Over the past month or so I’ve had an opportunity to interview a number of executives who have managed to move from a traditional contact centre environment into one in which hundreds of agents began working from home — all in little more than week.
This obviously takes agility, considerable project management expertise and the benefit of having already invested in cloud-based technologies. Even if remote customer service teams have been established, however, the real work could be just beginning.
According to a benchmark report that was published on Thursday from Hoboken, N.J.-based NICE, for example, 57 per cent of contact center employees working from home due to COVID-19 are now more likely to recommend their employers to friends, family, or peers than they were before the transition to working remotely.
This isn’t super-surprising, since you could imagine what they’d have said to their friends, family or peers if they’d been forced to stay elbow-to-elbow in a windowless contact center. The novelty of working from home, however, is quickly giving way to new problems:
With the transition to remote work environments, today’s customer service managers and their teams are dealing with multiple challenges all at once, including increased interaction volume across all channels; longer handle times, as service interactions become the first line of support for distressed consumers; more demanding customer needs, as agents are dealing with new, unusual requests that are more complex and sometimes outside their direct control.
The proposed solution, of course, is to buy more technology — specifically NICE’s CXone@home. The company said it includes “a complete suite of workforce engagement and optimization (WFO) capabilities – including quality and coaching with analytics, performance management, and workforce forecasting and scheduling.”
Now that the initial panic around the pandemic has subsided, in other words, companies may realize that simply enabling their contact center agents to work from home (WFH) was not enough. They need to think more deeply about the employee experience that will impact the customer experience.
When you hear most people talk about CX in the age of COVID-19, for example, most people talk about the digital-first experiences they’re fast-tracking or jerry-rigging. This could include new ways to explore their web site, place orders or arrange consultations with their staff. There is also the immediate after-purchase of click-and-collect or curbside pickup.
Although CX is more than simply what the customer service team does, it’s a key element, and I’d argue that what’s happening is almost like a new channel opening up. Call it CX From Home (CXFH), and there’s no question that it’s a lot different from stuffing agents into the same facility and routinely gathering them for training and coaching sessions.
Once you’ve gotten used to the feeling of freedom from having to commute somewhere, there are probably the same weird feelings of isolation, and perhaps even a different set of emotions when you’re actually talking to customers. When customers are the main people you’re talking to vs. your team, you probably approach those encounters a little differently.
When brands first embraced the idea of omni-channel marketing, they focused on simply establishing a presence on channels like social media or opening up to channels like texting. It took a long time before they actually optimized the way they used those channels in ways that were best for their customers.
Perhaps the same thing is now happening with CXFH. The agents are now set up to their jobs, but companies need to think about how they do the best job possible.
One example of how to think about this also came out Thursday when Austin, Tex.-based Lifesize launched CxEngage Video, which is designed to let agents talk on screen to customers no matter how they initially reach out.
I don’t know if this is great for customers — aren’t we all dealing with Zoom fatigue already? — but it could be great for agents who will need that human connection just as much as those they’re serving.
Yes, many of us are doing WFH now, and in some indirect way we may be supporting our customers. But contact center agents are directly supporting customers, which makes it CXFH. And that’s going to make it imperative brands reimagine what it will take to optimize CXFH over the long term.