch personnel to help answer customer calls.
Many B2B sales and customer success personnel who previously traveled extensively were “grounded” and we’ve seen the high potential for burnout without the breaks and perks of travel, as well as the energy and dynamics of in-person negotiations and meetings.
For the contact center agent working from home, it can be more stressful to try to provide the high level of customer service with the distractions that a work-from-anywhere environment includes. Technology that helps support agents such as real-time assist and agent desktop solutions can help improve the agent experience behind the desktop.
Chief Marketing Officer
When COVID-19 first necessitated a WFH approach, most contact centers were concerned with the basics. Namely connecting remote employees to essential systems, redirecting customers to digital channels to lighten the load on employees, and trying to deliver a consistent experience under the circumstances.
Today, many B2B-focused companies have deployed a work from anywhere/hybrid approach to adhere to employees’ individual needs.
Regardless of the structure, customer service success and loyalty are influenced by the ability to provide high-quality service.
Whether B2B or B2C, hybrid, remote or on-site, customer service teams are key to helping organizations achieve their customer experience (CX) goals.
A few thoughts on how to establish successful WFH contact center models:
1. Move to the Cloud. Making the move to a true cloud-native environment is the only way to gain the speed and agility necessary to seamlessly move employees to a remote work environment and ensure business continuity. This is because cloud-native applications can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, computer, and web browser. Given the ubiquitous availability of these three things, the transition to employees working from anywhere is seamless and immediate.
2. Use Advanced Analytics. One of the main challenges in today’s distributed contact center, where employees work remotely, is how to understand what is happening holistically on the customer interactions front and ensure that employees are providing the best level of service.
Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) technology to understand the root causes as to why customers are reaching out and automatically categorizing them across all channels and customer journeys provide insights that can be proactively implemented to drive frictionless experiences.
3. Adopt Customer Self Service. Self-service options improve response times. Resources like knowledge bases and chatbots help customers find solutions to problems without the help of the customer service team.