Adding a Virtual Contact Center Component to your Customer Service & Sales Strategy. Does it make Sense?

When I’m out in the marketplace, I hear companies either applauding the virtual/work from home contact center concept or shying away from it – some even tripping over themselves as they run backwards. Here are some common responses:

  • “Our culture just won’t work in a virtual / work from home environment. Our culture is special.”
  • “Productivity will spiral down – If we can’t see them, we can’t manage them.”
  • “It’s hard to recruit, train and nest new advisors in a virtual environment and achieve speed to competency.”

These can all be true IF you don’t have the right strategic plan and the right leadership to execute that plan. But what about the benefits?

Lower real estate costs. Unless you have an extra floor in your building or some extra space on another floor, you can save money on real estate.

Lower labor costs. You can recruit anywhere and still be U.S. based. Think about it. If you have 250 FTEs in your contact center and you can even save $2 an hour in the hourly rate. You could save over $1M in just gross payroll costs!

Micro Shifts – Because employees don’t have to travel to work, they can be more flexible and work in 2 or 3 hour shift increments. Customer facing time is better utilized meaning better ASA, CSATs and increased sales revenue – because you won’t be losing the opportunity to serve your customers. You’re there when customers need you.

Drive down recruiting and training costs – Virtual employees can achieve a better work life balance – no commute time, chores at home can be done during lunch and break time and flexible micro shifts for part time employees. All of this leads to lower attrition, which substantially drives down recruiting and training costs.

Virtual Teams respond quicker to a change – Scripting/talk tracks changes, any customer price changes or an emergency situation. War rooms are centralized – easy to access and can process information quicker to the virtual contact center floor. This can mitigate risk and loss of customer service and sales revenue.

There are so many benefits to having a component of your customer service, technical support or sales team contact center model in a virtual/work from home environment. What about culture? What about coaching? What about productivity? All doable! Isn’t it worth it to investigate?


3 Biggest Misconceptions of Work At Home Contact Centers

How to tell if your at home virtual contact center employee has virtual shock   In an exasperated tone, a VP said to me “How hard can this be?”   We were talking about the front line Team Leader team of her contact center organization. I responded into the phone: “It’s Virtual.”

As companies try to tap into larger labor pools and cut costs, and try to offer a more competitive work environment with incremental benefits, many are considering launching a Virtual/At Home Contact Center.   Some organizations have launched their new programs and found challenges they had not even considered.

3 Major Misconceptions about Working from Home:

  1. People work the same no matter where they sit. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We are taking a “people person” and putting them on an island. There is no one to talk to between calls and no one to connect with. In a brick and mortar contact center there is a closeness that some people refer to as family. Now they sit, isolated, at home. An employee that once loved their job doesn’t want to work; It just feels different. Absenteeism and attrition can go up and some centers may find KPIs are negatively affected as a result. Leaders will turn to recruiters frustrated and inform them that they are hiring the wrong people.
  2. Managing the day to day operations can be done the same. Some companies aren’t preparing their leadership for how to do their daily job duties in a work at home environment. Everything feels different to both the advisor and leadership. Some leaders feel their coaching is “not sticking” like it did when they worked in a brick and mortar center. Advisors can feel empty and not cared for about, like something is “missing.” This can have a negative impact on over all employee satisfaction and the customer focused KPIs that drive the bottom line.
  3. The communication strategy can be the same. No one is on the same page. You talked with them on the phone and sent out an email – twice! Information is not resonating like it once did. Advisors feel like they are being left out of the loop and leadership feels like no one is listening.

Virtual/Work at Home environments have wonderful benefits to employees and the company, and to clients and customers as well. When executives understand the real time frustrations of their contact center leadership and advisors, it can be the first step towards everyone coming together to change the way the contact center runs. Without understanding these differences, and having a new strategy to address them, contact center can trend toward higher attrition and absenteeism, lower sales conversion and customer service satisfaction scores, which leaves everyone feeling alone and frustrated.


Leadership Solutions for Managing Remote Employee Environments

There is a loneliness that affects people working in a virtual / remote environment.

This remote employee “Virtual Shock happens even if the employee loves the benefits of working remotely!  It takes them by surprise and can ultimately have an affect on employee satisfaction and performance. They just know something feels different

How can a leader of remote employees make the isolated remote environment feel more personal?

Consider the human interaction in a brick and mortar contact center. An advisor meets someone in the parking lot on the way in the door and has a conversation. People are everywhere and there is a lot of interaction – In the break room, the rest room, and everywhere else that person moves during their day.

So how do we manage employees to mitigate the onset of loneliness and isolation?

The dynamic of being a remote employee is different. For much of that day, the typical contact center advisor is alone.  We must make a conscious decision to change our management style and practice that change till it becomes a natural part of how we manage our business units. It takes practice.

1. Say good morning first thing in the morning to your remote employees INDIVIDUALLY in your team chat.

Mention something specific about them – Their 100% CSAT, their son or daughter’s little league game, the report they are working on, their anniversary, compliment them on one of their calls you listened to the day before – SOMETHING to connect with them individually.

2. Check in with your remote employees midday.

Ask if your remote employees have any questions that you can help with OR ask them a question: “How’s the floor feeling today?” “Do you notice anything going on with customer trending today?” “Other teams are noticing customers asking questions about ____________. What are you hearing today?” Perhaps you ask for “good news” from the “floor” and see what they come up with. Always remember to validate their comment by virtually touching them again with a “thank you” – by name.

3. Praise stats and KPI’s during the remote employee environment.

Congratulate your remote employees by name right in the group chat. Mention specifics. Don’t do it all at once. Sprinkle the news throughout the day.

These are the actions that would normally take place in a brick and mortar environment. These interactions increase in importance the more time the employee spends working virtually. By taking these three concrete actions, your employees will feel more empowered, and connected while they work – minimizing that loneliness of remote employees.

3 Telltale Signs your Remote Employee has “Virtual Shock”

Virtual Shock - sq  “He did so well at first and now his stats are going downhill. I’m not sure what’s wrong.”

This is a common statement heard in the virtual/at home contact center environment.

What is “Virtual Shock?” In the at home/ virtual contact center environment, it is a point in the employee tenure when “things just don’t feel right.” They are not enjoying their job as much and their stats are going in the wrong direction. These advisors have been taken out of the “normal” contact center environment where engaging with others is constant, and start to feel isolated and alone.

The first stage of “Virtual Shock” takes place 8-12 weeks after an advisor “hits the virtual floor” – AFTER training and nesting. Here are the signs your virtual employee may be the victim of “Virtual Shock.”

They aren’t chatting as often as they were on team chat. They used to be engaged….now you don’t “see” them participating as much.
They start coming to work a little late or calling in sick.
Their stats aren’t quite as good and everyone is shocked because “Bill”
was great out of the gate. What happened?

Looking for and understanding these obvious signs of “Virtual Shock” before your advisors are at a point of no return is imperative to managing your organization.

Companies lose potentially great employees when they fail to identify the emotional challenges that come with working in a virtual contact center. Coming up with a game plan is critical to minimize the effects of the “Virtual Shock,” and to build a lasting virtual / at home organization.