The road to the contact center of the future is winding and uncertain. Flexibility, though, is the key to a smoother ride. Adapting to the work styles and learning preferences of your remote contact center agents is a smart place to start. You’ll increase engagement now and optimize performance long-term.
Research from Playvox — including the real-world experiences and perspectives of contact center leaders and agents — uncovers data and practical insights on the state of contact center remote work. It reveals the challenges and conflicts organizations face as many weigh the benefits of today’s remote and hybrid work against moving back to a fully on-site workplace of the future.
What Does The Contact Center Workplace Of The Future Look Like?
Whether your customer service center is remote, hybrid, or moving back to the office full-time, agent engagement is critical to success—now and into the future. According to the data, nearly all contact centers are either entirely remote or hybrid now.
Here’s the breakdown:
- 60% of contact centers are using a hybrid model
- 40% of contact centers are fully remote
- 68% of agents work remotely 31 to 40 hours per week
- 64% of managers work remotely five or more days per week
- Only 2% of agents work on-site the entire work week
Gartner research suggests the trend to remote will continue through 2023. In fact, it predicts that by 2024, 30% of organizations will have moved their customer support centers’ operations off-premises.
To drive customer support agent satisfaction and improve customer experience, managers must focus on optimizing remote contact center agent engagement now. Although remote and work from anywhere environments make managing teams more challenging for sure, there are ways to overcome the operational and cultural hurdles.
Getting it right takes deliberate steps by customer experience leaders to properly evaluate performance, understand customer service agent needs and challenges, and offer the support and tools individual employees require to deliver positive customer experience. And, importantly, they must be ready to keep adapting.
Based on real customer service centers’ success, here are the five best ways to keep remote contact center agents connected and engaged:
1. Communicate. Better.
According to the research, both managers and customer support agents agree that better communication equals better engagement. We have heard from customer experience leaders that agents are best motivated and engaged through regular, meaningful communication.
Daily or weekly one-on-one meetings can help assess motivation levels and correct issues quickly when necessary. Creative team building is also important, according to customer service agents surveyed in the research.
Managers report that actively gauging employee sentiment is helpful to drive engagement.
For example, some contact centers regularly conduct surveys to understand if agents want to continue working remotely and if improvements are needed to optimize performance.
Kimberly C., a manager at a nonprofit, shares that she surveys agents quarterly and asks questions like, “How are you feeling about remote work?” and “Have there been any changes we need to know about?” The surveys revealed that most customer support agents want to be 100% remote because they’ll save money on commuting costs, time spent preparing to go to an office, and time their children may need to spend at a childcare facility, to name a few.
Remember that better communication is two-way. Gallup research reveals that lack of clarity around expectations, recognition, and connection to the business has led to lower engagement rates for remote employees compared to others.
Remote agents should be familiar with organizational goals and strategies, and they should be invited to offer input. Listen to feedback regarding your customer service agents’ needs, and also regularly communicate expectations, organizational goals and what’s working and isn’t succeeding across the team.
2. Cultivate Connections
Getting — and keeping — remote contact center agents engaged takes regular outreach to connect and tune in. It’s a bigger challenge to stay connected with remote agents than it is when teams are together in a single location. A regular cadence of one-on-one meetings between remote agents and managers helps bridge the divide.
When customer service agents are physically separated from their co-workers, the isolation can lead to feeling unappreciated. Look for ways to foster connections between your agents too.
According to Gartner’s recommendations, a successful working environment for remote contact center agents must be driven by positive energy, which requires more virtual team-building activities. These can be as simple as celebrating project completions, work anniversaries or “happy hours” for teams to come together to unwind and talk about non-work-related topics.
Ensure your remote customer service agents feel valued and recognized for their achievements. Offer incentives or performance-based rewards they can work toward.
3. Play To Individual Strengths
Most customer support centers today operate with multi-generational teams of agents. For customer experience leaders, that means wide-ranging work styles, communication strengths, training preferences, even expectations. In the same way we adjust to meet the needs of customers, we must adjust for our employees.
What Is A Multigenerational Workforce? A multigenerational workforce is one that has a fairly even distribution of workers across generations.
Here are some of the primary differences to consider when managing a customer support center across generations:
- Gen Z dislikes hierarchy
- Millennials prioritize an organization’s interest in their well-being
- Gen X values independence above all
- Baby Boomers respect hierarchy, are committed to hard work, and value achievement
Dayle M. SMith, Ph.D., dean of the College of Business Administration at Loyola Marymount University, puts the need to coalesce across generational groups this way: “A manager’s primary goal is to understand and harmonize [generational] differences into an impactful company culture through listening, mutual respect, and mix-and-match exposure to the full bouquet of generational talent.”
Be aware of generational tendencies and affinities, but remember it’s also important to not make assumptions based on age. Treat people as individuals and seek to understand them to help leverage their strengths. Across generations, people want to feel valued, and that’s how contact centers can play to—and leverage—diverse strengths.
Related Article: Leading A Multigenerational Workforce in the Contact Center
4. Leverage Smart Technology
Video conferencing was a lifeline for remote contact center agents in the initial COVID transition. According to respondents in the Playvox research, video conferencing software like Zoom is the most popular technology used to support remote workforces (54%). But video conferencing is only the start of the technology available to support agents and build engagement among agents.
Contact centers that are struggling with—or just want to finetune—how they manage remote contact center agents, Workforce Management (WFM) and Quality Management solutions can help. Technology solutions address these significant hurdles of remote work—when customer experience managers can’t quickly provide face-to-face guidance and feedback:
- Agent evaluation
- Problem resolution
When managers can’t post schedules on office whiteboards, WFM software can help based on demand and enable remote contact center agents to view their schedules and easily trade shifts from home. When these solutions are cloud-based, they can simplify and change on demand.
Gartner strongly recommends using WFM tools for agent engagement. Cloud-native WFM helps managers tame the complexity of work from anywhere with solutions for easy and accurate capacity planning, forecasting, scheduling, and intraday planning.
5. Adapt. Adapt. Adapt.
While there are unique challenges to remote work, it has clearly been a boon for agent satisfaction:
- 70% of customer support agents say their job happiness has increased since working remotely
- 50% of agents say they wouldn’t work for a company that didn’t offer a remote work option
As for contact centers, it’s been a retention and recruitment win. With the benefits comes a clear lesson: Flexibility is now a priority for employees, and for contact centers to retain the caliber of employees they need to win and keep customers, they must adapt.
Learn More About Engaging For Success
Contact centers in a squeeze between optimizing customer experience and contact center performance must find ways to keep agents satisfied, motivated and engaged in any work environment. The future of contact center work is fluid and will require flexibility to thrive. Understanding and adapting to the preferences of agents is critical to success.
Learn more about remote contact center agents’ preferred learning styles, work environments from real-word research directly from agents and managers. Read the complete findings by downloading Playvox’s new ebook, The State Of Remote Work In The Contact Center Industry.