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Strategies for Managing Remote Call Center Teams – Part 1

Strategies for Managing Remote Call Center Teams – Part 1

/ Current Issue, People, , Remote Work, Strategy
Strategies for Managing Remote Call Center Teams – Part 1

How to handle challenges of agents working from home.

As the world has shed its embrace from the global COVID-19 pandemic, call and contact center leaders find themselves in a classroom of adaptability. They teach us to pivot while staying true to our objectives, serving customers, and meeting service level agreements (SLAs).

Yet, this shift is not just about survival. It’s ushering in a new call and contact center management era. Picture rolling out the red carpet to a mix of benefits and challenges.

  • From the obvious, like reducing office space and the ability to cast a broader net in filling open roles.
  • To the more peculiar moments: like wondering “why Josh is in after-call work (ACW) for over seven minutes when five calls are waiting in the call queues.”

As a call center leader, navigating this transition is not just a matter of logistics but a strategic imperative. In these pages, we journey through some of the best practices for creating an engaged customer-oriented team in an evolving remote work landscape.

This is a complex topic. So, I’ve decided to split my column into two parts. Part 1 will look at communications, technology, and performance monitoring while Part 2 will cover employee engagement, security, and training, with parting advice.

Remote Work Challenges and Solutions

Communications

Connecting with an offsite team member isn’t as straightforward as strolling over to their desk for a quick chat. It involves time and effort to craft a clear, error-free message and then patiently await their response. The challenge intensifies when timely communication, like maintaining SLAs in a center, is crucial.

I vividly recall a moment from my stint as a team leader when a call was waiting in a specific queue. The two agents assigned to handle the late shift were both engaged in calls as the clock struck 6 pm: the cue for them to wrap up and log off.

Realizing the potential SLA slip, I created an MS Teams chat, requesting them to stay logged in as we had a waiting call. Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on my side: both agents missed my message and logged off after concluding their calls.

Connecting with an offsite team member...involves time and effort to craft a clear, error-free message...

Just as I grappled with the situation, a sudden twist of fate occurred. They logged back in in the blink of an eye, and one of the agents answered the call. This incident underscored the delicate dance of communication in remote teams, where a momentary lapse can lead to cascading consequences.

Here are several possible solutions.

  • Create a virtual water cooler through platforms such as Yammer or Slack, but for real-time matters, consider using an application like MS Teams.
  • Though these applications boost camaraderie in a remote working environment, it is very important to lay down some ground rules for communication and request team members to be mindful of what they say. No one wants their communication to rub someone the wrong way.
  • Use virtual check-ins to see how agents are holding up or drop a line to see if they need assistance. During these check-ins, it could create a feedback loop, help understand what customers are saying, or even help gather thoughts from agents.
  • Share information with and involve remote agents, like sharing the scoop on call center statistics and celebrating their birthdays and work milestones (but be polite and ask permission first). Create a call center newsletter, or if you have one, also feature these agents.

Technology

Call or contact centers, whether virtual or brick-and-mortar, dance to the tune of technology. When a glitch hits, it’s like tossing a pebble into a pond. The ripples spread, such as the virtual private network (VPN) going down and agents being unable to access the CRM system where agents cannot assist customers with account-specific questions.

But sometimes, it’s the little hiccups that impact service, like a rebellious Bluetooth mouse. The show continues with a quick battery swap and a switch to the laptop’s touchpad.

In a remote center, isolation intensifies the frustration of grappling with technical glitches. Unlike the bustling office environment where colleagues can swiftly lend a hand or offer workaround solutions, remote agents often feel adrift and disconnected when faced with them. Like a caller unable to hear them or a sluggish internet connection.

Implementing remote support tools allows contact center staff to troubleshoot issues on remote agents' devices...

In our team, each leadership team member strives to provide technical support by learning from our tech experts. If we cannot assist the agent through platforms like Teams or over a phone call, we connect them with someone who can help. We aim to ensure that agents never feel alone in their challenges and avoid developing a sense of helplessness.

Irrespective of whether the issues are small or big, these disruptions bring about a dose of discomfort for agents, customers, or the entire crew.

Here are several possible solutions.

  • Provide comprehensive training to agents on how to use your center’s technology, such as CRM, phone software, collaboration tools, and customer-facing tools, to name a few. That also includes training agents on your emergency procedures, such as assisting callers if the CRM is unavailable.
  • Create a troubleshooting guide, whether a sluggish computer or the classic “forgot my password,” jot down the steps on your knowledge management system (KMS). Doing so is the go-to for quick issue resolution.
  • Set communication expectations on how leadership or agents can report these technology issues.
  • Implementing remote support tools allows contact center staff to troubleshoot issues on remote agents’ devices, offering quick solutions without the need for physical presence.
  • Enabling virtual side-by-side assistance allows support staff to observe and guide remote agents through challenging situations in real-time, fostering learning and skill development.
  • Lastly, refer to this article, “Do We Need Disaster Planning?”, for a list of preparing and recovering from major technology issues.

Performance Monitoring

Irrespective of whether you are working in the office or remotely, we all monitor performance. For good reason. It tracks your center’s current performance and reveals possibilities to improve it, such as by identifying agents’ strengths and weaknesses: and responding with coaching and training to bring the best out of your people.

However, managing performance in a remote setup presents challenges compared to traditional office environments. Let’s explore some of the key differences.

  • Lack of Direct Oversight. Remote agents may feel less supervised and accountable compared to their on-premise counterparts, leading to potential productivity and performance issues.
  • Communication Barriers. Without face-to-face interactions, it’s harder to provide real-time feedback, clarify expectations, and address performance concerns promptly.
  • Distractions and Work-Life Balance. Remote agents may struggle to maintain focus and productivity amidst home distractions, impacting their overall performance and efficiency.
...managing performance in a remote setup presents challenges compared to traditional office environments.

The other day, I noticed calls piling up in the queue, but one of our agents seemed stuck in ACW for over four minutes.

I reached out to see if everything was okay, informed him about how long he was in ACW, and told him we had calls waiting. The agent admitted they’d forgotten they were still in ACW. It made me realize that while performance metrics give us a snapshot, they don’t always tell the whole story. Sometimes, there are unexpected hurdles, like the CRM logging agents out mid-task, leaving them to start over again.

Invest in remote-specific training and skill development programs to empower agents...to excel in their roles...

Here are some strategies to help remote agents excel and meet performance expectations:

  • Set Clear Expectations and Goals. Set transparent performance metrics and goals, ensuring remote agents understand their expectations and how their performance will be measured.
  • Have Meetings and Huddles. Schedule frequent one-on-one meetings and team huddles to provide ongoing feedback, support, and coaching to remote agents, fostering a sense of connection and accountability.
  • Leverage Technology for Monitoring. Utilize performance tracking tools and software to monitor remote agents’ activities, identify areas for improvement, and provide timely interventions as needed. Usually, your call center’s phone system tracks the agent’s activities, such as taking calls or breaks, which is typically sufficient.
  • Encourage Collaboration and Engagement. To boost morale and motivation, foster a collaborative and inclusive remote work culture through virtual team-building activities, knowledge-sharing sessions, and peer recognition programs.
  • Quality Assurance (QA). Regular QAs to ensure agents perform calls per your center’s standards and that customers are provided accurate information while receiving excellent customer service. It’s not just about checking boxes: it’s about spotting trends, finding areas for improvement, and helping agents grow through training and coaching opportunities.
  • Provide Training and Development. Invest in remote-specific training and skill development programs to empower agents with the necessary tools and resources to excel in their roles, enhancing overall performance and job satisfaction.

Finally, provide agents with tools to view the number of calls waiting in the queue, their metrics, and call forecast, to name a few, so that agents have some visibility into the operations. I wouldn’t recommend allowing agents to view other agent’s real-time activities.

Mark Pereira

Mark Pereira

Meet Mark Pereira, a passionate learning and development professional with a wealth of knowledge and experience. He is an experienced Trainer and On-Site Supervisor who has earned several certifications. These include the Certified Professional Trainer (C.P.T.), Certified Customer Service Professional (C.C.S.P.), and Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (M.C.C.T.). Combining his academic background in Commerce and Innovative Education and Teaching with practical experience, Mark is a valuable learning leader who boosts retention and productivity through proven teaching methods. He provides expert coaching to agents with empathy and skill and stays up-to-date with industry developments and advancements from his base in Indianapolis.

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