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Strategies for Managing Remote Call Center Teams – Part 2

Strategies for Managing Remote Call Center Teams – Part 2

Strategies for Managing Remote Call Center Teams – Part 2

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.

In Part 1, in the last issue, I looked at communications, technology, and performance monitoring while Part 2 will be covering employee engagement, security, and training, with parting advice.

Employee Engagement

Engaging remote staff does pose several unique challenges for agents compared to those in a traditional office setting. It’s not as easy as donuts in the morning, a pizza party for lunch, or something more extravagant, such as a Thanksgiving spread.

Here are some of these challenges.

  • Feeling Disconnected. Remote agents might find themselves missing the camaraderie of the office, leading to feelings of isolation. In contrast, some may discover separating between work and home challenging since both functions occur in the same living space.
  • Communication Struggles. Without face-to-face interactions, it’s more challenging for agents to communicate effectively, give and get feedback, and feel like part of the team.
  • Autonomy Concerns. Some remote agents might worry about being “out of sight, out of mind” and feel uncertain about their performance without direct supervision.

Moreover, when faced with challenges like being unable to address a customer’s inquiry and having limited options for finding a solution, agents may experience frustration. This exacerbates their feelings of loneliness.

Here are a few strategies to keep agents engaged while working remotely.

  • Keeping the Lines Open. Prioritize regular check-ins, virtual meetings, and informal chats to maintain a sense of connection and keep communication flowing freely. Here, the more you communicate, the better it is for the team; use newsletters, emails, and the list goes on to keep agents in the loop.
  • Building Virtual Bonds. From online team-building games to virtual coffee breaks, find creative ways to foster a sense of community and belonging, even from afar. Also, it brings agents into making critical decisions whenever possible; this helps the agents develop the feeling that their input matters and can take the form of focus groups or surveys.
  • Recognizing Efforts. Ensure celebrating wins, big and small, and offer regular feedback to let your remote agents know their hard work is seen and appreciated.
  • Investing in Growth. Offering remote-friendly training and development opportunities shows your commitment to helping your agents grow personally and professionally, no matter where they’re based.
  • By prioritizing these strategies...you're creating an environment where your agents thrive.
  • Keeping Performance in Focus. Offer agents access to an application or platform to quickly check their metrics, attendance records, customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, and more. This tool provides a snapshot of their performance status, allowing them to gauge their progress.
  • Having Availability, Gamification. Ensure your availability to address any questions or concerns, helping agents better understand their performance metrics. Throw in a little gamification to keep things interesting, where agents get rewarded for good performance or going above and beyond on calls.
  • Supporting Wellbeing. Be mindful of the challenges remote work can pose to mental health, so provide resources and support to help your agents maintain a healthy work-life balance.
  • Empower Agents. Empower your agents with all the tools they need to support customers effectively, whether it’s a robust knowledge management system (KMS) or cutting-edge AI-powered chatbots. Provide them with whatever resources they require to deliver exceptional service.

By prioritizing these strategies, you’re not just overcoming the hurdles of remote work: you’re creating an environment where your agents thrive. No matter where they’re logging in from.

Security

Cybercriminals are always on the prowl for exploiting cyber security weaknesses (see my Cybersecurity article in this issue).

And they are particularly looking for those that exist with home/remote employees. Here are those to watch out for.

  • Home Network Vulnerabilities. Remote agents operate within the confines of their home networks, which may lack robust security measures in corporate environments, making them susceptible to cyber threats.
  • Increased Phishing Risks. Without the protective shield of corporate firewalls and security protocols, remote agents are more vulnerable to phishing attacks and social engineering tactics, posing a significant threat to data integrity.
  • Endpoint Security. With agents accessing company systems and data from various devices, such as bringing your own device (BYOD), and locations, ensuring endpoints’ security becomes paramount to prevent unauthorized access and data breaches.

I remember a call we used to train new hires on call authentication. In this scenario, a remote agent initially held their ground, refusing to give account information to an unauthorized caller. However, after some pressure, the agent ultimately relented. When I spoke to the agent about it later, the agent admitted feeling conflicted as they wanted to help the caller but knew it was against protocol.

I explained to this agent that these protocols exist to protect our members’ accounts from unauthorized access. I likened it to a neighbor you don’t trust mistakenly getting your mail and then pretending to be you on a call to your bank. It’s a breach of privacy and trust, just like our members wouldn’t want unauthorized access to their accounts.

The agent understood the importance of following protocols. And they never violated call authentication guidelines again.

Here are a few strategies to keep agents and your data safe in the cyber world.

  • Cybersecurity Training. Providing thorough training to agents frequently, at least monthly, is a good practice, arming them with the knowledge and skills to effectively recognize and respond to security threats.
  • Deployment of Remote Security Tools. Leverage technologies like virtual private networks (VPNs), endpoint protection software, and encryption protocols to reinforce the security of remote connections and protect sensitive data. Do your best to provide agents with devices, like laptops, to access company information, further reducing threats.
  • Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA). Adding an extra layer of authentication, such as biometric verification or one-time codes, goes beyond passwords to enhance the security of remote access to company systems and applications.
  • Regular Security Audits and Updates. Conduct frequent audits of remote systems and ensure timely installation of software updates and patches. This proactive approach helps identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities before cyber threats can exploit them.
  • Promoting a Culture of Security Awareness. Foster a culture where agents remain vigilant against phishing attempts, practice strong password management, and make it easy for agents to report suspicious activity, such as emails or a caller impersonating a customer.
  • Auto Backups. Encouraging employees to store files on secure company servers ensures data safety, while regular backups minimize downtime. Replicating backups to remote or cloud locations adds extra protection against ransomware.
  • Further, opt for a company-wide policy that automatically saves documents and data to shared platforms like Google Workspace or Microsoft Office 365, supplemented by appropriate backup solutions for data retention beyond hosted service limits.

Lastly, encourage agents to seek IT support when something feels wrong about how their system is behaving as this ensures swift and secure resolutions, mitigating potential risks. Incorporating these measures may involve some upfront costs, but they are far wiser investments than leaving your company vulnerable to cyber threats and hoping for the best.

Training

Navigating the shift to remote training involves more than just changing locations. It’s about crafting training programs that connect and are effective for each trainee.

In my experience, I’ve found that nothing quite beats the effectiveness of instructor-led training (ILT) when it comes to getting a return on your investment. On the other hand, web-based training (WBT) often serves as a valuable tool for revisiting and reinforcing what was initially covered by the instructor during orientation training.

While conducting remote training classes, I’ve encountered a few challenges. And I’ve learned how to tackle them head-on or dial down their impacts, aiming to better prepare our agents for the calls that await.

Navigating the shift to remote training...is about crafting training programs that connect and are effective for each trainee.

One of the issues that crop up occasionally is technical, namely glitches when connecting with remote agents. I believe there’s a limit to how much we can preemptively do, but from my experience, a few tweaks have surprisingly cut down on downtime.

  • Kick off the training by diving into the tech essentials: navigating MS Outlook or mastering the ins and outs of MS Teams. Don’t assume that everyone has the same understanding of how these platforms work.
  • Record training sessions for review and as a lifeline for those dealing with pesky internet hiccups or unexpected power outages.
  • Create a safety net for your training essentials: from having a backup meeting platform ready to curating a contact database of trainee details. These are small steps to ensure the show continues.
  • Arm your class with a go-to manual for tackling common tech roadblocks, be it a finicky VPN or other issues. And if that guide doesn’t cut it, provide them with a direct line to the tech support team.

Another issue is that engaging in a remote class can be like navigating a maze, but I’ve found a few tricks to light up the path.

  • Kick things off with a friendly icebreaker. This gets the class into learning about each other, whether it’s their go-to weekend fun or a tale from their call center adventures.
  • Weave a story around why the material is more than just content on a screen. It’s a toolkit you’ll want to have in your back pocket.
  • Sprinkle in some interactive elements – knowledge checks, videos, games, and actual call recordings: prompting trainees to dig into scenarios and content.
  • Break up the flow with short break-out sessions for the class to dive into questions or tackle bite-sized assignments. These give agents a breather while staying engaged.
  • Flip the script and let your agents take center stage. Their input, especially on call recordings, boosts engagement and brings a valuable real-world perspective to the virtual class.

Handling home distractions is tricky, but here are a few things that could help.

  • While suggesting a dedicated no-bother zone is a solid idea, life happens. Whether it’s a leaky roof or a sick kid, if life throws a curveball then let’s aim for accommodations that work for everyone.
  • Toss in more breaks to the mix: brief pauses every 40 minutes, on top of the standard 15-minute breathers and a half-hour lunch break. It’s a chance for a mental reset and a quick stretch, keeping things fresh.
  • Personal challenges will inevitably pop up, and creating a space where trainees feel comfortable sharing those hurdles is critical. After all, we’re not just teaching content but are supporting individuals on a unique journey.

Finally, there is the matter of remote agents retaining training material. Though it would be easy to zoom (or Zoom) through the training material and get agents on the phone, sometimes it’s not the best approach. The sneaky truth is that even if agents nod during the material delivery, a little forgetfulness can sneak in.

That’s why it’s vital to revisit the material taught in various ways, such as practice sheets, carefully selected calls, role-playing, and knowledge checks, to name a few.

...we're not just teaching content but are supporting individuals on a unique journey.

And let’s not forget the post-training support. It’s also good to provide the class with resources, such as a KMS or eBook version of your training binder, to allow trainees to revisit the material when they need it on a call or chat.

Parting Advice

As a parting tip to squeeze every drop of goodness from your training class, consider weaving in a training survey that helps you improve future classes. Conduct an end-of-class assessment that covers the crucial elements an agent needs to know to take calls.

Oh, and here’s a game-changer: enlist a trusty assistant trainer. Think of them as the class wingperson, ready to dive into the chat, tackle attendance, or assist with other training-related activities.

When the world of call and contact centers moved to remote work, opening doors for many individuals to rejoin the workforce, enabling them to balance family responsibilities while earning a living.

This shift has brought in several benefits, such as helping to reduce commuting time and cost and providing flexible working hours for the agents, to name a few. For the company, it has also helped to cast a wider net on the talent pool, crossing state and national boundaries to find the right skills for the job while reducing office space costs.

Still, all these benefits come with some disadvantages, including communication barriers, social isolation, and the struggle to maintain a clear boundary between home and professional life.

I believe addressing these challenges involves strategically using technology and resources while thoughtfully implementing company cultural norms, fostering effective communication, reducing social isolation, and establishing a healthy work-life balance. Thereby developing a harmonious blend of productivity and wellbeing for the agent and center.

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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CURRENT ISSUE: May 2024

Can Contact Centers Mitigate Fraud Risks?

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