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Lessons Learned: Hybrid Contact Center Workforce Operations

What happens when your contact center is hybrid, with some agents working on-site and others working remotely at home? How do you conduct training? How do you keep retention high?

We knew many of our clients were asking these same questions.

Our latest Contact Center Executive Forum helped answer them.

Kimberly Gant, the Customer Service Director for Attorney Kenneth S. Nugent, P.C. Law Firm and a former consultant for companies looking to move to a hybrid or even all-remote workforce, was the main speaker at our February 3 CCEF Virtual Roundtable.

She has more than 25 years of experience in many different business sectors and considerable expertise in operations strategy, integrated supply chain operations, and – particularly pertinent to the evolution of remote/hybrid workforces across the world – process improvement execution and strategized planning.

In a nutshell, she’s a subject-matter expert on all things Contact Center.

Gant worked as a consultant for Contact Centers during the first several months of the pandemic and was a speaker at our September 2021 CCEF Forum. One of the things she stated then was how terrific she thought remote work was for Contact Center employees.

She still believes so

“People can take walks,” she said. “They can use the time they used to commute enjoy their personal lives more in so many ways: their health, their family relationships, etc.”

Gant gave one example at our February roundtable that she feels shows how much working remotely can help an agent: one of her agents’ children tested positive for the Covid virus and so then had to stay home from school. The chat agent also had to quarantine, which meant she would have taken PTO time to do so and not work.

But the agent asked if she could work a part-time flex shift to quarantine and work when her partner returned home and took over child care.

Gant agreed and even told the agent she shouldn’t use all of her PTO because she worked part-time on the flex shift.

Remote work can be great for many people – and many job candidates have told employers nationwide how important it is when it comes to recruiting them. One survey found that remote jobs receive 300 percent more applications than positions that don’t have that specification and keep them – but many Contact Centers would prefer to have a hybrid remote/on-site workforce rather than one that’s fully remote.

Two Issues: Training and Retention

Dr. LuAna Boykins at our January CCEF Roundtable and all of our panelists at last fall’s roundtables spoke about these issues, so it’s apparent they’ll probably remain challenges moving forward.

Yet challenges are always opportunities for overall improvement, and Gant said she definitely found that’s the case with her clients.

Here’s what Gant has found worked:

  • Many great trainers don’t train well in a remote atmosphere, and many agents don’t learn well remotely.

If that’s the case, and if it’s at all possible, Gant recommended that contact centers continue training in-person/on-site, at least sometimes.

  • Part of the problem may be that agents/trainers don’t feel comfortable working with technology.

This may be surprising to many, but it’s true: many people feel intimated by technology, and it can take them longer to understand that there’s not much they can do to “break things.”

They also may not be as adept at navigating websites as others: not all of us are online for hours at end, working within a particular software platform with many bells and whistles. It can take some time to get used to new technology.

Gant found that many contact center trainees were worried that they weren’t “getting” their remote training and therefore weren’t as proficient in the Contact Center’s platform as their test scores indicated.

“They didn’t feel they were grasping the material as well as they did in an in-house environment,” she said. “They were wondering if they would be able to perform as needed.”

Many platform trainees asked for more in-depth reviews of certain subjects. She mentioned that she’s a big proponent of live remote training (compared to recorded training) so that trainees could ask questions in real-time as subjects came up.

(Gant noted that being be able to ask chat questions privately also helped because she learned that some trainees felt embarrassed to ask questions “in public.”)

  • Tips for deciding who can work remotely full-time and who should work on-site.

Not everyone is cut out for working from home, Gant said.

Therefore, training and onboarding new hires must be a “graduated process because you have to find out who is qualified to work from home.”

  • Working from home and having a clear career path for agents increases agent retention.

Gant noted that the opportunity to work from home decreased attrition at one of her consulting clients by 60 percent.

Creating a career path for contact agents (if one doesn’t already exist) and making sure that new hires (during onboarding) and seasoned agents know how they can work their way over time along that path also helps with retention.

  • Productivity might suffer at first when an on-site agent moves to remote work.

Gant mentioned that if it does decline when moving from Contact Center to home, it tends to do so for about 90 days.

Managers need to be aware that, as mentioned above, not everyone can work from home. A remote-working agent may have to share Internet service with other residents of a condo or apartment building, so the agent’s internet access/speed may be too slow. (Although this can be mitigated if a Contact Center has its own servers on which agents can log on remotely or they use company-supplied technology to work on those servers.)

Other agents aren’t as able to navigate the distractions of other family members, neighbors, neighborhood noise. Simple self-discipline also may be a factor.

Somewhat strict work-time rules can help mitigate this, Gant said:

“Let them know that the only thing that changes about their work is their work location. ‘You can’t get your mail unless you’re on your morning break,’. ‘You can’t do laundry. You can do anything you like on your break time, but it must be on your scheduled break.'”

She found that giving agents simple physical aides often helped, such as sending them a front-door sign for delivery people letting them know they couldn’t come to the door (and thus leave their work station to answer a doorbell), turned out to be a big help.

“It’s been my personal experience [when moving on-site agents to remote work] that giving them clear guidelines and tools upfront will help them succeed, and they normally do,” she said. “Because they want to succeed.”

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