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WFH vs In-Center CX: Tips And Best Practices for Choosing An In-Center or At-Home CX Delivery Model

Work-From-Home is here to stay. But is it right for your CX program? Read on to discover how to find the right balance.

Like most employers during COVID-19, CX outsourcers had to quickly pivot to a work-from-home (WFH) model for their large populations of customer support professionals across a large geographic footprint. 

At the same time, many industries saw a huge spike in customer support demand -- total contact center conversation volume increased by around 20 percent from mid-February to March in 2020. This solidified the need for CX outsourcers to shift to WFH, as demand didn’t slow down, and businesses couldn’t let their customer support suffer during this difficult time.

In a post-Covid landscape, work-from-home has become a mainstay for customer support programs. In fact, research by Gartner shows that it is projected that 71% of contact center services will be provided remotely moving forward. For many CX teams, the arrangement is working out. A recent Forbes survey found that 70% of contact center managers were satisfied with the productivity of their remote agents. 

The last year’s push to shift to more WFH options, coupled with the increased demand for 24/7 customer support has highlighted the need for organizations to focus on investing in the right mix of people, processes, and technology to support the changes in both agent and customer expectations. Like other CX leaders, may be struggling with deciding if your agents will be WFH permanently, in-center, or a hybrid model. These tips will help CX leaders balance at-home and in-center CX delivery. 

WFH vs. In-Center for CX: Which is Most Effective?

Each brand and CX program is different, so there’s no clear-cut answer on which is best. But these tips will help you evaluate the benefits of each for your agents.

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Benefits of a Remote Model for CX

There’s a reason CX teams are considering allowing their agents to work remotely moving forward: It’s working out well for agents, CX leaders, and company budgets.

Agents Are Satisfied 

Though increased buy-in to company culture is often cited as a reason to go back to in-center work, the truth is agents are content with WFH. The Forbes survey found 72% of managers said their agents were satisfied with the flexibility of their remote roles. Happier agents are likely more willing to buy into company culture, even if they aren’t interacting with colleagues in person, which means they’re more likely to strive to exceed customer experience benchmarks. 

Recruiting Top Agents Is Easier

In-center models require agents to live in a particular location. Remote workforces eliminate those requirements, allowing CX leaders to find the best agents to provide customers with an optimal experience, regardless of what state they call home. 

Agents Are Productive From Home

CX leaders need agents to have efficient and quality interactions with customers to ensure shorter wait times and higher satisfaction levels. As the Forbes survey pointed out, agents can be productive when working remotely. More productive agents engage with and assist more customers, giving them personable and individualized attention each step of the way. As a result, brands could see increases in CSAT.

Lower Overhead

CX leaders who nix in-center work requirements can shut down brick-and-mortar locations, freeing up money that would have otherwise gone to rent for other initiatives, including more agents and funds to supercharge AI-based support programs. 

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Benefits of CX Contact Centers

Though remote work is becoming a more attractive option, call centers are not to be discounted, either. These are the benefits they boast.

A Less Fragmented Team Can Enhance CX Culture 

Though workers are happy working from home, there’s something to be said for all being in the same place. Quick, spontaneous conversations in the break room between agents could help them exchange new tips and tricks for working with customers, organically transferring knowledge that can enhance CX. That sense of community and those spontaneous collaboration opportunities get lost when WFH. 

It’s Easier to Engage, Supervise, and Coach Agents In-Center

Managers must oversee agents’ day-to-day activities and monitor performance. Quite simply, it’s easier to supervise agents when everyone is in the same center. The manager can walk around to ensure every agent is on task, overhear interactions with customers and provide feedback, and are just a few steps away if someone needs to escalate a concern. Additionally, group trainings and agent engagement events are possible on-site to drive better performance, more teamwork, and rewards within the CX operation. 

Security Is Tighter In Contact Centers 

Agents often handle sensitive customer information, and data breaches can reduce trust. Brick-and-mortar locations provide the most control and security.

More Client Brand Affinity 

In your contact center, agents are surrounded by your brand in a way that just isn’t possible at home. By being in a space that is completely branded, agents are consistently exposed to your brand value and therefore drives a higher level of client brand affinity. The sense of being part of something greater (your brand!) may be stronger in a branded space.

How to Make WFH Work in CX

There are pros and cons to allowing agents to work from home full-time or part-time. Even if you've decided the benefits outweigh the risks, you’ll still want to mitigate issues. Here’s how CX leaders can do that.

Make Security a Top Priority

You’ve built a relationship with your customers. Trust is at the core of their continued loyalty to your brand. In a call center, CX leaders and IT teams have more control over security measures, such as firewalls, to protect customer and organization data. You’ll need to enhance security in a way that caters to a remote workforce. Installing special access codes, requiring two-step authentication on any software with sensitive customer information, and updating passwords regularly can help keep data secure.

Track Agent Productivity From Anywhere

Though call center managers are satisfied with the productivity of their remote agents, CX leaders may still fear that making the arrangement permanent will eventually lead to a less accountable workforce. Invest in tools that allow you the same insight into agent performance as you’d have if they were sitting next to you -- operational toolsets for virtual performance should include communication tools, team monitoring tools, call evaluation tools, and agent coaching.

These tools allow CX managers to track their agents’ work, easing concerns and creating a culture of accountability to remain focused on supporting customers.

Adjust Training and Career Development Programs for Agents

CX leaders will need to adapt their training programs, so they work for remote agents. This task isn’t impossible—CX leaders who outsource service needs to offshore/nearshore locations have been doing it effectively for years. Invest in virtual training simulators and gamified coaching tools to ensure agents are constantly improving and are incentivized to do so. 

There should always be a continuous feedback loop between management and agents, and supervisors should be available to help agents with day-to-day concerns. But remote managers aren’t walking around, monitoring conversations with customers, as they do in a center. Whisper coaching allows managers to listen in on agents’ calls and provide immediate feedback.

When you invest in these training and coaching tools that empower agents to reach new goals, and incentivize and reward them accordingly, you are not just investing in another technology tool -- you are investing in agent tenure. Agents that perform well, feel appreciated, and feel there is room for career development with an organization that is supporting their growth, are more likely to stick around. Tenured agents will become the supervisors and CX leaders of tomorrow. It is much more beneficial to invest in these tools, and in turn, your agents, so that they have professional development than continuously hiring and training new agents.

Equip Agents With All the Technology They Need to Be Productive

Set agents up for success from remote locations. Communicate with your agents, ensuring:

  • They have a reliable, fast Internet connection
  • They have a laptop and monitor with the appropriate screen resolution
  • Their computer has the most up-to-date operating system
  • They have access to power to plug in all devices needed to do the job
  • They have sound and video graphics cards, if applicable

Create a Collaborative Work Environment 

It can feel less natural for agents and CX managers and executives to connect and collaborate when WFH. But it’s crucial. Agents need real-time support from managers to meet customer demands. And culture is important for buy-in. Tap into resources to establish and maintain connections with your CX team.

  • Check in frequently. Regular daily standups can set the tone for the day and help address any pressing concerns. Zoom and Google Hangouts make this possible for remote customer experience teams.
  • Use Internet chat tools for constant communication. Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams allow agents to get answers and advice from managers quickly and in a one-on-one setting. You can also create a channel for agents to bounce ideas off of one another.
  • Ensure someone is always on duty. Agents may need to escalate a concern, and they don’t have time to wait for a manager to get back from lunch. Having someone on duty at all times to answer questions and address customer concerns in real-time can keep wait times low and CSAT high. 

How to Make In-Center Work in CX

If you’ve decided to ask your agents to return to a brick-and-mortar center, there are ways to maintain agent satisfaction.

Be Flexible

If your agents liked working from home and were successful, it may be worth allowing for more flexibility after returning to a brick-and-mortar location. For example, allowing an agent to work from home instead of taking PTO if they feel ill may enhance satisfaction and reduce the temptation to come to work sick (potentially setting off a viral outbreak in your center).

Call Out Agent Successes

Having the ability to provide continuous constructive feedback in person is essential for agent development. But it’s just as important to highlight successes. Encourage supervisors to take note of improvement and let the agent know face-to-face.

Encourage CX Managers to Be Available

If you emphasized company culture and the desire to have impromptu in-person collaboration sessions as a reason to return to the office, make sure everyone is contributing to it. Encourage CX managers to take breaks in the same room as agents and ask them about their days, what’s going well, their pain points, and more. These discussions can organically reveal areas for improvement within the CX team and wins like an upsell that may have otherwise gone unheralded.

Keep Agents Engaged

Show your contact center reps they matter. Make an impact with daily team huddles, celebrations of successes, and incentives and gamified operations. According to a TalentLMS Gamification at Work Survey, 84% of agents are more engaged at work because of gamification and 82% are happier while working using gamified software.

Also make use of other ways to engage your agents through engagement events and activities that promote agent appreciation and team-building. This can be agent appreciation days, regular in-center social events, and employee-focused initiatives, like ‘Agent Health & Fitness Month,” or other ways to engage and appreciate your customer support staff. 

Conclusion

WFH vs. In-Center: This is the dilemma many CX leaders are currently facing. Once a temporary arrangement, working from home has become attractive to leaders and employees alike. While contact center managers are noticing their agents are just as productive from home and they can tap a larger talent pool from virtually anywhere, and agents like the flexibility remote work affords, others still want the security and control in-center CX programs provide. For those who want to integrate flexibility into their CX programs without sacrificing the benefits of in-center work, a hybrid model may be ideal for you. 

As the next wave of CX demand hits, one thing is certain: WFH or In-Center, the best CX program is the one that meets the needs of your brand and its customers. 

 


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