Nov 26, 2020 7:23:00 AM
This year, 74% of companies let their customer service agents work remotely, and 70% of them want to keep this option in the future. While this department is traditionally in physical offices, companies had to adapt their operations to remain available for customers.
This move to remote work means that customer service departments had to find new ways to work. One of the major challenges is to maintain agents’ productivity: this aspect has a central role in the customer service department. It ensures that the customer response time promise is reached, which is a crucial factor impacting their satisfaction.
We are exploring 5 ways to keep remote agents engaged and productive, thanks to a combination of flexible processes, new technologies and automation.
Today’s digital landscape requires to be present on a number of digital channels: email, live-chat, social media, messaging apps… To manage all of them efficiently and offer fast replies, it is not possible to rely on separate tools. Another common practice in contact centres is possessing different teams for each channel: one team managing emails, another one managing social media… This approach is not adapted to the new customer service challenges either.
A better strategy is to centralise the management of all channels within a single platform and organise teams by skills. This need has been accelerated with the move to remote work. A cloud-based tool allows an instant deployment of remote work: agents just need a computer and internet access to handle customer interactions. This removes the constraints of on-premise tools that rely on hardware. Relying on a single tool also means that companies are reducing their costs and the need for training.
Cloud tools bring flexibility: thanks to open platforms, a complete ecosystem of tools can be developed to boost productivity, because agents don’t have to switch across multiple tools. Integrating the CRM with the customer engagement solution allows agents to access customer information (last purchase, status in the loyalty program…) instantly during the interaction, without switching to another tab. It also supports businesses to adapt to changes quickly, as new users and new channels can be added easily.
A few years ago, when the chatbot technology was just starting, there were fears that it may take jobs from agents. However, the experience showed that AI is not here to replace agents, but empower them. The future of customer service lies in a collaboration between AI and agents, where each of them has separate roles.
Chatbots can be used to answer basic enquiries, such as order tracking, document requests, redirecting to the right website resources… They can also start the interaction with customers to welcome them and qualify their requests. By identifying the purpose of their enquiry and information such as their name or order number, they can redirect to the right agents, allowing faster resolution.
On their side, agents do not have to answer the same repetitive questions and free up time for more added-value tasks. They can focus on more complex interactions that require a human touch. For example, this is essential when you need to show customers empathy in challenging situations.
This collaboration is made possible by a handover between chatbots and agents. The goal here is to improve the customer experience without complexifying it. That is why companies should pay special attention to ensuring a smooth transition between both parties, that is transparent for the customer and on the same channel. A customer engagement platform centralising all digital channels and integrating chatbots helps achieve this goal. As agents and chatbots are using the same platform, the company can set a seamless handover.
Empowerment is one of the best ways to boost employee engagement. Research by Temkin Group shows that employee engagement is one of four customer experience core competencies. Agents are on the customer service frontline: when they are engaged, they deliver a better service to customers. They can even go the extra mile and do more to satisfy customers.
Employee empowerment is defined as the process of “giving employees the power, authority, responsibility, resources, freedom to make decisions and solve work-related problems”. This is an important goal for every contact centre, becoming even more critical when working remotely. As agents are not in the office, they need to be able to solve issues without constantly asking approvals.
This strategy can be done by letting agents take initiatives within a defined perimeter. For example, they can have the possibility to offer a discount to customers who experienced an issue. When agents can take this initiative instantly, it results in more satisfied customers.
Employee empowerment is also about providing them the tools to support their daily work. 69% of employees are wasting up to one hour a day switching between apps, which represents a huge loss of productivity and frustration. The multiplication of apps is a major issue in customer service: agents usually need to use different tools depending on the channel, in addition to software such as the CRM. In a remote work environment, accessing multiple tools can be even more complex or even impossible if some of them are on-premise.
A cloud-based customer engagement platform solves this issue by centralising all digital channels. After logging into the platform, agents can start handling interactions on all channels, without switching. When they have the right tools, agents are empowered to focus on what matters most: satisfying customers.
In recent years, digital interactions for customer service grew fast, and they are still expected to increase by 40% in 2021, according to Forrester. While customers are getting used to contacting companies via channels like messaging apps, many of them are still relying on phone calls, when they are not aware of other options.
Call deflection is a strategy allowing companies to offer an alternative digital channel when customers call customer service. This approach reduces waiting time for the customer and eases the interaction management for companies.
Calls are essential in certain situations, but can be restrictive because of their synchronous nature. For agents working from home, managing calls can be a challenge. They need to access the call centre software remotely and to be in a quiet environment, which can be hard if they are home with family. Another factor to consider is that more and more agents are more at ease with text-based communication, as it is closer to their personal habits.
Asynchronous channels such as messaging apps are growing quickly and can be used for call deflection. They are easier to manage, as agents can handle more than one interaction at the same time. They can also be answered remotely from a computer without any additional hardware, and having background noise around the agent is not an issue like on the phone.
Call deflection can even be combined with chatbots to complete specific tasks: for example, answering a common request, processing a payment or authenticating users. For this type of request, call deflection is optimal for both parties: customers don’t have to wait, they can get instant answers to their requests, and companies lower the volume of interactions managed by agents.
Like other aspects of customer service, monitoring activity of distributed agents can look like a challenge. As all of them are in different locations, supervisors cannot interact with them as easily and help them when needed.
Monitoring the activity remotely is another significant benefit of cloud-based solutions. With a customer engagement platform, managers can access a global view of essential KPIs across all channels. This includes metrics such as customer satisfaction, average handling time, first-contact resolution and more. Observing these indicators is a good way to ensure that the customer service objectives are still achieved remotely.
These analytics can be used to pilot the activity in real-time in order to meet customers’ expectations. For example, if there is a peak of enquiries on a specific channel, supervisors can assign more agents to handle them.
The activity can also be followed at an individual level: in that way, supervisors can see the team’s activity and identify areas where support is needed. If agents have difficulties answering on a new channel for example, the company can organise training to improve their skills. This type of issue can then be solved, even when agents are working remotely, helping them to be more productive.
The massive transition to remote work accelerated the digital transformation of companies and showed that agents can stay productive outside the office. By developing a culture of trust, relying on cloud-based tools and leveraging automation, companies can empower teams to provide outstanding customer service from anywhere.
Remote work has several benefits: with more flexibility in their schedule and a better work-life balance, employees tend to be more engaged and stay longer in the company. This change shaped new employee expectations that will drive the adoption of remote work in the long term.
RingCentral Engage Digital facilitates the digital transformation of companies by helping them expand and steer their omni-digital customer relations. This online platform assembles all the customer interactions in one place (via messaging, social media, live-chat, mobile, email).
Adrien is Content & PR Manager at RingCentral. Through various formats, he develops content and stories helping companies provide the omni-digital experience expected by their customers. When he's not busy writing, you will find him reading the latest customer care news or collaborating with digital experts.